MG has been on a bit of journey in the UK since we last checked in with the company. Now an importer and without Longbridge as its centre of operations, it’s very much cutting its cloth to suit. Gone are the days of bullish managers telling us it’s going to be a new British Alfa Romeo or SEAT, instead there’s a pragmatism about this new slimmed-down MG – and a plan to start selling cars here that people actually want to buy. Should we be taking more notice?
On the face of it, yes, probably. The hottest ticket in town is the electric SUV. Buyers, it seems, can’t get enough of what we used to call crossovers, and many are at least beginning to consider the idea of getting an electric car. And rather fortuitously, MG has a product to tap the zeitgeist, priced to undercut all of its opposition (of which there is very little right now). If you’re thinking of turning electric and have about £270 per month to spend, you have very few options right now… can MG make something out of this golden opportunity?
Based on the existing ZS SUV, the EV version isn’t changed significantly. The platform was designed from the outset with electrification in mind and, fussy styling aside, it’s pitched to those looking for an electric car, but don’t want to make too much of a statement about it. We’ll return to the value for money proposition because at a cash price of £28,495 (before government Plug-in Car Grant), it’s one of the cheapest EVs on sale right now, and considerably larger and more usable than all of those cars it competes against. There’s a good page on Parkers that shows what it’s up against for the money.
Significantly, the MG ZS EV was the first Chinese car sold in the UK to earn a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. This is down to the inclusion of adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning, speed limit assist and traffic jam assist. That’s a significant achievement in the development of the brand, and proof that Chinese carmakers have caught up with the Europeans in this area.
But is that enough? Would we take one over something like a Nissan Leaf or a Vauxhall Corsa-e? Read on…
What’s it like to drive?
Your view of how the MG ZS EV drives will be very much based on whether you’ve driven an electric car before or not. For EV newbies, it’s going to take a little getting used to its silent start-up and instant throttle response. And, as for its performance, it’s very typical EV – quick take-off and acceleration, and beautifully-smooth power delivery before tailing off at the top end. It takes 8.5 seconds to accelerate from 0-62mph from rest, but has a low maximum speed of 87mph. Does anyone need more in the UK?
What this all means is that, like all budget EVs, this is not a car for long motorway trips or a quick dash overseas. If you want that, you’re going to need a Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia e-Niro or Tesla Model 3. However, if you’re likely to drive around town, or have limited long-distance travel, then the MG’s performance and 163-mile range will be more than the ticket (MG says it will do nearer 200 in town driving). And it really is good in this situation – zippy acceleration to 30mph, strong motor regeneration (so you can comfortably drive it on one pedal, barely touching the brakes) and smooth, silent power delivery.
You actually get three levels of regenerative braking, which are controlled by amusingly-named KERS switch (like an F1 car). Unlike the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model 3, it won’t come to a compete stop on regen only. Its ride quality is pretty good, cushioning the worst urban ruts and potholes, while making a decent fist of faster A-roads, although body control is disappointing considering MG’s heritage. Handling and steering are where you’d expect them to be – safe, uninspiring and perfectly acceptable for a car of this price and anticipated market. In short, it’s not going to set your pulse racing, but neither does it put a foot wrong.
What’s it like inside?
It’s a B-segment SUV, so you know the drill. A high seating position with a good view forward, decent room for the driver plus three passengers, and a commodious boot that beats rival hatchbacks but won’t touch a typical estate car. But then, can you name an electric estate car? Exactly… Up front, there’s a decent amount of space and the driving position isn’t that bad either.
Actually, the front seats are set a little too high and, although that works well for shorter drivers, for anyone over 6ft tall getting comfortable will be a challenge. A steering wheel that doesn’t adjust for reach as well as rake is unforgiveable in this day and age. In the rear, things are tight if you want three in the back, otherwise there’s little else to complain about. Luggage space is good for its class, and there’s no penalty for it being an EV – you get 448 litres of space, which puts it at the top of the compact SUV class regardless of what powers it. It’s reasonably shaped, but if you want a flat loading area, you’ll need to put the split floor on its highest setting.
The infotainment system is actually pretty good considering the price of the car. It’s decently-sized at 8.0in, and simple to use. It’s a world away from the crash-prone mess you had in the original MG6. It’s good, too, that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported, if you’re not one for using factory sat-navs or like using your music library or streaming services on the move. Equipment levels aren’t bad, either, with even the entry-level version covering all the bases.
Notice we’ve not fixated on interior quality? That’s because it’s more than acceptable for the price. If you’re one for soft-touch plastics, they’re all present and correct on the dashboard and the rest of the cabin feels solid and long-lasting. Not inspiring or classy, but certainly functional.
The MG ZS is a decent-value small SUV that’s been developed into an excellent EV that’s well-priced and could find its way on to a lot of families’ driveways in the coming years. It’s the right product at the right time for the company, especially considering that BIK tax will be zero for EVs from April 2020. It’s not a car that you’re going to relish long journeys in, but you could say that about any of the EVs offered for similar money. What it works well at is as a family car for town dwellers who don’t have long commutes.
It’s also noteworthy for its long warranty. MG clearly understands – now – that in order to build consumer confidence you need to offer more protection than the opposition. Its seven-year warranty, which matches Kia and SsangYong, looks good for anyone new to MG considering making the move. Yes, most owners don’t actually own their car at all, and will lease or PCP them for three or four years, but it shows good faith, and is transferable to subsequent owners. It’s all quite removed from the MG of 2011…
Time, then, to answer our original question: would we have one over one of its smaller but similarly-priced rivals? If we wanted to go ‘green’ and had a growing family, then based purely on its packaging and abilities, it’s hard to argue against an MG ZS EV at its current price.