First Drive: MG ZS EV

Spacious, well equipped and cheap; is the MG ZS EV the breakthrough for electric cars in the UK?

You might be forgiven for thinking that MG is being a tad optimistic with its pricing of the new MG ZS EV, an all-electric variant of its Nissan Juke-sized SUV. The price list says you’ll need to hand over £28,495 to take ownership of the car, which is as much as an entry-level Nissan Leaf and perilously close to the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric – the current best-in-class rivals.

However, fortunately HM Government steps in and provides a grant that reduces that cost by £3,500. More impressively, the first 1,000 buyers will have a further £3,500 taken off by MG, meaning you can get behind the wheel of the ZS EV for as little as £21,495.

With just 9,000 sales across the entire brand last year, you’d expect that offer to last a while. However, there’s been a surge of interest in this car, and those first 1,000 cars have all been ordered, so MG has stepped in again and confirmed that another 1,000 cars will get the same helping hand. It’s not unreasonable to expect that offer to continue as production costs reduce, at least in the medium term.

Assuming you can get hold of a ZS EV for that lower price, it changes expectations and makes it easier to forgive some shortcomings. Let’s start with the most obvious one; the range. Despite having a 44.5kWh hour battery, some 10% bigger than you’ll find in a Leaf, there’s only 163 miles of range according to official figures. In the real world that probably translates as around 125 or so, unless you drive particularly carefully.

That said, unlike with a Nissan Leaf, the battery pack is conditioned so that it remains at the right temperature regardless of how hot or cold things get outside. This means you can use rapid chargers as frequently as you like, without overheating the battery, making long journeys far less inconvenient, especially with an ever-growing rapid charger network across the UK. Day-to-day driving for most people will be easily covered by the available range. Honestly, when was the last time you travelled 125 miles in a day, without at least a break somewhere?

There have been few changes from the regular ZS to accommodate the electric drivetrain. MG insists the car was originally designed to take electric power and, with no noticeable differences in boot capacity or interior space, who am I to argue? Certainly it feels spacious and airy, with MG promising that the ZS is 55m wider and provides 80mm more headroom than the average small SUV but, frustratingly, the steering wheel still only adjusts for rake and not reach. At 448 litres, the boot is on a par with the practical Renault Captur, and significantly larger than the Nissan Juke’s offering.

The gear lever has been replaced by a space-saving rotary dial to choose between forwards, backwards or neutral. There’s also a switch offering three levels of regenerative braking – the more severe the slow down when coasting, the more power is being fed back into the batteries. Bizarrely, there’s also a switch to display on the instrument panel just how much range you have left. That figure then disappears after a few seconds, leaving you guessing until you flick the switch again.

Otherwise equipment levels are strong, with a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay, all accessed through a smart-looking Windows-mobile inspired eight-inch touchscreen. Previously, Android Auto was absent from the ZS, but it’s now appeared in the infotainment system.

Other updates are limited to a slightly revised ‘stellar field’ grille that hides the charging port, where you’ll find both Type 2 and CCS rapid-charge options, as well as some aerodynamically tuned wheels. There’s also a new EV-exclusive colour “inspired by the digital era,” although it just looks like light blue to me.

I’ve carefully avoided describing how the ZS EV drives, and that’s thanks to a test route that involved crawling through much of central London. Yes, it escapes the clutches of the congestion charge and new ultra-low emission zone fees (which might be important for Cambridge residents in the future) but it’s not an ideal location to test the dynamics of a new car.

Still, it’s the perfect environment for an EV, and it did what every other EV does in the same circumstances; there’s a relaxing calm to having no engine noise and no vibrations, while off-the-line performance is pleasingly zesty. The suspension rides well enough over most problem surfaces and, if it’s anything like the petrol-powered models, the ZS EV will be a reasonably pleasing car to drive across country.

In fact, the whole package is far better than you have any right to expect. It’s not quite on a par with a Hyundai Kona Electric, but then the Hyundai is significantly more expensive, specially when MG is promising PCP rates of just £279 a month without a frighteningly high deposit.

At that money, and with the space, practicality and electric refinement of the ZS, as well as the security of a seven-year warranty, the new EV makes a lot of sense. It may not quite be an electric car game-changer, but it’s definitely a game-changer for MG.

Model Tested: MG ZS EV Exclusive
Price: £23,495
Range: £19,260 – £38,975
Top speed: 87 mph
0-62 mph: 8.5 seconds
Power: 350 PS (345 bhp)
Torque: 440 Nm (325lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £321
Official range: 136 miles
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 0 g/km
Car Tax: £0
Insurance group: N/A
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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