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MG ZS electric car 2021 review: EV

Should MG be applauded for bringing the cost of EV entry down, or are you better off spending more?

The biggest barrier to entry for electric vehicles in Australia is the up-front cost.

You might well be surprised by how many new car buyers are not only interested in electric vehicles, but really want their next car to be a full EV. It's something motoring journalists get asked about all the time. The problems putting people off are not necessarily the range or charging issues, as you might expect. No, according to the data, it’s simply because they are too expensive compared to their internal-combustion competitors.

Re-invigorated MG, now such a budget-buyer-friendly brand that it recently made the list of Australia’s top 10 sellers, is calling out to the EV curious with this latest electrified version of its successful ZS small SUV.

The ZS is Australia’s cheapest mainstream electric car by some margin, and proof that China-based SAIC-owned MG can do more than just affordable combustion vehicles. At a cost of $43,990 drive-away, is the ZS EV the masterstroke that could get more Australians behind the wheel of a full electric model than ever before? Let’s find out.

Price and features - Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The new MG is full of surprises. Actually, now that Kia is done with its previous tagline: “The Power to Surprise” perhaps MG should take it, because it fits the now-China-based brand almost better than it ever fit the Korean giant.

The EV gets an 8.0-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The EV gets an 8.0-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Originally, MG talked about pitching its ZS EV at a price that would have placed it alongside the Nissan Leaf, but at the EV’s launch, it dropped a surprise price-slash from $46,990 to just $43,990 drive-away, securing its place as the cheapest option on the market for anyone wanting a full EV.

The ZS EV comes in only one spec, the Essence, which is equivalent to the highest-spec version of the petrol car. Even so, the electric version has some extra goodies.

It gets its own set of 17-inch wheels (which somehow look tiny, more on that later), it’s own 8.0-inch multimedia screen, a significant upgrade on the one in the basic ZS, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, built-in nav, faux-leather interior trim, a panoramic glass sunroof, keyless entry with push-start ignition, LED DRLs with halogen headlights, and a six-way, power-adjustable driver’s seat.

The ZS EV gets its own set of 17-inch wheels. The ZS EV gets its own set of 17-inch wheels.

It's a decent amount of fruit for a mid-size SUV, although there are areas where it is obvious this car is built to a specific price-point. The synthetic, leather-look trim is pretty ordinary, as is this car’s software (a common MG theme), particularly its laggy sat-nav suite. Halogen headlights are also pretty lame on an EV, and work against this car’s otherwise snazzy design. The same goes for the lack of a digitised instrument cluster, but it’s almost a quaint touch to have analog dials for an electric car.

Still, it’s nice that the interior trims and multimedia screen have been upgraded significantly from the combustion ZS, making the EV feel a bit special, but not quite as special as the ZS T (a facelift which is sold alongside the old car).

On the topic of the ZS T, we have it on good authority that the EV variant you see here will be upgraded to the ZS T look and feel imminently. This is good for interior quality and the exterior looks, but it might also take a price hike, so keep that in mind before choosing to hold out for the update.

Design - Is there anything interesting about its design?

MG’s formula for success is pretty simple. Make affordable cars that are good looking. Not so hard really, is it?

The ZS EV wears the chrome-embossed styling of the range, while offering its own take on the grille, complete with a unique colour choice, ‘Clipper Blue’, which looks quite fetching.

Original? Maybe not. There’s a clear influence of Mazda in the chrome bits and headlight clusters, while the rear is a little bit Mitsubishi ASX in its finish. If the ZS T is anything to go by, though, MG’s design is set to evolve into very much its own look in the near future.

The ZS EV wears the chrome-embossed styling of the range, while offering its own take on the grille. The ZS EV wears the chrome-embossed styling of the range, while offering its own take on the grille.

The brilliance of the overall exterior looks is that they combine before-seen elements into something fresh, which looks good in bright colours and leaves an impression of youthfulness. Accessible cars, ready for the social-media age, then.

The interior of the ZS EV is improved over the regular ZS, too. There are more soft materials in the doors and dash, while the brand has taken the electrification opportunity to tidy up the centre console and media screen into something a bit neater and more contemporary.

It offers a unique colour choice with ‘Clipper Blue’. It offers a unique colour choice with ‘Clipper Blue’.

There’s even some cool attention to detail in things like the shift dial, which is finished with a rotary texture, and pressing it down to go into Park makes it glow red. The little toggle switches for the driving functions are a nice touch too.

The seats and touchpoints look good at a distance but aren’t as great to touch. The steering wheel is okay, but the faux leather trim in the seats is pretty ordinary, as is the detailing in the doors and dash. I wasn’t so much a fan of the way the centre console arches up, finished in a thin layer of vinyl trim, but it’s worth remembering that the ZS EV is based on an outgoing small SUV. In fact, if you want to take a look at just how much the interior of the ZS has improved for this EV version in lots of little ways, check out Matt Campbell’s 2019 review of the petrol car.

Practicality - How practical is the space inside?

This is a small SUV, so it’s not huge on the inside. There are some areas where it shines, and others where it isn’t as good.

Not so great? The seating position. Like the HS mid-sizer, the ZS has a really high and slightly awkward seating position, which has you peering down on the instruments and the road. SUV like? Yes. Some people will probably like the commanding view of the road, but it wasn’t for me. The seats are soft and initially quite comfy, but offer limited support for longer journeys. Adjustability is reasonable, and I eventually found a position that suited me, with good visibility out the front and rear.

This is a small SUV, so it’s not huge on the inside. This is a small SUV, so it’s not huge on the inside.

Cabin storage isn’t bad. Because there’s no need for a transmission or anything under the floor, there’s a new cutaway with a large bay under the centre console, which also hosts two USB ports, a small tray area under the climate controls, a weird bottle holder cutaway deep-set in the raised console area, and a tiny console box armrest (at least it has one, some small SUVs don’t). There is a large bottle holder and a small bin in the door cards, too.

There are soft trims on the backs of the front seats if you’re tall and have your knees pressing up. There are soft trims on the backs of the front seats if you’re tall and have your knees pressing up.

The rear seat isn’t bad. My 182cm tall frame fits behind its own driving position with a tiny amount of knee space, and there are soft trims on the backs of the front seats if you’re any taller and have your knees pressing up. The backs of the front seats feature pockets, and there’s a small tray and single USB outlet on the back of the centre console, although there are no adjustable rear air vents. I have enough headroom and the soft seats, clad in the so-so faux leather stuff, continue. There’s no armrest with bottle holders, but the rear doors have a single large one each. Outboard seats feature ISOFIX child-seat-mounting points, while the rear row has top-tether all the way across.

The boot comes in at 359-litres. The boot comes in at 359-litres.

Again, if you want to see how much the ZS has improved over the years, check out our earlier reviews. It’s hard to recognise the dash and storage areas from the petrol version.

The boot comes in at 359-litres, which is impressive, not only because it compares well to the small SUV segment, but because it’s entirely unchanged from the petrol version. It just fit our entire CarsGuide demo luggage set with a little Tetris work, as the available space seems to be taller than it is wide. There are useful nettings behind the wheelarch on each side for securing small objects, but where the EV has had extra thought applied is in the under-floor area. There you will find a styrofoam bracket with little cutouts for storing charging cables. Few EVs have this sort of thing, strangely.

Sadly, the under-floor batteries mean you lose the spare wheel. Instead, you’ll have to make do with a repair kit.

Drivetrain - What are the key stats for the drivetrain?

The ZS EV has an electric motor capable of producing 105kW and a whopping 353Nm (not as break-neck as it sounds, more on that later) of torque. Again, this is a healthy upgrade from combustion versions of this car. It drives the front wheels via a single-speed reduction-gear transmission.

The ZS EV has an electric motor capable of producing 105kW and a whopping 353Nm. The ZS EV has an electric motor capable of producing 105kW and a whopping 353Nm.

Energy consumption - How much does it consume? What’s the range like, and what it’s like to recharge?

Now the important stuff. The ZS EV is the cheapest EV in Australia, but it offers a range comparative to the Nissan Leaf at a claimed/combined 263km from its 44.5kWh battery pack.

The ZS has a European-standard Type 2 CCS port mounted centre front under the MG badge, and can charge at a maximum of 7.2kW on AC power, or 80kW on DC power.

This means estimated charging times from 10 to 80 per cent of 45 minutes on DC, seven hours on 7kW AC, or 25 hours on a 2.3kW wall socket.

With largely urban use my test car looked to achieve over 300km of range as-tested. With largely urban use my test car looked to achieve over 300km of range as-tested.

The ZS EV comes with a wall socket to Type 2 cable, although MG offers a Type 2 to Type 2 public charging cable (which we strongly recommend for convenience) as a $295 dealer option.

I charged the ZS twice in my week with it, both times at a public 11kW AC charger local to me, which is charged by solar and is therefore free. It added around 50km of range in an hour.

The ZS EV also offers three levels of regenerative braking, and I spent the majority of my time in the highest regen setting. The ZS EV’s official combined consumption figure is 16.2kWh/100km, and on my test week my car returned a figure of 14.6kWh/100km. Not bad, and similar or even slightly better than its Nissan Leaf competitor, in which I recorded 15.3kWh/100km. It was not as good as the Hyundai Ioniq, however, which has the honour of the best on-test consumption I’ve ever scored at 12.3kWh/100km.

My car looked set to get around 304km of range on a full charge at its as-tested consumption rate - well over the WLTPcombined claim.

Driving - What's it like to drive?

The ZS EV is a different car to drive altogether, compared to the rest of the range. This is a very good thing, with the electric motor, drive modes and feedback being reasonably good, and you can forget the usual transmission and power woes we find with many small SUVs.

The steering is pretty well tuned, offering a relatively organic feel. The steering is pretty well tuned, offering a relatively organic feel.

The ZS gets along nicely with its 105kW/353Nm, it’s much faster in a straight line than any other ZS, but it’s not as breakneck as it sounds. The torque seems to be distributed with some restraint, so that accelerating hard doesn’t overwhelm the little front tyres. Expect similar performance to a Nissan Leaf or Hyundai Ioniq; it’s smooth and strong, but not as extreme as, say, a Tesla.

Needless to say, the well of instantly available torque is fantastic for both urban driving and the freeway, making the ZS EV easily one of the best MGs to drive.

However, some woes are still present. While the ZS handles better than its combustion counterparts, thanks to the lower centre of gravity, it’s easy to tell the suspension has a hard time dealing with its nearly 1600kg weight, and the drivability in the corners suffers as a result.

It’s soft over the front axle, but harder over the rear, leading to really abrupt moments over bumps, or when the driving surface is a little uneven, despite a generally spongey and bouncy ride. This can lead to some disconcerting moments on the rebound, as the car tilts to and fro a little before settling.

Understeer is also an ever-present threat, as this car will lean well into the front tyres during cornering and requires some discipline on the accelerator not to break traction. It all adds up to a bit of a frumpy, uneven drive experience, which needs improvement. Thankfully, the steering is pretty well tuned, offering a relatively organic feel and giving you a good handle on what’s going on at the front tyres.

It is at its best at lower speeds, as the soft ride will filter out small bumps and corrugations relatively well, while hitting speed bumps and driveways is met with a pleasant bounce.

It’s not as though MG can’t do better, either, with the ZS T improving its ride and handling in many critical areas, but it’s clear that, for this older version, this aspect wasn’t a priority during development.

The soft ride will filter out small bumps and corrugations relatively well. The soft ride will filter out small bumps and corrugations relatively well.

Still, if you stick to what this car’s envisioned purpose is – driving around town – the seats and cabin are pretty comfortable, the visibility is good, and parking is easy. Even on the freeway, this car’s adaptive cruise and lane-keep systems aren’t bad, and benefit from the rolling software updates MG undertakes as feedback comes in from the global markets in which it plays.

The electrification features are decent, too. While it might not be as smooth or refined as Hyundai electric cars are, the three levels of regen braking will offer something for everyone, and the feedback through the analog dial should give a good amount of data on how to make the most of the regeneration.

It is missing a sleek operating system, though. Hyundai’s Android-based software is simple but effective, integrating the nav with the range calculation and driving style, while Tesla’s sublime software with its app and pre-prep features really showcase what an electric car can do.

Regardless, you get what you pay for, and that’s the case here with the ZS. It’s not the best to drive, and it doesn’t have as slick a software offering, but it does offer all the key parts of electric motoring at a strictly defined price.

Safety - What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The ZS EV is officially the safest ZS as the ZS T has not yet been rated, scoring a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the 2019 standards. Again, this is a huge improvement on the petrol version, which scored a four-star rating in 2017.

Standard active items include auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, traffic-sign recognition, auto high beams, and adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist.

Improved out of sight from the petrol car on which it is based, the ZS also features the standard complement of six airbags and the expected traction, stability, and brake controls.

Ownership - What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Electrified MGs have an annoying caveat in that they miss out on the excellent seven-year warranty of the rest of the brand’s combustion range. Instead, you’re left with a still industry-standard five-year warranty. The battery pack is covered for eight years or 160,000km, to add a little extra confidence.

The MG ZS has a five-year warranty. The MG ZS has a five-year warranty.

MG also tells us the battery system in the ZS is entirely modular, and individual units can be removed and replaced if they go wrong.

Capped-price servicing is not yet locked in for MG in Australia, although the brand tells us that it is in the works and will be available imminently. Electric cars are generally much cheaper to run than combustion cars, due to the lack of moving parts, so we’d expect the ZS EV to have the lowest running costs of the lot. 

Let me put it this way: Like-for-like, the ZS is better as an EV than it is as a petrol car, but it seems to be a story of getting what you pay for.

I don’t mean that the ZS EV is cheap and therefore nasty. In fact, I think it’s priced just right at the moment for a city EV entry-point. It offers all the key features a city-based EV buyer should be looking for, compares favourably to rivals on the value front, and is better than the standard ZS to drive and use.

It certainly has its flaws, and you can pay more to get rid of them by buying a Nissan Leaf, which, in my opinion drives better and has superior software, but then you’re forking out significantly more money for a similar driving range. On that basis, I think MG has found its entry-level EV niche and should be applauded for bringing the overall cost of entry down in Australia. Only time will tell if buyers warm to the idea, but the brand’s initial sales figures of nearly 700 units at least suggests it will be a success.

$24,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Score

3.7/5
Price Guide

$24,990

Based on new car retail price

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.