Test Drives

MG ZS EV review: Will it spark joy?



SINGAPORE — Here’s the price for the MG ZS EV in Singapore: S$126,888 with Certificate Of Entitlement. That’s worth stating up front, because if you want an electric car, it’s the first one at this price point that’s not only decent, but a great ambassador for battery-powered cars.

MG does sell petrol cars, with a 1.5-litre turbo petrol version of the HS available for S$6,000 less, but if you’re curious at all about the electric future the “EV” badge on the ZS is worth noting — this sport utility vehicle (SUV) is fully-electric.

 

It might not look too different from an ordinary car, but the MG ZS EV follows what has become something of a standard layout for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs): a bank of lithium-ion batteries sits under the floor, and beneath the bonnet you’ll find a compact electric motor and the controller for it.

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The charging port (below) lives behind a neat hatch that bears the MG logo. It’s a badge with a storied history, mostly involving now-classic British sportscars and roadsters, but obviously the ZS EV is writing a new chapter.

Does it drive like a BEV?
Very much so. Press the “Start/stop” button and the MG powers up silently, and once you see the “Ready” indicator you’re good to go. Push the accelerator and the 141 horsepower, 353 Newton-metre electric motor sends it on its way with a sort of faraway hum.

Most people who switch to electric say they never want to go back to combustion (as many as 9 out of 10 in Europe, as a matter of fact), and the ZS EV shows you why. The acceleration is perfectly smooth — it’s never interrupted by gearchanges — and the response to your right foot is instantaneous.


To match the MG’s urgent pace you’d need a 1.6-litre turbo at least, but few cars at this price point are as swift, and nothing is as silent.

Aren’t all BEVs quiet anyway?
Yes, but the MG actually reveals that there’s more to refinement than a quiet motor. As you’re rolling along, things are beautifully hushed inside, and you suddenly realise that MG’s engineers must have worked hard to make that happen — when there are no engine sounds you become acutely aware of every little squeak and rattle but the ZS EV is largely free of noise.

The body doesn’t creak, the wind doesn’t rustle much at legal speeds, the tyres rumble but don’t roar, and you’re left to just enjoy the quietness.

Some EVs are quiet in town but actually quite noisy on the expressway, and the MG isn’t one of them. It’s just as well-mannered on the highway as it is in the city.


How does it like corners?

It tolerates them, but little more. There isn’t much steering feedback and the MG isn’t particularly sharp or grippy around bends, but there’s nothing for the target customer to complain about.

The main weakness are the brakes, which could use some fine tuning, with soft pedal feel and not a huge amount of stopping power when you jump on the pedal.

Most likely, MG expects you to use the regenerative braking as much as possible to recover kinetic energy and use it to recharge the battery.

With a toggle switch, the regeneration is adjustable to three levels and on the heaviest setting (i.e. with the most energy recovery) you can nearly drive the car with just one pedal. In fact, you can make so little use of the friction brakes that after driving the ZS EV around for hours, you can actually touch the brake rotors — in an ordinary car the brakes would burn your fingertips right off (do NOT try this at home, kids).

While it’s not sporty, the ZS is easy to see out of and a piece of cake to manoeuvre; there’s even a handy distance indicator on the reverse camera’s display.

The suspension is obviously tuned for comfort, as well. To go with the cabin’s silence, there’s excellent ride quality. The springs absorb bumps diligently and the dampers help to smoothen the body’s movements nicely. It’s comfy enough that behind the wheel, you feel like you could keep going and going.

Ah, but at some point you have to stop and recharge, right?
Right. On paper the MG can apparently deliver 335km on a single charge. In our experience, using the Eco driving mode as much as possible (and the Sport mode as little as possible) we put six days’ driving on the odometer before a low battery warning light came on — 251km to be exact — showing 64km left in the battery. That’s plenty to make it to a charging station, or home, or the office, or wherever you tend to plug your BEV in.

All in all we covered 267km and returned the MG to Eurokars EV with 56km showing on the Range To Empty display. Total implied range: 323km. That’s a week’s motoring in Singapore, give or take.

Mind you, if you’re really running low, switching the air-con off gives you an easy 12 percent or so of extra distance, but it won’t come to that. One car company has sold EVs for a couple of years and offers an emergency charging service in case customers run out of juice on the road. There’s never been a single genuine case of it happening.

Anyway, the MG accepts rapid DC charging and if you stop off at, say, a Shell station that offers it (there are currently 10 around the island) you can put 100km of range into the battery in under 20 minutes.

With a slower wall-mounted charger, a full top-up takes 7.5 hours. At the moment, Eurokars EV will sell you one (with installation) for just S$2,000, which is half off the regular cost of S$4,000.


But how does the MG actually perform as, you know, a car?

You mean as an SUV? Don’t take it off-road (it’s front-drive only) and you’ll be happy. Thanks to a large glass roof, the cabin feels airy and it’s spacious front and back.

The boot has a duo-level floor and, at 448 litres in size, is usefully large to begin with but has the ability to grow to 1,375L via split-folding rear seats.

As cabins go, the MG’s is as simple and straightforward as they come, with a dashboard design that keeps the number of buttons and switches low. The air-con system is a basic one-zone affair, and its main shortcoming is that there are no vents in the rear.

Some of the plastics remind you that this is a car built down to a cost, but at least the dashboard itself is topped with a soft-touch material that feels a quite bit posher.

Otherwise, the MG is actually decently equipped for the price, with niceties such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cruise control, automatic lamps and wipers, USB charging ports (we counted three) and a powered driver’s seat.

Crucially, six airbags are standard — they no doubt helped the ZS EV get five stars in stringent EuroNCAP crash testing.

Interestingly the air-con makes it a point to tell you that it filters out PM2.5 (the tiny particulate matter in soot that doctors believe can give heart and respiratory problems). With air quality being what it is in China’s big cities, that must have been something worth highlighting.


Why bring up China?

Haven’t you heard? MG was brought back from the dead by the Chinese, and is now owned by SAIC Motor, a huge player in volume terms — think BMW Group, Daimler, Mazda and Volvo Cars combined, and you’re not there yet.

SAIC provides the manufacturing, financial and engineering muscle, but it does maintain an MG operation in England for styling and fine tuning.

Crazy people (I think they’re called “purists”) will bleat about how the Chinese are going to destroy a classic British car brand, but that’s nonsense. SAIC is reviving MG, not destroying it. The British killed their own car companies.

As for the ZS EV itself, it’s a very fine effort, whatever its country of origin.


How so?

No one would mistake the MG ZS EV for a premium car, but our test unit was well assembled. It had even shutlines and straight body panels, which is more than I can say for the last Aston Martin I drove.

The paint looks properly applied, and if you have a peek under the bonnet, the components are just immaculately laid out, with super tidy cabling. If you think the Chinese don’t know how to build cars, the MG will force you to think again.

The Chinese are going to rule the world, aren’t they?
Probably. But for now, MG itself just wants to rule the BEV world here. It has 90 percent of the electric car market in Thailand, and last year it put 10,000 BEVs on the road after only four months.

If it can repeat that success, it will be a worthy winner, at least in the electric car space. The ZS EV is far superior to the (awful) Renault Zoe, and in a different universe altogether from the (truly awful) BYD e6.

It’s better than the Nissan Leaf in terms of cabin quality, refinement, space and range, though the Japanese car does have the benefit of a long track record. Hyundai’s BEVs, the Ioniq Electric and Kona Electric, are better to drive but smaller inside and meaningfully pricier. The Kia Niro EV is the best of the bunch, but it costs S$178,999 with COE, so it ought to be.


Where does that leave the MG ZS EV?

Easy: it’s a car that could do a lot to bring electric cars into the mainstream here, by being something of a BEV bargain. For the first time, buyers here have a credible electric car that doesn’t come at a huge premium to comparable combustion cars.

Some people remember MG for its sportscar past, but the ZS EV is a look into the electric car future.

MG ZS EV

Electric Motor 141hp, 353Nm
Battery  Ternary lithium-ion, 44.5kWh
Charge Time / Type 7.5 hours / Wallbox 
Electric Range  335km 
0-100km/h 8.5 seconds
Top Speed 140km/h (limited)
Efficiency 14.7 kWh/100km
VES Band / CO2 A1/ 58.8g/km
Agent Eurokars EV
Price S$126,888 with COE 
Available Now 

 

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about the author

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Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.