I’ve got an admission to make about MGs, and it’s practically the same I made about Jaguar when I reviewed the I-Pace just over a year ago: I’ve always wanted to drive MG since the day I first saw their classic sports car, with those beautiful lines all those decades ago.
Now I finally get to drive an MG. But it’s not the sports car version, it’s the ZS EV – a compact SUV made in China, by MG’s owners SAIC Motor. And, as the name suggests, it’s fully electric. And while it may not have the elegant lines of yore, it’s quite possibly the best value non-Tesla EV on the Australian market, and at the lowest price point seen for a new EV in Australia to date.
MG’s announcement this week that it would sell its ZS EV for a drive-away price of $43,990 has stunned the market, so much so that rival car makers apparently rang up MG executives to check if they heard and read correctly.
It’s a price point that is several thousand dollars below expectations, and makes it the lowest cost new EV available in Australia, and the first electric SUV under $50,000. Importantly, it has dramatically narrowed the price gap with its petrol twin, the ZS petrol version. And that makes it a compelling purchase based on life costs.
And MG has high ambitions for the ZS EV. It wants to take it into the mainstream, and having already sold the 100 available on pre order, it has plans to bring in 3,000 to the Australian and New Zealand market, with a goal to sell the lot by the end of 2021.
To put that in context, that’s about equivalent of the entire new EV sales market in Australia in 2019, and it would make the MG ZS EV (the name does read like a number plate) just about the top selling EV in the country.
And why not? Already it has sold well in Europe, ranking among the top three EV models in some countries. And that’s because, as we discovered in a media “Drive Day” that took us through the streets of Sydney, through tunnels and parkways and through the winding roads of the Kuringai National Park, this is a great car to drive.
First impressions are important, and the thing that struck me as I drove the “clipper blue” car (clipper blue, I’m told, was the original colour of the MG Sports) out of the MG garage was the spring in its step and the silence, and this was notable even after spending the previous two days alternating between a borrowed electric Mini and my own Tesla Model 3.
At this price point, I was expecting a noble effort and a product that was perhaps not quite up to scratch. But that’s to ignore the heritage of the MG brand, and the expertise of its owners, the Chinese auto giant that has already sold 185,000 electric vehicles across the world, mostly in China with names and prices unknown and unimaginable in Australia.
The ZS EV has a battery size of 44kWh, which is not huge. That gives it a driving range of 260km and maybe up to 360km in the city. I would be fascinated to take it up the highway to see how far it goes at 110kms/h. That would be the test for weekend and holiday range anxiety.
It has an advertised acceleration of 0-100km/h in 8.2 seconds. That’s not particularly quick for an EV, but its torque means the acceleration of 0-60km/h is achieved in just 3.1 seconds. That’s what counts because it would correspond to most applications in city and suburban traffic. It’s nimble and its nippy.
It has three driving modes – Eco, Normal and Sport. Eco feels like treacle and I could only imagine using it if I wasn’t sure where or when I could find a charging point. Normal is normal and OK, but Sport is the definite favourite – you can feel the car lighten up and get ready for action as you change the toggle. But you need to do that each time you start the car.
Like most EVs, it also has three settings on regeneration, the act of taking your foot off the accelerator, which slows the car and puts the energy generated from this slowing down back into the battery. The re-gen settings here range from virtually non existent, to mild, and grippy.
I love the re-gen, because it allows for “one pedal” driving that means you rarely need to apply the brakes, and to me is one of the most satisfying features of electric car driving (apart from the instant torque, silence and lack of emissions).
But even at the “grippy” level, for me this MG’s re-gen does not have as much bite. I found myself having to apply the brakes at most traffic light stops. And that’s my biggest critique of the ZX EV’s set up.
Zipping through the winding roads on the way to Akuna Bay and West Head, it is clear that the ZS EV does not have quite the pedigree handling of a Tesla, or an I-Pace. But those cars are two or three times the price of the MG, so you’d expect more in that case. But let’s make clear that the ZS EV does well pretty well. It is a fun drive, even if it does not feel quite so grounded in the corners.
Other things to like are the simplicity of its layout. Clean, uncomplicated, and easy to reach. The displays are excellent (they are not digital), and I particularly liked the speedometer-style display that shows you when the car is putting charge back into the battery (through re-gen), when it is running at good efficiency, and when it is powering through the battery charge at fast acceleration or up hills.
It also has a top interior, one that matches the top of the range ZS which sells for around $26,000. It’s a compact SUV, so if you like those – and so many people do – then it’s perfect. It even has a panoramic roof that retracts, and that is a lot of fun – away from the fumes of the city.
All this means that the ZS may be drawing admiring looks away from those thinking about the Hyundai Kona electric. It is about $20,000 cheaper, and while it doesn’t have the same range (the Kona has a good 450kms), it can claim to match it, or get close, in most other departments.
It doesn’t have a “frunk” (a trunk in the front), like the Tesla, but the electric motor is compact and doesn’t take up a whole lot of room. The boot has around 1,166 cubic litres of space, but there is no spare tyre. It does come with a puncture repair kit, so that will have to do.
The charging port is conveniently located behind the MG logo in the front grill, and it has a CCS2 socket that can charge up to 80kW. The car comes with a charging lead that will “trickle charge” at any power point at home or elsewhere, and for $2,000 you can have a dedicated 7.2kW charger installed at home. That would charge the car from empty to full in just over six hours, but the pattern of EV charging is that most people top up after each drive, so you may only need an hour or two.
The biggest complaint? Someone forgot about the cup holders. My daughter used to rate cars on the number of drink holders offered to drivers and passengers, and one of the older Subaru Forrester models won hands down. Unless I completely missed something, this ZS would rate a zero.
Time will tell on its durability. But it has a reasonably strong warranty – 8 years or 160,000kms for the battery, and five years for the car itself. It has a 5-star Euro safety rating, and its features include its Pilot navigation and driving assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Front Collision Warning, Emergency Braking, Speed Assist and Lane Departure warnings.
The good news is that there is more to come. MG intends to roll out more electric, and plug in hybrid models, in coming years. MG Australia Peter Ciao even describes the ZX EV as the first course of a five-course main meal. And guess what, an electric MG sports, may just be on the desert menu.
Now that would have not just the lines, but also the zippiness, and the traction. Just don’t forget the cup holders.
Pricing: $43,990 (Driveaway)