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New car test drive

MG ZS EV test drive

Is MG's first EV as affordable as its makers claim?

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MG ZS EV test drive 1
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MG launched the ZS compact SUV last year and has enjoyed great success with it – the brand’s year-to-date sales of almost 6,300 cars are around 2,000 up on the same period in 2018 and 1,500 of those sales are the ZS.

The success of the ZS is largely down to one factor – price. According to our unique Expert Rating, which aggregates reviews from 15 of the top UK motoring websites, the ZS currently holds a score of 55% – the lowest score of any compact SUV/crossover we have analysed this year. But it’s also one of the cheapest.

Now MG hopes to further boost the ZS sales success story with an electric version – the brand’s first EV and the standard-bearer for four electrified cars to launch by 2021. These will comprise another battery-electric model and two plug-in hybrids including the production version of the E-Motion sports car concept.

MG describes the ZS EV as ‘the first truly affordable, family-friendly electric car’. These are brave words in a market growing ever more competitive – can it live up to the billing?

What’s new about the MG ZS EV?

The MG ZS EV is basically the brand’s standard small SUV, but with its internal combustion engine and transmission replaced by an electric drivetrain. This is no compromise aftermarket solution, however – MG insists that from its earliest design sketches the ZS was always intended to incorporate electrics.

There are other changes – some styling elements and an increase in specification, some of this attempting to put right previous areas of criticism, particularly where safety is concerned. But basically, you will be buying the ZS EV because you want an electric car and want to pay as little as possible.

How does it look?

   

The MG ZS EV looks very much like its internal combustion sister, and that’s not a bad thing. The design has an unpretentious exterior presence that will merge into its surroundings to sit unobtrusively alongside rivals from larger brands.

There are some bespoke touches to the electric model, however. It gets its own design of alloy wheels, created to be both light in weight and to increase aerodynamic efficiency – both essential to extending battery range.

The grille is evolved from MG’s standard ‘star-rider’ design. Dubbed ‘Stellar Field’ it includes a section that flips up to reveal the battery charging sockets. And finally, there’s a new paint finish, following the trend to identify electric vehicles with blue colours and dubbed ‘Pimlico Blue.’

What’s the spec like?

The MG ZS EV is offered in two trim levels, Excite and Exclusive, but one immediate plus point is that both come with an impressive safety package – though perhaps this is not a surprise considering that when launched in 2017 the standard ZS received poor reviews for its safety package and a mere three-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

MG’s Pilot Driver Assistance Suite, standard on all cars, includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go facility, a lane departure warning and lane-keeping assistant, and a traffic-jam assistant which brakes, accelerates and keeps the car in its lane.

Highlights of the Excite trim are those 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, and an eight-inch touchscreen with sat-nav plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility.

Buy the top-spec Exclusive, and you also get blind-spot detection and a rear cross-traffic alert included.

An extra £2,000 buys an Exclusive, and as well as the extra active safety it includes a panoramic opening sunroof, electric heated folding mirrors, leather-style seats with the fronts heated and the driver’s electrically adjustable, and a rear parking camera.

It’s also worth remembering that all ZS models come with MG’s seven-year warranty, which also covers the battery and adds a significant value extra to the car.

And the cost? Well on the road the Excite is priced at £28,495 and the Exclusive £30,495. But applying the Government’s plug-in car grant takes £3,500 off these prices, which does bring the ZS into affordable territory even before one considers the launch offer, more of which directly…

What’s the MG ZS EV like inside?

Basically, just like the standard ZS. And that’s slightly a shame, because while it is practically laid out and easy to use, the quality of the surfaces does put the MG somewhat in the shadow of its perceived rivals from the likes of Kia and Hyundai. There’s a lot of plastic that appears hard to the touch and proves to be so.

Where the ZS does score is in space. It is a roomy contender in the small SUV market, and housing the battery under the floor ensures none of this is compromised in the cause of green motoring. The boot space of 448 litres, for example, is more than 90 litres larger than in the likes of the Ford Ecosport, Nissan Juke or Mazda CX-3.

What’s under the bonnet?

In the space previously occupied by the three-cylinder 1.0-litre or four-cylinder 1.5-litre internal combustion engine, the MG ZS EV houses an electric motor of 105kW (143hp). This is allied to a one-speed automatic transmission and powered by a 44.5kWh battery pack housed under the floor.

The ZS claims a range under the WLTP combined cycle of 163 miles, and 231 miles on a city driving cycle. The battery pack is water-cooled, which makes it compatible with CCS rapid chargers. Using a 50kW rapid charger an 80% charge can be achieved in 40 minutes – with a 7kW wall box a full charge takes 6.5 hours.

What’s the MG ZS EV like to drive?

Overall, we have yet to find out. The driving time on the launch event was confined to a tortuous route through central London streets, which ensured we seldom crested 20mph. But what this did show is that the ZS EV will be a willing companion in one of its prime target markets, for city-centre workers or dwellers seeking to avoid paying out in congestion or low-emission zones.

It is a very easy car to drive. The steering is light, though not overly so, taking much of the stress out of manoeuvring through the inevitable queues. And the instant torque of the electric drivetrain really comes into its own when getting away from yet another set of traffic lights – MG quotes a 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds but a 0-30mph time of just 3.2 seconds.

One notable aspect is the kinetic energy recovery system. There are three levels of regeneration, and on the maximum setting the ZS becomes virtually a one-pedal car, using engine braking to slow the car as soon as one lifts off the throttle pedal and at the same time sending some charge back to the battery.

So on the streets of a city, the MG ZS EV is an effective proposition. As to whether it stacks up once out of the jams and onto the open road, we will need to reserve opinion until our full review later in the year.

Verdict

One of the biggest compliments paid to the MG ZS is that those seeking a smaller SUV should consider it alongside much bigger-selling models from the better-known names in the business, so it’s no surprise that MG has chosen this car with which to step into the electric arena. And this could be an inspired move. We can’t give the car a complete thumbs-up until we undertake a more rounded review, but first impressions are positive.

Meanwhile, if you’ve read enough already and are taken by the MG ZS EV, you should move quickly. For the first 1,000 examples, MG is matching the Government grant, which brings the entry point to electric motoring down to just £21,495 (as well as throwing in a free home callbox charger).

Based on that asking price of £21,495, MG is hoping to target monthly PCP payments that slide under the magic £300 a month mark, although this will very much depend on how you configure your deposit, term and annual mileage.

When you equate the cost of fuel, MG reckons you’ll save £75 a month on your motoring costs compared to the equivalent ZS petrol model. And over four years, with the lower servicing charges of an EV, the saving is claimed to be more than £6,000. Tempting…

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Key specifications

Model as tested: MG ZS EV Exclusive
Price as tested (on-road): £26,995 (after plug-in car grant)
Powertrain: Synchronous electric motor supplied by batteries
Gearbox: single-speed automatic
Power: 143 hp
Torque: 260 Nm
Top speed: 87 mph
0-60mph: 8.5 seconds
Range between charges (WLTP combined): 163 miles
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is the News and Road Test Editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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