Latest MG makes electric family motoring more affordable – but exactly how well?

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As noble causes go, in the automotive world there are few nobler than the goal of making “hightech, zero-emission cars available to all”, as MG’s UK head of sales, Daniel Gregorious, puts it.

Of course, frequently do we hear twee comments, made to similar effect, leaving the mouths of industry executives – but with MG and Gregorious, there is a sense that not only is the sentiment genuine but also achievable. As a brand, MG Motor UK Limited re-emerged in 2009 under the ownership of state-owned Chinese manufacturing giant SAIC Motor and has recently introduced the 3 supermini and MG Motor ZS crossover, both of which have defied outsider expectations and sold well.

Like Nissan, Renault and Honda (and unlike BMW, VW, Audi, Tesla and Porsche), MG puts the charging port on the radiator grille. If you tend to drive nose first into parking bays, it will suit you.

The key has been aggressive pricing, good practicality and reasonable equipment levels, all of which have meant owners are happy to turn a blind eye to lower-quality plastics and the lack of certain amenities found in more expensive rivals. Admittedly, this isn’t for everyone, but one couldn’t wish for a more transparent philosophy.

Which is all well and good for conventional vehicles, but electric ones are famously expensive to produce, with the costs passed on to the customer. Alongside a meagre public charging infrastructure, it’s high prices that have above all else hindered uptake, but this is where the new ZS EV warrants attention.

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Available from £24,995 – or even as low as £21,995 with MG’s limited-time offer to nearly match the government’s £3500 grant for zero-emission cars – this crossover is by far the most affordable electric car in its class, and puts MG on a more pioneering footing than many expected. Indeed, by 2021, MG will have introduced two more electrified mainstream models and even an electric sports car. It’s an ambitious and exciting plan for a brand attempting to re-establish itself in the UK.

However, in the here and now, there are questions about the ZS EV’s driving range, and to achieve a road-test recommendation, it will need to offer its owner satisfaction beyond being cheap to buy and run. Could this prove a seminal model for the reincarnated British marque? Let’s find out.

The MG ZS range at a glance

Even after the government’s plug-in car grant, there’s a sizable and conspicuous jump in price between the combustion-engined models and the electric version. Unsurprisingly, the latter comes in upper-middle and top-spec equipment levels only, the EV adding roof bars, leather-effect heated seats and some active safety kit.

Price £26,995 (after £3500 government grant) Power 141bhp Torque 260lb ft 0-60mph 8.9sec 30-70mph in fourth na Fuel economy 2.7mpkWh CO2 emissions 0g/km 70-0mph 62.7m



MG ZS EV 2019 road test review - hero side

The electric ZS is another example of the engineering rationalisation that’s sweeping through the industry, as belts collectively get tightened and cost savings found. The Chinese-built platform is shared with the combustion-powered models in the range, having been designed from the outset to accommodate electrification.

In this case, that electrification comes in the form of a 44.5kWh lithium ion battery pack (watercooled to better regulate temperature and sustain driving range, with a usable ‘net’ capacity of 42kWh) housed along the floor pan. It drives a 141bhp synchronous electric motor positioned where you would normally find the car’s engine, making this the most powerful ZS that MG currently offers.

Subtle bootlid badge is one of only a few ways to tell the EV and other ZS models apart. The car has a unique front valance design, too, but still less visual distinctiveness than most EVs.

As a small crossover designed in the same mould as the Nissan Juke and Hyundai Kona, it should come as no surprise that four-wheel drive is also off the menu. This is the case whichever ZS you opt for, though the electric version does at least get three driving modes with varying levels of regenerative braking. Elsewhere, the architecture is recognisable for the segment and lacks any real innovation, electric or otherwise. There is electrically assisted power steering and MacPherson strut suspension at the front with a torsion beam at the back, above which sits a steel monocoque body.

By the standards of electric SUVs, which are saddled with sizeable battery packs, the ZS does weigh relatively little. MG claimed 1534kg at the kerb, which our test car weighed in very close to.

Equally, the car would benefit from a larger power source, perhaps at the expense of kerb weight and some additional cost. Driving range is rated at 163 miles on the WLTP combined test cycle – a figure surpassed by every rival in this segment, and comfortably so by the likes of the Kia e-Niro, which manages nearly 300 miles by the same measure.

Meanwhile, the car’s charging attributes are merely adequate in 2019, with both CCS and Type 2 charging ports housed within the grille. It means the ZS EV can charge at 50kW rapid chargers and take on 100 miles of range in around 30 minutes, but the 100kW speeds enjoyed by Kia e-Niro owners are unavailable.


MG ZS EV 2019 road test review - cabin

The MG ZS doesn’t suffer under any fashionable ‘crossover’ bodystyle definition and so, while it’s not outwardly particularly large, it offers better interior space than some of its competitors.

This is a car that will easily transport four adults in relative comfort, offering more than enough in the way of cabin space so as to assuage any concerns about unwanted bodily contact with your fellow passenger. Our tape measure took typical rear leg room at an impressive 730mm, with second-row head room coming in at 910mm. Respectively, that’s 70mm more and 10mm less than the Kona Electric (a car we criticised for its shortage of outright passenger space), and a mere fraction behind the excellent Kia e-Niro.

Open position for the air vent is at three o’clock, which looks a touch odd. Design feels like it’s been lifted straight from Audi, too. Or do we mean Mercedes?

Boot space is very good by class standards. With 470 litres of seats up capacity (22 more than in the regular MG Motor ZS), it outstrips both the Kia and the Hyundai – the former by 19 litres and the latter by a considerable 138 litres. A split-level ‘variable’ boot floor makes a small underfloor compartment available where charging cables can be stashed, while there are also two useful cubbies in the recess behind each rear wheel arch. The cabin isn’t without its share of handy storage solutions either.

But while the MG makes a pretty strong case for itself with regards to purely utilitarian usability, it doesn’t set any new benchmarks in terms of visual or tactile material appeal. Superficially, its combination of glossy black and chrome-like plastic surfacing has some level of allure, but closer investigation of the car’s fixtures and fittings doesn’t yield a particularly solid feel.

While most of the MG’s interior trim feels as though it’s been put together well enough, the cabin isn’t free from creaks and groans, and much of the interior switchgear isn’t so pleasing to the touch. Admittedly, the car’s secondary controls are largely well placed within easy reach of the driver, but their predominantly hard, plasticky construction isn’t quite up to the standard of those you’d find in the Hyundai or Kia (neither of which is a benchmark for outstanding material quality). Some of this apparent cheapness might be forgiven, of course, in light of the MG’s price; some, but perhaps not all.

For the clarity of its display, the MG’s infotainment system is to be commended. On a purely visual level, there isn’t a great deal separating it from some of the more high-end tablets and smartphones.

It’s a pity, then, that where pure usability is concerned, it comes unstuck in quite dramatic fashion. The operating system is easy enough to learn and then navigate, but responsiveness is poor and the graphical slickness that’s so readily apparent when you’re not interacting with it all but goes out the window.

Still, once you’ve inputted your mapping information into the factory satellite navigation system, or selected your preferred DAB radio station, it does claw back a degree of smoothness. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both look slick, too, provided you’re not constantly trying to jump between menus.

The sound quality, meanwhile, is good enough given the MG’s price point, while multiple USB ports allow a collection of devices to be charged at once.


MG ZS EV 2019 road test review - engine

It’s a challenge not to begin your ZS EV driving experience in search of a catch. After all, this car so far looks like following through pretty well on its promise of delivering usable – and all-electric – family-appropriate motoring at a price that most people would consider affordable – and MG is the first car maker, it could be argued, to really hit that particular nail so squarely on the head.

But, in terms of how well the car goes and stops and generally how easy and pleasant it is to use, there’s no obvious catch to be found. The ZS EV isn’t quite in a Kia e-Niro’s league for performance assertiveness but, dipping as it did just inside 9.0sec from 0-60mph on a chilly November morning, and hitting 8.0sec from 30-70mph, it’s still very respectably nippy. A 178bhp, 1.5-litre turbocharged Ford Focus is barely any quicker up to the UK motorway limit.

KERS switch allows you to cycle through three different settings for the regenerative braking system, just like a Formula 1 car. Or not.

The car struggled slightly in the conditions to put 260lb ft of torque onto the Tarmac through only one axle, as you’d expect. The electronic traction governance might be a little bit less delicate and more slower-witted than in the best of the electric breed, and feels more like it’s engaged in a pitched battle against torque and wheelspin than cleverly gauging traction and meting out grunt accordingly, as some EVs seem able to do.

You can, of course, quite easily throttle back a bit and still take advantage of what EVs do best. The ZS has outstanding linearity of throttle response and, although it doesn’t quite sweep into motion the instant you move the accelerator pedal, the car has evidently been tuned instead to avoid the sense of hyper-responsiveness that you can get from some EVs. It picks up pace between 20mph and 50mph with plenty of gutsiness, which then begins to decrease as you approach the national speed limit – although there’s still plenty of urgency available for A-road overtaking and motorway lane manoeuvring.

MG offers three driving modes and three separate battery regen presets, both selectable via rocker switches at the base of the centre stack. ‘Eco’ driving mode seemed, during our testing, to achieve little to boost efficiency and much more to blunt drivability, so it’s best avoided.

The battery regen setting flexibility does at least allow you to let the car coast pretty effectively when it’s smart to do so, or to drive it ‘on one pedal’ should you prefer. Both are agreeable modes of operation, although the car’s brake pedal tuning fails to make it clear through tactile feel when you’re regenerating electrical power and when you’ve progressed to involving the friction brakes.

Assisted Driving notes

Both Excite and Exclusive trim levels come equipped with MG Pilot – the firm’s semi-autonomous active safety system package. Its capabilities vary slightly between trim levels, but all models feature active emergency braking, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. Exclusive models gain features including blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.

Adaptive cruise control works largely as you’d expect it to, adjusting speed on the motorway to maintain a consistent distance from the car in front. It can, however, be hesitant to accelerate when you want to change lanes to overtake a slow-moving car.

The lane-keep assist system is effectively useless. It drops out persistently and, when it does work, it doesn’t seem to effectively keep you from wandering into another lane. Meanwhile, the MG’s near-constant chiming and bonging as these various systems either start up or drop out provoked the ire of all of our testers.


MG ZS EV 2019 road test review - cornering front

The Hyundai Kona Electric highlighted the challenges that come from adding a lot of weight to a platform with a reasonably short wheelbase. Wherever you hide it, that additional mass becomes difficult to keep under control – because mass is still mass, even if it is carried low and between the axles – and ultimately leads to key dynamic compromises.

With an even shorter wheelbase and a less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension (the Kona has a multi-link arrangement), the MG falls into the same trap, and on faster, more variable country roads the result is a perceptible shortage of vertical body control.

The ZS has three drive modes, none of which coaxes much dynamism on twisty roads like these from a car that is composed at lower speeds but less assured at higher ones

Not that the ZS and Kona feel alike on the road; while the Hyundai is staunchly upright, over-sprung and short on grip, the MG is softer and comfier at lower speeds but less well-controlled at higher ones. Downward movement through compressions feels more soggy than genuinely cushioned and regulated, though, while the dampers often need a couple of passes to then bring the oscillation triggered on rebound back under control.

The car doesn’t feel particularly wieldy or agile through bends either. That softer set-up and inflated mass give way to what feels like quite a pronounced level of roll under faster cornering, which combines with limited reserves of front-end grip to sap the MG of anything in the way of athleticism. Mid-corner bumps can also lead to a degree of thumping and deflection, while the electronic stability systems are quick to step in with a heavy hand.

This is a bit of a shame, really, because the MG’s medium-paced steering does at least seem reasonably responsive. That said, it lacks a properly reassuring level of weight, with its overly light setup failing to telegraph much of an idea as to how the front tyres are interacting with the road beneath you. Switching to Sport mode does introduce a degree more heft, however, but you soon learn to abandon any enthusiasm and adopt a more sympathetic driving style.


The very earliest modern electric cars taught us, a decade or so ago now, that adopting a quiet electric motor can actually impose a significant challenge for NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) engineers rather than making their lives easier. That’s because taking away one of the biggest sources of noise in a moving car only really serves to draw greater attention to the lesser ones whose influence never previously seemed so great.

The ZS EV brings to mind those earlier electric efforts a bit. It has an only averagely well-isolated and well-insulated cabin and so, although the electric motor is mostly fairly noiseless in operation, the car still registered a couple of decibels more road noise, wind noise and general background hum than the Ford Focus we referred to earlier at both 30mph and 50mph. Between one thing and another, you’d stop short of calling this a particularly refined car – but neither would you call it unrefined.

You’d call it comfortable enough, most of the time. The seats are soft, well-shaped and well-cushioned, and the car’s ride is medium-soft so that it feels absorbent over the majority of bigger, longer-wave bumps and mostly so around town. Only a sense of slightly overly permissive damping allows the axles to clunk and thump over sharper topography, and sometimes the primary ride to lurch a little also.


MG ZS EV 2019 road test review - hero front

With a starting price of less than £25,000 for this car taking into account the government’s plug-in car grant, plus a £3000 discount that the manufacturer is currently throwing in, you could put the lower-trim Excite version car on your driveway for four years, via a PCP deal, for less than £250 a month after a typical trade-in. Given how cheaply you’ll be able to run the car, the rational case for ownership ought to be clear.

If only it were. The fact is that the ZS’s disappointing battery range lets it down somewhat. In fairly chilly conditions, the best energy efficiency we saw from it was 3.1 miles per kWh, making for a touring range of 130 miles – and one closer to 110 miles in typical mixed use.

First-year depreciation is particularly savage on EVs due to plug-in grant. MG does better thereafter relative to rivals

In our experience, a 40kWh Nissan Leaf will beat that by a useful margin, and the new 50kWh Renault Zoe should do so by a very useful one. By no means is 113 miles of realistic everyday driving a disaster, but it is what EVs of a not-dissimilar price were offering five or more years ago. And when battery range remains the biggest limitation to usability of EVs like this, it will inevitably be a sticking point for some.



MG ZS EV 2019 road test review - static

It seems entirely fair to presume that had the MG ZS EV been launched closer to the beginning of this decade, it would have been a force to be reckoned with. By all measures, this is a seriously affordable and impressively practical electric vehicle, with a powertrain that offers perfectly agreeable performance and drivability.

However, in the context of what you can now expect at the humbler end of the EV spectrum, the impression that the MG has arrived to the party a few years too late becomes a tricky one to shake. Its 113-mile mixed-use range is the largest speed hump in this respect, and sees it trail similarly priced rivals by a not insignificant margin. An at-times baggy ride, meanwhile, along with lacklustre handling and flaky, often irritating safety systems don’t do it many favours either.

Practical, affordable MG fails to truly move the game on

While the MG might win some bargain-savvy fans to begin with, this car’s limited usability is likely to make it age quickly with the pace at which the EV market is developing. Right now, as a value option, the ZS EV has a place – but it will need longer legs pretty quickly to be able to keep it.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

MG Motor ZS EV First drives