MG ZS EV review: is NZ’s cheapest pure-electric car actually any good?
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MG ZS EV
- Well-sorted BEV powertrain
- Hilarious traffic-light acceleration
- MG Pilot active safety equipment
- Awkward styling to some eyes
- Weird infotainment OS
- Sluggish interface for (manual) air conditioning
Would the MG ZS EV have been such a focal point of the New Zealand new-vehicle market without the Government’s Clean Car Discount, introduced on July 1?
Maybe. The $49,990 “launch price” was big news when the ZS EV first appeared and we all wondered how long it would last before the sticker was reset to a predictably OTT BEV level. Then it dropped to $48,990. Then the Government rebate came in and suddenly the little MG could be had for a real-world $40,365. That’s Toyota Yaris Cross hybrid money.
And that’s for a compact SUV with pure-electric power, a 44.5kWh battery giving 263km range (WLTP), a full suite of driver-assistance features (everything from adaptive cruise to lane keep and rear cross traffic alert) and “synthetic” leather upholstery, which is sustainably on-trend for a BEV in 2021.
So it’s incredible value for money. Little wonder the ZS EV is the second-best-selling BEV in NZ year-to-date, behind the Tesla Model 3.
That’s all very well. Yes, people love a bargain and they especially love a big envelope of cash from the Government coffers. But there’s a bigger question: is the ZS EV actually any good?
To cut to the chase, yes it is. The ZS is cheap and cheerful to be sure; with all the excitement around the EV it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole range of petrol-powered ZS models. They’re well built, honest and decent to drive without recalibrating class standards for handling and ride.
The electric bits that come with the ZS EV are very well sorted, as you’d expect from a Chinese maker with years of experience in creating mass-market EVs.
Early-adopting expectations about BEV performance are well-balanced with range management. The ZS EV is hilariously quick off the line for a baby SUV, the eco-tyres struggling to maintain traction. But as we found when we borrowed one for a dragstrip-BEV challenge last year, it runs out of puff very quickly after you hit 50km/h. No, matter, you’ve had your fun and you still get 0-100km/h in 8.4 seconds.
It’ll achieve more than 200km per charge no matter how you drive it. You can manage the performance with the Eco/Normal/Sport mode button, and the level of regeneration with the KERS switch (somebody’s a big F1 fan, right?). You can also get an instant remaining-range readout with one hit of the Battery button. Like it.
The front-mounted charge port makes sense. Whether it’s excellent battery management or reckless software, I found the ZS EV charged almost as quickly beyond 80 per cent on a public DC station as it did below (most BEVs slow down considerably at that point).
The steering is light and the chassis is easily upset by mid-corner bumps, but the low centre of gravity helps keep the car on track through corners. You’re not going to go out and have an open-road blast in the ZS EV for the fun of it; but you’re not going to dread a road trip either.
The fit and finish inside is impressive and the ergonomics make sense. But there are a few quirks that suggest MG is yet to fully respond to international tastes.
Even at its lowest position, the seat seems very high, even for an SUV; the infotainment operating system is hard to fathom at times (although easily over-ridden by Apple CarPlay or Android Auto); and you can adjust the climate controls and be doing something else entirely before the appropriate display activates on the screen. Curious that it’s a manual system on such a well-specified car too: climate control would solve several problems all at once.
The ZS EV is not perfect and positively lacks polish in a few areas. But it passes a very important test: for the 10 days I drove it, I looked forward to every urban A-to-B mission. It has something that many BEVs lack: character.
MG has already announced a facelift ZS EV in Europe (below) with bizarre new frontal styling and larger battery options. The current (get it?) 44.5kWh pack is replaced with a 51kWh unit (range now 320km), while there’s also a 72kWh (440km) option.
The challenge for MG NZ when the new model arrives in the second half of 2022 will be keeping the low purchase price that’s been such a part of the ZS EV’s success.
But the “new” model does also show that MG is committed to this body shape for a few years yet. If you want to jump in now rather than wait for the new look/longer range, I’d say go for it. The ZS EV will never be cheaper and it’s possible it’ll never be this much fun again, either.
MG ZS EV
ENGINE: 44.5kWh lithium-ion battery with single electric motor
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, FWD
POWER CONSUMPTION: 18.6kWh/100km, range 263km
PRICE: $48,990 ($40,365 after Clean Car Discount)