The Chinese-owned British brand has taken its first step into the world of plug-in vehicles with the competitively priced full electric ZS SUV.
On the road
On the road
Another new brand has moved in to the electric vehicle arena, and MG has instantly jumped ahead of many more established players by offering a comparatively affordable SUV.
1. The rear seats fold, but it's far from a flat layout, with a big step up from the boot floor to the dropped rear seats.
2. There's a distinct and useful difference between the three brake energy regeneration settings.
3. The charge point is neatly stashed behind the large MG badge in the grille, although that means you need to go nose-first into parking spaces to charge the car, rather than the more preferable and textbook reversing in.
The MG ZS is a small crossover very much at the budget end of the scale, as the British brand seeks to re-establish itself under Chinese ownership. The foray into electric vehicles is, according to the brand, a serious extension rather than a niche addition (see What They Say, right). The first 1000 cars sold out within two weeks of the pricing announcement earlier this summer, and MG says supply won’t be the issue it is for some other brands (Kia and Hyundai are quoting 12-month waits for cars) because MG has a battery factory capable of producing 300,000 EV batteries a year.
The ZS EV has an official WLTP test range of 163 miles, which is less than the aforementioned Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona EV, but its pricing is impressive when you compare it with the similar range potential of the Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf electric five-door hatches that also count as key rivals while electric vehicles are still fairly sparse.
There are two trim levels of ZS EV, with the Excite priced at £28,495 before the Government’s £3500 plug-in car grant, and the Exclusive costing an extra £2000. That puts it in excess of £2000 cheaper than an N-Connecta-spec Leaf, and a further £1000 beneath an electric VW Golf, both of which are in the same official mileage ball park; the Leaf can do five miles more and the Golf will cover 19 less. MG is also offering a limited retail-only discount of a further £3500 as part of its launch into the electric vehicle sector.
"Supply is said to not be an issue; MG has a factory capable of making 300,000 batteries a year"
But that doesn’t mean equipment levels have a budget feel to them, with the MG Pilot suite
of safety kit, which includes autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control, among the standard kit list. Each ZS EV also includes keyless entry, sat-nav via an 8.0-inch touchscreen, rear parking sensors, smart 17-inch alloy wheels and automatic headlights. Jump up to Exclusive trim and blindspot detection, rear cross traffic alert, automatic wipers, heated front seats, panoramic sunroof, rear parking camera and silver roof rails are all added. The only item on the options list is three colour choices over the basic white that’s free of charge.
The driving experience of the MG ZS EV isn’t the most impressive part of the package. The car feels a little like it’s early electric vehicle technology, especially with the snatchy and sensitive brake pedal that stands the car on its nose with little provocation, and the thumpy ride quality that makes it feel like the dampers and suspension aren’t quite up to the job. The steering is also a little numb, albeit weighty enough.
However, the ZS EV has the instant surge of acceleration those familiar with electric vehicle driving will be fond of, as well as the pleasantly silent low-speed running that makes for a relaxed driving experience. Also positive is the ability to pick between three very distinct levels of brake energy recuperation via a large toggle switch in the middle of the cabin. The first level is unobtrusive but doesn’t replenish the battery to the same extent as the higher levels, with level three allowing almost single-pedal driving by offering enough regeneration to actively slow the car so that, with a bit of awareness and forward planning on when to come off the accelerator, the brake pedal is rarely required.
The cabin is of mixed quality, with hard plastic across much of an interior that’s interspersed, on the higher-spec trim level driven here at least, with nicer leather trim on the bits you spend the most time touching, such as the steering wheel and central armrest.
Cabin storage is mixed, with a smaller central bin under the driver’s elbow, two cupholders that have decent depth but will struggle to take larger cups or bottles, and larger door bins. The boot is a very good size at 448 litres, the same as a petrol ZS and outpointing most electric vehicles, seemingly unencumbered by the battery packaging, something that handicaps some rivals.
The load area also has a handy small netted section each side of the load bay for protecting smaller fragile items, although there are no luggage hooks. However, when you fold down the rear row of seats for increased luggage space, there’s nowhere near a flat floor; you’re left with a steep ledge where the back seats have dropped down.
The infotainment system isn’t great, taking a surprisingly long time to boot up and then not being particularly user-friendly when it is running. That said, the screen is large and the ZS EV comes with Apple Carplay and Android Auto as standard. Premium brands take note.
However, it’s cost where the MG is at its most impressive, and not just that low purchase price. Kee Resources puts the residual value at 35.2%, which is strong for an electric vehicle and well above the residuals of EVs from more established brands. Insurance costs are also impressively low, which helps to counter the surprisingly high figure for servicing, maintenance and repairs.
And that’s all before you get to the cost to a company car driver, which is clearer since the Government finally recently announced its plans for Benefit-in-Kind taxation for the coming years. A 40% taxpayer will have a monthly BIK bill of £162 until April 2020. But in the new tax year the figure, as is the case with all fully electric cars, drops to absolutely nothing for 12 months, and then £10 and £20 a month in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 tax years. By comparison, the figures for the 106hp 1.5-litre petrol MG ZS are £166 per months this year and then £171pm for each of the four years after that. Yes, that car does cost almost £12,000 less than the EV up front, but the tax savings are there to see before you even look at the £1400 the company will save in National Insurance or the fuel cost savings versus the petrol car.
The ZS EV is a good debut into the world of plug-in vehicles for MG, and is likely to help push the already-growing brand to wider recognition of its current line-up. Certainly, this new SUV isn’t the most polished or cutting-edge electric vehicle to drive, but the costs case is hugely persuasive, given this is a small crossover vehicle that has the boot and rear passenger space to act as a primary vehicle in a household. In addition, the range is in line with the ‘second division’ of electric vehicle battery capability – it can’t match the Hyundai Kona’s larger battery or that of the Kia Niro, but is ahead of the new breed of small city car EVs coming from the likes of Honda and Mini; a real-world 150 miles with delicate driving should be plenty for enough users to make the electric MG a success.
MG is owned by SAIC Motor Corporation, one of the big four state-owned Chinese automakers, which hoovered up Nanjing Automobile in 2007, a year after Nanjing acquired the MG marque.
The UK’s first new MG for 16 years, the MG6 upper medium hatchback, was launched in 2011, joined two years later by the MG3 supermini that is still part of the range today.
The brand moved into SUVs in 2016 with the Nissan Qashqai-sized GS, and in 2017 added the smaller ZS crossover, the car that now has MG’s first electric powertrain to go with its pair of petrol engines.
A third MG SUV, the larger HS, launches late this year.
The ZS was previewed by the MG CS concept car (pictured) at the Shanghai Motor Show in April 2013, and the brand has also previously run development versions of a supermini electric vehicle that never made it to market.
MG is SAIC’s international brand, with the company using its Roewe brand in its domestic market. At present, the UK is the only market in Europe in which MGs are sold, although this may change.
MG has sold 7989 cars so fat in 2019, 40.5% up on the same period of 2018, taking a 0.5% market share to put it less than 1000 behind Lexus.
What they said
What They Said
“With an exciting £21,495 price point at launch, the ZS EV is a compelling option for customers who want to switch from petrol and diesel cars and enjoy all the benefits of electric motoring."
“ZS EV is here to revolutionise the way people think about electric cars. With the first truly affordable, family-friendly electric car, MG is bringing zero-emissions motoring within everyone’s reach."
“Make no mistake, this car isn’t a brand statement or a vanity project, we’re here to sell many electric cars.”
Daniel Gregorious, head of sales and marketing, MG Motor UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
The big regeneration toggle makes it easy to flick between modes
The 17-inch alloy wheels on both trim levels are smart
The higher Exclusive trim gets an opening panoramic roof as standard
...And one we don't
The infotainment system is slow to boot up and not the most user-friendly
The noise-free drive is relaxing, and the instant punch of acceleration pleasing, although the brakes are unpleasantly snatchy and the steering is a little numb.
Zero emissions has clear tax benefits from next April, although the battery range doesn’t match those of more expensive EVs.
Good boot space and reasonable rear passenger room, and the range, while not the longest, seems to drop in line with miles covered.
Good kit levels on both trims, given the comparatively low purchase price. No options bar metallic paint.
The alloys and brighter paint colours help emphasise a smart if understated crossover.
Comfort and refinement 6/10
The ride quality isn’t great, tending to thump over bumps rather than working too hard to absorb them.
Mixed qualities, with some nicer leather contrasting with plenty of cheap plastic. Varied sizes of stowage dotted around the cabin.
A bit of a weak point, portraying the MG’s budget positioning. It’s very slow to boot up and not particularly user-friendly. Also, our car always reset the volume to louder on start up than it was set to when shut off.
Whole life costs 9/10
Great residual values compared with other electric models and the tax benefits will step up hugely from the 2020/21 tax year.
CCT opinion 7/10
An interesting budget addition to the EV ranks, the MG is a capable and practical alternative.
It has its flaws around the driving experience, infotainment and some areas of cabin quality, but the costs equation stacks up very nicely and it looks smart.