A bumper, a grille, a charging port moved to the side, some LED lights and a new touchscreen; check with Trading Standards on the word “new” in the description of the latest ZS EV from MG. Besides, since it’s less than two years since the ZS was launched, this is barely a facelift. Except that what’s under the skin is of far greater significance, which is a larger drive battery.
That means the ZS EV’s range is punched up from the old 44kWh model’s 163 miles to 273 miles for the 72kWh model tested here (and 198 miles for next year’s 51kWh derivative).
Charging the big battery version will take 10.5hrs on a home wall box and an 80 per cent charge will take just over an hour on a 50kW DC charger and 42 mins on a 100kW DC charger.
There’s keen pricing, too, with the all-the-bells-and-whistles 72kWh Trophy tested here coming in at £33,995 and the lesser SE (with the same size battery) at £28,495 including the plug-in grant. Get your order in now if you want to be the first to get one by next spring.
The question is, of course, do you want to?
Impression of quality
Approach it from the front and although the latest ZS is resolutely based on its predecessor it somehow looks more modern – and when you get up close it feels better put together.
If the shut lines aren’t the world’s tightest, they’re at least consistent. Peering under the wings shows a full complement of seam sealant and waxy underbody spray. The doors shut, if not with a mellifluous clunk, at least with a consistent clack, while the catches and handles feel weighty and well fixed.
I’m not wowed by the looks, but it’s no worse than many other non-premium family SUVs. While the rush into battery-electric cars has been a great leveller across the motor industry, so, too, has the lemming rush into SUVs; one is very much like another.
It’s 4,323mm long on a 2,581mm wheelbase, with the batteries in the floor between the wheels. These are sound proportions and the side views look pretty good, although the 1,649mm body height (including the roof rails) against the 1,809mm width makes it look quite tall and narrow, which is great for country roads if not for the looks. All versions have 17-inch diameter wheels.
The suspension is MacPherson struts at the front, with a twist-beam rear, which contrasts with rivals which have a technically superior multi-link system at the back.
What’s it like inside?
There are two basic trim versions: SE and Trophy, with a Trophy Connect version adding live over-the-air services such as weather, traffic information and Amazon Music. The spec isn’t bad to start with and the Trophy only adds dubious “leather-style” upholstery, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alert, along with an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, more stereo speakers and odour and pollutant filters in the automatic air-conditioning.
The car’s ersatz leather is shiny, slippery and not very nice. Textured dashboard plastics look OK, but they’re not that nice to touch and the fake stitching across the top of the dash comes under the “never do this again” category.
The seats are reasonably comfortable though and despite not having a reach adjustment on the steering column, it’s not too hard to adjust yourself into a fairly good driving position. You sit high in the body, but there’s good visibility to the front and rear, although the door mirrors and thick windscreen pillars slightly obstruct cross views.
In the back, there’s equally slippery upholstery, but head and leg room to spare for six-foot adults sitting one behind the other. A large sunroof (standard on the Trophy) brings a welcome amount of light into the rear seats.
The 10.1-inch touchscreen is pretty good, though there’s a logic which needs learning. Thankfully there are still buttons for the heater controls and radio volume so you aren’t spending too much time with your eyes away from the road. There's a rotary gear selector with reverse, neutral, and drive, a drive mode switch, and another which adjusts the amount of battery recuperation when you lift off the accelerator, along with a bank of big rocker switches, big and small USB slots and a 12v power outlet.
The instrument binnacle is a bit confused, largely because it throws so much information your way: motor speed; voltage current hours; miles travelled; average speed and efficiency. So, at 60mph on the M25 when I glanced down to see how much range was left, I found out that I was doing 3.8 miles per kWh, with the motor using 369 volts and turning at 7,200rpm; all interesting, but only marginally useful.
The 470-litre boot is large for the class and quite deep, with two settings for the floor under which there are spaces for charge cables along with a tyre compressor and a tin of sealant (you can buy a spare wheel for £259 including a jack).
The rear seats split 60/40 per cent on to their bases to give 1,100 litres of space, but even with the boot floor in its highest position, the load bed is far from flat.
With many online concerns about MG reliability and build quality, it’s slightly disappointing to note that there were a few rattles from behind the dashboard, a wobbly rear-view mirror and a fair bit of wind noise off the top of the screen and one of the passenger doors.
On the road
Driving out of MG’s Marylebone headquarters in London and on to the Great West Road, the MG carries its 1.6 tonne weight lightly. There’s a softness in the suspension where it bowls along with a slightly floating gait and feels quite old fashioned. The tyres tell your ears all about the state of the road surface, however.
Then you hit the first expansion joint and the front end jolts noisily. It’s a portent of the way the ride deteriorates on poor surfaces (particularly when the side of the road is broken) when the passengers’ heads bob from side to side. There’s also an unsettled feeling at the rear, particularly at speed, which never quite disappears.
There are three driving modes: Eco; Normal and Sport, which affect the accelerator mapping and the steering. As with most of these systems, it’s best left in Normal, where the steering is well weighted but without much feedback and a poor on-centre response.
Brisk rather than stupidly fast
The response to the accelerator is more progressive, but in Eco mode you need to apply a hefty right foot to get the ZS moving. With only 154bhp and 206lb ft, there’s little effect of torque tugging at the steering and the MG feels brisk but not crazy-fast like some of its rivals. Hit a patch of wet road, however, under full acceleration and the particular wheel will spin up quickly.
It’s not fantastically efficient, either. MG quotes 3.5 miles per kWh, and even being generous and using the battery’s net capacity gives only 3.8 miles per kWh. As with all electric cars, there’s an environmental cost to charging, which in this case gives the MG a well-to-wheels greenhouse gas emissions rate of 33g/km.
Push hard and the suspension’s lack of composure makes itself felt, with the wheels dancing to the bumps’ and potholes’ tune and a distinct nose-on approach to corners. Add in brakes which, while up to the job, have a whole lot of nothing-going-on at the top of the pedal movement and you are discouraged from driving fast or even swiftly.
Does any of this matter? Is the average MG ZS owner going to do much more than local driving, with occasional visits to far-flung friends and relatives? Probably not, although rivals can do both tasks better.
The MG ZS feels old fashioned in good and bad ways, but more importantly it isn’t as efficient as rivals which are coming to the market in their droves.
The fact remains, however, that the MG fills a gap for those who simply want a battery car without frills or fancies and at a keen price. In that respect, it does everything you need.
Telegraph rating: Four stars out of five
On test: MG ZS EV Trophy long range
Body style: five-door family SUV
On sale: now with deliveries next year
How much? £33,995 on the road (range from £30,995)
How fast? 108mph, 0-62mph in 8.4sec
How efficient? 3.9miles per kWh (WLTP Combined)
Electric powertrain: AC synchronous motor driving the front wheels via a step-down gear. NMC lithium-ion battery 72.6kWh gross/68.3kWh net, with 7kW on-board charger and Type 2 charging socket
Electric range: 273 miles (WLTP)
Maximum power/torque: 154bhp/206lb ft
CO2 emissions: zero in use, 33g/km (well-to-wheel greenhouse gases)
VED: zero rated
Warranty: 7 years/80,000 miles
Spare wheel as standard: no (a £259 option including a jack)
Mercedes-Benz EQA, from £44,495
A bigger car than the MG, but with refined and powerful performance from its 66.5kWh battery pack. Not staggeringly efficient, or that good looking, but it drives well and is even quite fun, with a range of 263 miles.
Volkswagen ID.3 Tour, from £38,815
VW’s likeable battery electric car starts at £29,365, but that’s with a 45kWh battery and a limited range. This is the top model with the optional 77kWh battery and a range of 340 miles. It’s a bigger car than the MG, but not quite as well resolved or as good to drive.
Kia e-Niro 4 plus, from £39,695
This 64kWh battery model has made an impressive debut; practical driving and the normalisation of EV motoring at affordable prices. The 201bhp/291lb ft drivetrain drives the front wheels and offers a range of 282 miles. There’s a lot of torque steer and it can be quite hard to get hold of due to its popularity.
Renault Mégane E-tech, no prices yet
Due in the UK next year, this C-segment crossover is the basis on which more than three million Renaults and Nissans will be based. Early impressions are of a terrific vehicle with a low seating position thanks to the thin battery, a 292-mile range from the larger 60kWh lithium-ion battery, efficiency of 4.8 miles per kWh and decent performance, as well as good ride and handling.
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