Hyundai Kona VS MG ZS
- Looks good
- First impressions of interior are good...
- Good value
- Four-star ANCAP
- No AEB
- Drives poorly
I think it’s just human nature to like explosions.
There’s something fascinating and wonderous about how an internal combustion engine unites the chaos of exploding petrol with a few hundred moving parts to send a car hurtling forward.
So, I should hate the Hyundai Kona Electric. I should hate it for the simple fact that it is the almost undeniable future of motoring, and it has no engine.
But for so many reasons, I can’t hate it. I can’t hate it because for the first time since I first drove a Tesla Model S, the Kona Electric made feel like I’ve had to the opportunity to experience a little slice of the future before we’re really supposed to see it.
So, should we be ready for it? Is this Kona going to be a big part of the proliferation of electric cars in Australia? Importantly, is it a realistic cut-price long-range alternative to the wildly expensive Tesla range?
The answers lie in this review…
We first published this story on 5 April 2018, and since then we have requested press loan cars to update our coverage - but to no avail.
However, there have been changes to the ZS range, and here’s what you need to know.
The brand has since revised its range line-up to kick off with the entry-level Excite (replacing the Soul trim) which retains the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a four-speed automatic. This version is priced at $22,990 drive-away.
A new mid-range variant has been added, called the Excite Plus, which gets the more high-tech 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine with a six-speed automatic. It costs $24,990 drive-away.
The range-topping variant remains the Essence, and it still has the same drivetrain as before (the 1.0L turbo three-pot with six-speed auto). It is $26,990 drive-away, and has seen the addition of built-in sat nav as part of the 2019 range update.
There have been no additions made to the safety equipment, and the MG ZS still has a four-star ANCAP crash test rating. No changes have been made to the way it drives, either.
As originally published, 5 April 2018:
If ever there was a brand that has evolved to a point of being beyond recognition, MG could be it.
The British brand - Morris Garages - is now owned by a Chinese mega-company called SAIC Motor Corporation Limited, a business that managed almost seven million sales in 2017.
Where does MG fit into the portfolio? Well it’s a small player, by market standards, with 'just' 134,000 sales… which, if it sold that many in Australia, would make it the second-best selling brand here, behind only Toyota.
A while ago an SUV with an MG badge would have been the stuff of daydreams. But this is, in fact, the second SUV from the maker, slotting below the larger and more expensive MG GS.
If you have a good memory, you may remember that another MG wearing the ZS badge has been sold in Australia before… that was the remarkably unremarkable MG Rover ZS mid-sized sedan, and it didn’t sell in big numbers. In fact, only 31 units of the ZS sedan were sold - this more desirable small SUV is set to smash that.
As the starting point in the MG SUV range, it certainly stands out as quite a looker. But is there more to it than cosmetic charm?
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
On price alone, the Kona Electric is not quite the Volkswagen Beetle or Ford Model T of the electric car world.
It does stand for something, though. It stands as an example that practical and reasonably range-anxiety-free electric vehicles are a realistic ownership proposition, and one which is achievable for automakers a little less volatile than Tesla.
Importantly, the Kona Electric ‘normalises’ the EV powertrain in that it feels so natural to drive, so much like its petrol equivalents that you don’t question it, and you spend far more time marvelling at the cool bits than you do getting frustrated with the compromises.
For now, the key to uptake of these vehicles will be in government incentives (right now there are next to none) and the proliferation of more up-to-date non-Tesla charging points.
What would it take for you to make the switch to electric? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
If you’re the sort of person who wants a nice looking small SUV that doesn’t cost too much and is more practical than some of its competitors, the MG ZS might be an option for you.
But there are many better alternatives, so it’s pretty hard to justify, especially with its unfortunate road manners and lack of safety equipment. The brand may have evolved, but the vehicles require some further development before they're good enough to compete against mainstream players.
Do you care about how your car drives, or is appearance more important? Let us know in the comments section below.
Our loan car was fully tricked out with the ‘eco’ look. That includes the Kona Electric’s hero colour of ‘Ceramic Blue’, the two-tone white roof and the airy blue and grey interior trim.
Some will love this aesthetic, to me it was total eco-credential overkill. Regardless, the electric Kona carries most of the styling points which made the original car a bit of a hit.
In fact, in some ways I think the electric Kona improves on the base car by eliminating the overcomplicated grille.
Round the back is less revolutionary, featuring a re-designed lower bumper and a simple ‘electric’ badge to set it apart from the regular range.
Inside has the same symmetrical design which makes the regular Kona and i30 so appealing.
The electric car gets a raised up centre console which offers easy access to the little SUV’s many buttons and functions as well as giving the cabin a slightly more futuristic look.
The centre stack is nicely designed with the climate control functions leading up to a set of vents and the pride-of-place multimedia touchscreen jotting out of the dash. It’s a good look and easy to use for both the driver and front passenger.
Less good is the abundance of matte silver finish everywhere, there’s simply no need for it, anyone who gets behind the wheel will already realise this car is from the near future.
Unfortunately, the interior, as full-on as it looks, is comprised mostly of hard plastics. This is a consistent Kona problem - there’s even more hard surfaces present here than there is in its i30 hatchback sibling.
I think it’s one of the best looking small SUVs on the market. Do you agree with me?
There are bits of it that could be better; the 17-inch wheels appear too small, because there’s a decent amount of bulk above the wheelarches front and back. They could be a size bigger, and also considerably wider: the tyres fitted are just 215mm across - a set of 18s with 235mm rubber would definitely fill the arches more.
But other than that, it’s a nice looking vehicle.
I mean, you could confuse it for something from Mazda’s stable. There’s no doubt about that. The LED daytime running lights may well have been stolen straight from Mazda’s design department in Hiroshima, it’s that unmistakable. MG, however, being so obviously British (by way of China) labels the DRLs as 'London Eye'.
There are other elements that aren’t so much direct reinterpretations as generally good design cues: the wide grille, sculpted bumper, angular glasshouse, and slimline tail-lights combine to give it a conventionally attractive look.
The interior offers good perceived quality - meaning that when you look at it for the first time, you’re pretty impressed by what you see. But there are some actual quality questions raised, as you’ll read in the next section.
The Kona is already hardly the most practical small SUV out there, as the base car features a decent boot, but middling rear legroom.
The same is true here, only the boot floor has been raised to accommodate batteries. As a result, total boot space has been reduced 39L down to 332L (VDA).
That’s unfortunate, but despite the sacrifice, it's somehow not the smallest boot in the small SUV class (it still bests the Mazda CX-3, for example). The Highlander grade gets a really quite handy luggage net across the boot floor.
Underneath the boot floor, the on-board charging cable packs away neatly into a zipper bag alongside the puncture repair kit.
Rear legroom is a bit of an issue. If you’re any taller than me (182cm) you simply won’t fit and you’ll have your legs jammed up against the front seat.
On my test week I put three adults across the rear row and while they were too polite to complain, it didn’t look particularly comfortable, particularly for the middle occupant.
In terms of amenities the rear seats get small cupholders in the doors and nettings on the back of the seats, but no power outlets or air-conditioning vents.
Up front is a much better story, where the driver and front passenger benefit from deep cupholders in the centre console and doors, a neat little Qi wireless charging point, USB point and 'aux' input in the dash, as well as a huge storage area and 12-volt output underneath the raised centre stack. There’s also a decent console box.
Sure, the electric Kona can’t compete on practicality with something like the brilliantly-packaged Honda HR-V, but it isn’t as compromised as it could have been.
As mentioned, you don’t feel as though you’re sitting in a ‘cheap’ SUV when you first slide into the cabin of the ZS, but the closer you look - or, perhaps more correctly, the more you use the car - the more you realise it isn’t at the same standard of quality as most competitors.
Little things, like the fact the door grab moves in your hand when you go to close the door (that’s the opposite of reassuring), and the USB port in our test car moved when I tried to insert my phone’s cable into it - not the panel at the front, but the actual bit behind it. It’s also really hard for anyone with normal-human-sized hands to slot the USB cable in.
But when you do, it connects up to the 8.0-inch touchscreen media system and will mirror your phone through Apple CarPlay, if you have an iPhone. There’s no Android Auto.
You’ll need to use your iPhone for sat nav or maps, because the built-in system doesn’t have it. It’s a bright and colourful screen to run AM/FM radio or your Bluetooth connected smartphone, though, and there’s a six-speaker sound system - apparently with Yamaha 3D sound. It didn’t offer anything mind-blowing in terms of an audio experience, however.
The seats are comfortable, offering a decent driving position, but there’s no reach adjustment to the steering, only height adjustment - that’s really annoying if you have long legs but short arms. And while you get a digital driver info display, there’s no digital speedometer.
There’s no covered centre storage between the front seats (bad) but there are two cupholders and the front door pockets are big enough for bottles (good).
The back seat lacks any form of cupholders (bad), and there’s no fold down armrest, either (bad). And while there are rear door pockets, they’re too small to fit a bottle (bad). At least it has twin map pockets (good).
And the other (good) thing about the back seat is the amount of passenger space. With the driver’s seat set for my 183cm frame, I was easily able to sit behind with enough legroom to keep me comfortable for a while.
Headroom is good, too, even with the very large glass roof in this spec of the ZS. The sunroof isn’t just for show, the front part opens up, too. But on the downside, there are no rear lights, which makes it really hard to see what you’re doing at nighttime.
If your passengers are smaller, there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and three top-tether attachments.
The boot of the MG ZS is decent, with 359 litres of cargo capacity to the cargo cover when the rear seats are in place, or 1166L with the 60/40 back seats folded down (measured to the window line) - though they don’t fold flat. The boot itself is deep, but the load lip is a touch higher than some others - and the VW-like boot badge opener is a nice piece of copycatsmanship, too. I guess it’s okay because the brands both have two letters.
Those cargo space figures are good for the class. The best seller in the segment, the Mazda CX-3, has just 264L with the seats up (1174L seats down).
The MG ZS is one of the larger small SUVs out there, spanning 4314mm long, 1809mm wide and 1611mm tall. Ground clearance is 164mm.
Price and features
Let’s get the major downside of the Kona Highander electric out of the way right off-the-bat, shall we?
This car costs a whopping $64,490 before on-roads. So, for what is essentially a budget-style small SUV you’ll be punished to the tune of almost $30 grand more than its petrol-powered Highlander equivalent.
In fact, as Richard Berry pointed out in his launch review, this is the most expensive car Hyundai sells in Australia. More than even the top-model seven-seat Santa Fe Highlander diesel, which will set you back a (suddenly cheap-sounding) $60,795.
On the upswing, it is much cheaper than any other electric car with an equivalent range on full charge. The cheapest current Telsa Model S, for example (now simply called the ‘Long Range’), comes in at an even more whopping $123,500.
Sadly, a slice of the future is still limited to those who are wealthy enough to afford it.
Our electric Highlander does come with decent kit to help mitigate the cost a little. Included is the full suite of standard features from the regular Kona, and then some.
There’s an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in sat-nav and Bluetooth connectivity, an eight speaker premium audio system, Qi wireless phone charging pad, full LED front lighting, front & rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, and 17-inch ‘eco-design’ alloy wheels.
Unlike the Elite which sits below it, the Highlander is offered with a choice of either a two-tone roof or sunroof option at no extra cost. All Kona Electrics have leather-appointed interior trims as standard, but the Highlander adds power operated, heated & ventilated front seats.
There's also a head-up display standard on our Highlander, but with all the required information being displayed across the media system and dash cluster I hardly found it useful.
The Kona also has a substantial safety suite (explored in the safety section of this review).
The MG ZS range has two models to choose from - both of which are competitively priced in order to gain some traction in the tough-fought small SUV market.
There’s the entry-level ZS Soul model, which lists at $20,990 plus on-road costs.
Standard equipment for the ZS Soul includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay as standard, as well as Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB connectivity, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors (with a centimetre distance measurement display, which is very nice), and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Leather trim, a leather steering wheel and leather gear selector are standard, too, as well as auto headlights, front fog-lights and there are roof rails (perfect to fit roof racks to).
The next model up the range is the one you see in the images here - it’s the Essence, which lists at $23,990 plus on-road costs.
The Essence adds desirable bits like a ‘Stargazer’ panoramic glass roof with sunshade, and keyless entry with push-button start.
If you’re shopping in this segment, some other options you could consider at this sub-$25k price point include the Mazda CX-3, Suzuki Vitara, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Ford EcoSport, Holden Trax, Mitsubishi ASX or Renault Captur. You’re spoilt for choice, in other words, though none have niceties like leather trim and a big sunroof at this price point.
You’ll have to check out the safety section for the main omissions from the MG ZS range.
Engine & trans
The Kona Electric drives the front wheels via an electric motor producing 150kW/395Nm.
It’s more powerful than any other Kona model, most other small SUVs and even most electric cars around this price.
It’s not as… ahem… ludicrous as a Tesla, with a claimed 7.6 second 0-100km/h time, but it really doesn’t need to be. It has plenty of power for what it is.
Electric motors don’t require a transmission in the traditional sense, and the Kona simply has a single-speed ‘reduction gear’.
The Kona feeds power back into its battery pack via regenerative braking, which has three levels controlled by paddle-shifters on the wheel. More on that in the driving and fuel consumption segments.
Sadly, the motor still juts into the regular engine bay, so there’s no extra storage up front. There’s also a standard battery to power auxiliary functions alongside the gigantic battery pack.
The MG ZS is available with two different drivetrains.
The entry-level Soul model comes with a 1.5-litre non-turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with 84kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 150Nm of torque (at 4500rpm). It has a four-speed auto and is front-wheel drive.
The high-spec Essence model we had is powered by a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with a little less power, 82kW (at 5200rpm), but a touch more torque, with 160Nm (from 1800-4700rpm).
Those outputs are close to what’s expected in the scheme of small SUVs: the Ford EcoSport, probably the most direct rival to the ZS in terms of size, has a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo with 92kW and 170Nm in the top two specs, or an entry-grade 1.5-litre three-cylinder non-turbo with 90KW and 150Nm. Another three-pot competitor is the Peugeot 2008, which has a 1.2-litre turbo engine in all models, and zesty outputs of 81kW and 205Nm.
In operation, the drivetrain leaves a bit to be desired. Read the driving section below for more.
The Kona consumes precisely zero fuel, due to the whole ‘lack of an engine’ deal. Really, in the future, we’ll have to rename this segment to ‘energy consumption’.
To that end you’re probably used to measuring consumption in terms of litres per hundred kilometres (L/100km), but the new figure against which electric cars are measured is kilowatt hours per hundred kilometres (kWh/100km).
Over my week of testing the Kona produced 14.1kWh/100km. No context for that? Here, I’ll provide some. The Kona has a 64kWh battery pack, which Hyundai claims will give you a “real-world range” of 449km.
If you put the numbers together, it means at the rate I was using power I would have actually scored a greater range than Hyundai’s estimate at 453.9km.
That’s legitimately impressive, because the Nissan Leaf I had on test immediately afterwards couldn’t get below 15.3kWh/100km.
Weirdly, on both tests I found EVs aren’t more efficient on the freeway, producing the same or even better numbers in traffic.
Charging any electric car is a sticky topic. The Kona has a single port, a ‘Type 2’ (Mennekes) European-standard charging port. This is a three-phase standard port which can be charged at stations ‘up to 100kW’.
I couldn’t find a single 100kW charging port in Sydney, but there is a lone NRMA 50kW Mennekes connector in Olympic Park (which will charge from zero to 80 per cent in 75 min) or 22kW versions at ChargeFox stations (which require the ChargeFox app to use).
Unfortunately, you can’t make use of Tesla’s extensive fast charge network, nor can you make use of the ChargePoint network which has 6.6kW ‘J1772’ connectors.
Hyundai offers an optional 7.2kW wall-mounted home charger, which can fill the battery in nine hours and 35 min.
Faced with little option but to charge it from a humble wall socket in the CarsGuide garage (which had a max output of 2.2kW) the Kona informed me a max charge from 29 per cent battery would take 24 hours and 47 minutes…
Claimed fuel consumption for the entry-level model is rated at 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres, which is thirsty for the segment.
The turbo version we had is a little better on paper, with a claim of 6.7L/100km. If you’re interested, Peugeot claims 4.8L/100km for its 2008 models - but Ford claims 6.9L/100km for its turbo three-cylinder EcoSports.
After our time testing the MG ZS we saw a return of 8.0L/100km, which is not terrific for a car of this size.
Both versions of the MG ZS require 95RON premium unleaded fuel, adding cost at the pump.
The Kona Electric is great to drive because it's so natural, so much like a ‘normal’ car. It’s quite literally as though somebody cross-bred a Tesla with a regular Kona Highlander, and that’s a very good thing.
If you’ve never driven an electric car before (and let’s face it, few people have) there are some distinctly different characteristics you should know about. Firstly, the way you slow down is not usual.
Electric cars like to reclaim energy through regenerative braking, which feeds energy back into the battery as the wheels turn. This means instead of coasting, electric cars will actively slow down when you let your foot off the accelerator.
In the Kona, you can control three levels of this braking depending how how comfortable you are with it or turn it off entirely, which I would advise against as it saves a surprising amount of battery, especially in stop-start traffic.
You can also hold down the brake level paddle to bring the car to a full stop with just regeneration. Efficient. This will also prolong the life of your brake pads, a further cost saving over time.
The acceleration is smooth and swift, but not brutal like a Tesla, and you seldom need to hop on the brakes hard if you have the regen braking on, although if you do the pedal has an odd, disconnected, woody kind of feel.
The electric Kona feels heavy thanks to its big battery mounted below the floor. This gives it a weightiness through the corners, but also a solid amount of grip. I never really felt as though the Kona would understeer despite its front-wheel drive disposition.
The suspension, like all Hyundai products now, is well sorted and tuned locally in Australia. Due to the extra weight of the electric components, this Kona has a different tune from its petrol-powered equivalents.
It’s less springy, but still a little sporty, and by nature of the extra weight alone it feels super settled over bumps.
Obviously, the lack of an engine makes the Kona Electric quiet, but it does make a rather strange noise. It’s like a choral ringing noise that’s most evident during low speed acceleration and braking.
You may have heard similar noises from electric trains before. It is undeniably cool and futuristic though, and results in more than a few turned heads from nearby pedestrians.
There was so much promise to this car, but driving it was the least enjoyable thing about it.
If you don’t care about how a car drives, you might be able to overlook the criticisms I’m about to level at the MG. But it’s my job to tell you how it stacks up in the segment, and I’m comfortably suggesting it’s in the bottom three in terms of road manners, drivetrain capability, and refinement. Remember, this is a segment with about 20 vehicles in it, and I’ve driven all of them.
Let’s start with, er, starting the engine. The push-button system works fine, but the engine on my test vehicle hummed and shook itself to life while also letting out quite a noise (it’s a bit alarming when you’re standing outside the car). I know, three-cylinder engines aren’t the most loveable sounds to all ears, and they’re prone to vibration, but the lack of refinement from this vehicle is notable.
Then, when I reversed out of my driveway on a 12-degree-Celsius morning (so, not extremely cold), the engine acted in a way that I could only describe as dangerously sluggish. There was very little progress on offer for a good 10-15 seconds after I drove off. If you live on a busy street, then you really ought to prepare yourself.
Once things are warm you’ll notice the engine is actually relatively hushed from in the cabin, but it also really likes to rev.
From a standstill it will take a blink or two before the turbocharger gets huffing, and then it’ll happily rev out to 5500rpm - and that’s not even when you’re wringing its neck, just when you’re driving it normally.
In fact, the transmission does a reasonable job of changing gears to make the most of the outputs of the engine, despite the drivetrain’s apparent preference to hold on to first gear like a kid with a candy cane.
I found the brake pedal to be squishy underfoot, not overly reassuring in its action, with sub-par response on offer from its disc brakes.
Plus the underdone braking is exacerbated by the softness of the suspension - the body isn’t as controlled as most other vehicles in the segment, meaning it can wobble and shift its weight in an ungainly way. Its softly set chassis (MacPherson style front suspension, torsion beam rear suspension) can make for stumbles over bumpy sections of road, and you can feel the springs and dampers compress so much at high speeds that there’s a ‘bottoming out’ sensation.
The steering doesn’t do it any favours, either: it’s as aloof as Tom Cruise’s real personality - very hard to judge at high and low speeds, with odd weighting and inconsistency to the way it reacts. The tyres are too narrow to fully explore its handling capability - not that you’d really want to.
Both electric Kona variants come with Hyundai’s full suite of active safety items, including auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection (AEB – works up to 65km/h for pedestrians or 80km/h for vehicles), forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring (BSM), driver attention alert (DAA), lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), high beam assist, rear cross traffic alert and active cruise control.
That’s an impressive suite of features, placing the Kona among the best equipped in the small SUV segment.
Regular safety refinements include six airbags, the expected electronic stability and brake controls as well as two ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
All Konas including the electric variants carry a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of December 2017.
The MG ZS was submitted for an ANCAP crash-test score in 2017, and it managed four stars. According to the crash testers, the ZS exhibited “sub-par” performance in the head-on crash test. That’s not good enough, really, and it’s below the standard set by the larger MG GS, which was the first Chinese vehicle to score five stars locally.
The ZS comes with an array of safety kit that we appreciate, though, like six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, a torque-vectoring by braking system (that helps in corners).
But further emphasising the safety score we’ve given it, the ZS isn’t available with auto emergency braking (AEB), even as an option, and there’s no lane-keeping assist or other smart tech like blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert, either.
Where is the MG ZS built? Not the UK, as the Morris Garages badge may lead you to believe. Nah, it’s built in China - and a low crash test rating, plus a low standard of safety kit, does little to push the case for Chinese-built models in Australia.
It’s a fail on the safety front, then.
The Kona Electric is covered by Hyundai’s competitive five-year unlimited kilometre warranty offering, sitting on-par with most competitors.
It came as a surprise to find Hyundai actually guarantees the battery for longer than the car itself, with an eight-year/160,000km warranty.
The lack of moving parts in the Kona Electric’s drivetrain means (theoretically) less to service and less to go wrong. As such, Hyundai has capped electric Kona servicing at $165 per 12-monthly 15,000km visit for the length of the warranty.
Services have capped prices beyond that with Hyundai’s 'iCare' packages, although we're waiting for confirmation on pricing.
Whether any long-term issues will show up with electric drivetrains is yet to be seen.
There’s one thing that can be said of MG’s effort in Australia - they’re giving it a go when it comes to ownership.
The company backs the SUV models in its range with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and the same cover for roadside assistance. That’s as good as you’ll get at Kia, straight off the bat.
Actually finding an MG dealership might be the next big challenge. There are just a dozen showrooms for the company at the time of writing, which means getting it serviced could be a pain if you’re away on holidays or if you move house.
And all the good work of the warranty is undone by very short service intervals - it needs maintenance every six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first.