Interest in electric cars is rising exponentially, but it’s easy to be put off. Price is the first hurdle many don’t clear; few dip below the psychological barrier of £30,000. Range is another, evidenced by the new Mini Electric and Honda e: the manufacturers reckon 125 miles is enough. Motorists seem inclined to disagree.
The first brand to launch a genuinely affordable family-friendly electric car with a decent range could well set a landmark in the roll-out of electric cars in Britain. And MG Motor thinks it is that brand.
The new MG ZS has arrived, with an entry-level price for £28,495. Take off the government Plug-in Car Grant and this drops to £24,995. Add in a grant-matching incentive from MG, for the first 1,000 British buyers, and the electric MG plummets to just £21,495. That’s £10,000 less than the Kia e-Niro, the previous affordable EV champ that’s now sold out for well over a year.
Landmark? This small family-sized electric SUV could genuinely be a gamechanger, both for MG and the electric car market.
The UK first drive event was held at the brand’s commodious new London HQ on the Marylebone Road in London. We weren’t going far: a 12-mile route deep into traffic and congestion and back. And we were lucky to get this, such is the interest in the new ZS EV from its near-100 UK dealers. They were descending en mass straight after us to also find out if they have a little bit of history on their hands.
Visually, there are no surprises with the electric ZS. There’s a cool new Pimlico Blue clue colour choice, which design director Carl Gotham calls “the colour of the future”. The diamond-cut alloy wheel design looks like electricity windmill blades. And, when you lift the MG in the front grille to reveal the charging socket, the logo pulses with blue light to confirm it’s being recharged.
Battery size is 44.5 kWh (the latest Nissan Leaf launched with 40 kWh and only now offers a 62 kWh option). The motor produces 143 horsepower, for 0-62mph acceleration in a decent 8.5 seconds – a fair bit quicker than the petrol-powered MG ZS. The official range is 163 miles, which extends to 231 miles if you remain strictly city-based. A Nissan Leaf (whose pre-grant prices start from £31,495) does 168 miles and 258 miles on the same test.
The MG ZS EV has a bit more presence than a Leaf, because it’s a taller SUV-style vehicle, rather than a hatchback. It looks tough and chunky, with a big grille and nice rear wheel arch haunches. It won’t turn heads, but it’s pleasant. The raised driving position, with a good view across the bonnet, is confident. It feels roomy inside too, with adult-like space in the rear seats and a voluminous boot. (Batteries are located underneath the floor, so it’s no less roomy than a normal ZS small SUV.)
Base ZS EVs are called Excite. These still have an 8.0-inch touchscreen display with sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus keyless entry, Jaguar-style rotary gearshifter and an advanced suite of driver-assist gadgetry called MG Pilot. But the test Exclusive is more appealing: for £2,000 more, it adds leather-look seats, panoramic roof, rear parking camera and a stitched dash top. It looked and felt decent quality, with shiny plastics reserved for the door trims. Showroom appeal is high.
And to drive? As spooky and eye-opening as any good electric vehicle for first-time EV drivers. It pulls away silently, with little whirr or whine from the motor, and it rides quietly, with decent cushioning on regular city roads (although there is some audible patter over bumps). Refinement remains fine as urban speeds rise, and even the climate control was not too loud despite the hot summer weather.
The sporty leather steering wheel was nice to hold (pity about the lack of reach adjust) and the ZS EV seemed to respond cleanly. Accelerator pedal surge ranges from genteel to punchy, depending on the choice of mode from a toggle on the centre console. Another, labelled ‘KERS’, gives three levels of battery regeneration – it’s not quite a ‘one-pedal’ car though, so won’t slow to a standstill when you lift the accelerator.
The electric drivetrain itself is the most satisfying aspect, though. At slow speed, it’s incredibly smooth and linear, giving a feeling way more sophisticated than a regular petrol car. It seems to glide along, just like a car from the future; only a driveline ‘thunk’ as you go on and off the accelerator slightly spoils the impression.
MG is ready for electric. Its dealers are equipped with charge points (and it’s giving away a home charger to the first 1,000 buyers). Staff have been trained to demystify electric motoring for customers. It has worked hard to present the UK’s best-value all-inclusive electric car deal. And, on first evidence, the MG ZS EV is a good enough drive for it to reap the rewards.
The target is matching the Nissan Leaf for sales. MG says, unlike Hyundai and Kia, getting enough cars to meet demand won’t be a problem. What are the odds on this becoming Britain’s best-selling electric car? So perfect is MG’s timing, it’s actually not such a crazy thought.
Prices and specs
- Power: 143 horsepower
- 0-62 mph: 8.5 seconds
- Battery size: 44.5 kWh
- Range: 163 miles (WLTP)
MG ZS EV price list
- Excite: £28,495
(£24,995 after Plug-in Car Grant; £21,495 after MG EV incentive)
- Exclusive: £30,495
(£28,495 after Plug-in Car Grant; £23,495 after MG EV incentive)