Review: Australia’s cheapest electric car, the MG ZS EV

Australia's cheapest EV is still amazing....

Easily the biggest complaint from those contemplating an EV purchase is the price tag. While most people are coming around to the idea of buying an EV as their next vehicle, the price tag remains too high for most.

Thankfully Australia’s cheapest car, the MG ZS EV is available at a price point that is in a bracket that an awful lot of people buy in. While the ZS EV does come at a serious premium over the petrol equivalent, those thinking towards the future, now have a great option to choose.

One of Australia’s largest vehicle segments is SUVs and with so few electric vehicle options for those looking at a new EV, it’s fantastic to see another entrant and particularly one that’s affordable for more Aussie families.

For the past week, I’ve lived with the MG ZS EV. As a Tesla Model 3 owner, I can’t help but compare it, but its also interesting to look at it from the perspective of someone considering their second EV, as I look across the garage at my wife’s 2018 Honda CRV.

DESIGN

Familiar, well resolved design doesn’t try too hard

This MG ZS EV looks like a very normal SUV. Sure, if you know what you’re looking for, like the fact the charge point is hidden behind the MG badge in the front grill, you could identify this as an EV. For most people though, the design of this car won’t be offensive or weird, like it was in the days of the Prius.

The MG is a vehicle that was built on an ICE platform, but they’ve done well to avoid many of the common downsides of doing so. As an example, the floor in the rear row of seating is flush to the floor, there is no transmission tunnel bump, although this is a FWD vehicle.

Inside the vehicle, there’s still plenty of familiar design elements, like traditional air vents, buttons on the steering wheel and heating and cooling controls. For most buyers, this will be a positive decision, but for those who like a modern interior that’s minimalist, you should look elsewhere.

PERFORMANCE

How does it perform ?

The MG ZS EV is a front-wheel drive car, powered by an efficient electric motor that gets its energy from a 44.5kW battery.

There are 3 drive modes to chose from, Eco, Standard and Sport, the fastest of which enables the MG ZS EV to sprint to a very respectable 0 to 60 km/hr time of 3.1 seconds, but takes around 8.5s to reach the full 100km/hr. As a comparison, 8.5s is the same expected from the upcoming 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 Standard range. If I look on the other side of my garage, the Tesla Model 3 Performance takes just 3.3 seconds to reach 100km/hr, but does cost more than double the price.

When it comes to performance, the reality is for most, the MG ZS EV will be a vast improvement on their current ICE-powered SUV. It offers a snappy response in the event you need to overtake. If you’re launching from a set of lights, there’s just the slightest delay before the power is delivered, but once it is, the car’s quite quick, but does depend on what you’re coming from. 

Being front wheel drive, the car has some obvious disadvantages compared to AWD, something often found in SUV’s at this price range. Given that, I wouldn’t feel as comfortable when driving in wet weather.

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by Tesla’s software smarts, but I wasn’t expecting a loss of traction when you plant your foot, but that’s definitely possible in the MG ZS EV. It’s not violent and uncontrollable, but it is an area they could improve in the future.

CHARGING

How long does it take and where do I get juice?

Charging an electric car is one of the hottest topics, with conversations generally falling into 4 categories:

  • Where can I charge my car?
  • How long does it to take charge?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How far can you drive on a single charge?

The answer to these three questions change based on the electric vehicle you buy, but for the MG ZS EV the answers are as follows.

Charging locations

All EVs will come with a charger you can connect to 240v outlet at home. If you want a faster solution, you can consider a wall box from someone like JetCharge at home (up to 3x faster).

Community and commercial charging is increasing and you may find that a local shopping center, or even on-street parking in select locations offer a plug to charge from. This isn’t the fastest, but can be ultra-convenient, allowing you to charge up while you go shopping. Right now at least, these charging locations are often located in prime real estate, a fringe benefit of being an early EV owner.

This review unit actually came with a 3rd party Type-2 to Type-2 charging cable to connect to public chargers that require you to BYO cables. Personally, I didn’t find any use for that, but was glad to see it in the boot, given these cables typically cost a couple hundred dollars.

It is important that you pay attention to how long your car needs to charge, as charging bays really are for charging. Given the limited supply of charging options in 2021, you can’t simply park and charge all-day, when your car is topped up, you really need to move it so others can charge.

When you do embark on a longer drive, like a weekend road trip, or family holiday, you can leverage a growing network of fast charging locations. The best idea is to take a look at Plugshare and search for charging options along your route and at near your destination.

You will need to filter this map based on the connector your car has, increasingly EVs are using the CCS connector and thankfully MG went with that format for the ZS EV. This opens the door to using fast-charging networks like Chargefox, Evie and many more. Thanks to this, you’ll easily be able to travel along the east coast of Australia.

Charging time

While charging times vary dramatically based on the charger you use, the MG features a fairly small battery at 44.5kWh, so even a 50kW charger actually works pretty quickly.

Something most people forget is that you very rarely use anywhere close to 100% of the battery capacity, so understanding the 0-100% charge time is irrelevant, it’s the 10-90% charge time that’s important.

To charge to 20% to 80% takes around 40 minutes with a 50kW fast charger, with all charging rates tapering off towards the top to protect the battery. This means if you want the last 10-20%, be prepared to wait.

As I drove the car back from Wodonga to Melbourne, I stopped off at Euroa to find Chargefox performing maintenance on the 2x 350kW chargers. Thankfully there was 2x 50kW chargers in use. I plugged in, went and had lunch, jumped on the laptop, checked a few emails and social media and it was time to continue the trip.

Charging cost

The majority of EVs will charge at home, overnight, when energy costs are at their lowest. While power prices during peak times can be 30 c/kWh+, overnight that can drop below 20 c/kWh making charging at home, significantly cheaper than using fast chargers like that of Chargefox which charge $0.40 per kWh.

Charging the ZS EV at home costs just a few dollars a night, while my charging costs to go from Melbourne to Wodonga and back Melbourne (using Chargefox) cost just $17.57 for a journey that’s over 700km. In my previous car, that trip would have cost $60+, so there really are significant savings to be had.

As a general rule, recharging an electric vehicle, is around 1/3rd the cost of refueling an ICE vehicle. Over the long-term, this reduced cost of ongoing expenses (charging and servicing), helps you recoup some of the higher purchase price.

Range on a single charge

While I often stop at the same service station on a trip to Melbourne, the big difference between the ZS EV and my Model 3, is that I have to stop with the MG, while I chose to stop to charge with the Model 3. This is ultimately the difference between a car with a smaller (cheaper) short-range battery, versus a larger battery in a longer-range vehicle. Thanks to support for faster charging, the Tesla still takes around the same time (30-40 minutes) to charge a 75kWh battery to 80%.

Ultimately the range of this car makes it great for driving around the city of between regional locations in a relatively close proximity, but you do need to consider the recharge options a little more carefully than other EVs.

The sticker on the front window show a range figure of 320km which is complete rubbish. When the car was charge to 100%, the range showed 224km. What is interesting in the MG is that the range dynamically changes based on your energy use. Change the drive mode to Eco and it updates to show around 10km more. If you turn off the air conditioning, you can get another 5-10km of range. Knowing this is important if you ever get low on your journey, you could sacrifice a little comfort to ensure you make it there with some kW left.

FEATURES

Stand out features of this vehicle.

Inside the car you’l find an infotainment system that is headed up by an 8” touchscreen with support for Apple CarPlay & Android Auto. I highly recommend using either of these for entertainment and navigation, as the Satellite navigation in the car is pretty painful. It can take up to 10 seconds to load and when it does, then UI does not look modern.

When it comes to reversing, the display offers a great view of what’s behind you, with a generous wide field of view making the task of reversing, made safer thanks to the rear view camera.

As you spend time in the car, you’ll want to tweak the driving position. The driver gets a 6-way electric adjustable seat, while the passenger has to do things manually. This is not necessarily a big deal, but for this price point, I would hope they could have squeezed this in.

The seats are finished in leather, which does deliver a more premium than a cloth seat and is easier to maintain. You’ll also find your interface to the world, the steering wheel, wrapped in leather, and around the interior there’s a lot of synthetic leather surfaces, like on the dash and interior door trims, with contrast stitching detail. Overall the interior is really well done, fairly comfortable and ticks all the right boxes.

The car does still use a keyfob, so you won’t find a futuristic phone unlock, instead you get keyless entry which is fine. Just open the handle and enter with the key in your pocket. Once you’re in the driver’s seat, you need to start the car with the Push-button start. From there, you can select a gear (D, N, R, P) using the drive mode knob under your left hand. This gear selection dial is unique to this EV version of the ZS and I found it easy to switch through gear selections, even when performing tasks like 3-point turns.

The environment inside the car feels bright and open thanks to the panoramic glass sunroof with an electric sunshade to reduce the heat from the sun. I did find the car’s interior getting pretty hot during one charging sessions where the sun was beaming through the windshield.

When it comes to technology, MG’s Pilot Driver Safety Technology offers as many as 10 safety features.

This list is actually fairly impressive and makes for a decent set of safety and assistive features. As you navigate around the streets, go on long drives, or pull out of supermarket carparks, these will help keep you and your family safe.

  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Traffic Jam Assistance
  • Speed Assistance System (recognises speed signs)
  • Rear Traffic Alert (cross traffic reversing)
  • Lane Keeping Assistance
  • Intelligent High Beam Control
  • Blind Spot Monitoring

Despite all this technology, there is a very strange omission, the lack of ultrasonic sensors on the front of the vehicle. This means the experience of pulling into your garage isn’t without stress of hitting something. Given how prolific parking sensors are in a car at this price point, it was a big surprise to see they weren’t included.

The ZS EV rolls on 17″ wheels that I personally like a lot. I think they’re one of the better attempts to create an aero-efficient wheel to assist with the range of the vehicle.

When driving, you’ll find a couple of tasks are done automatically for you, like automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, really nice inclusions.

Replacing the regular front bar on an EV usually creates some awkward designs, but MG’s Grille with Chrome surround is a really nice way to finish the front end, albeit maybe not the most aerodynamic solution. The front grille is made of plastic and that hinge mechanism to reveal the charging port, does leave me with some concerns about the robustness over the long-term. One neat feature is that this MG logo is illuminated while the car is charging. Not only does this let the driver know the charging has commenced, it also looks great at night.

Regenerative braking is key to achieving maximum range in any EV and MG offers control for drivers to select how aggressive you prefer this. Regenerative Braking Modes can be set to 1,2 or 3, with 3 being the most aggressive. Compared to other EVs, I didn’t find level 3 bad at all, allowing for one-pedal driving in most instances.

ISSUES

Not everything’s perfect

Location of charge point

Many EVs have their charge points in the rear quarter panels, which is a familiar location to where owners would refuel their ICE vehicles. Some automakers, like Porsche, have decided to put the charge port in the front quarter panel (one on both sides) which also works well.

There are also other EVs like the Hyundai Kona and Nissan Leaf that position the charging port in the front of the car which makes it easy to nose into a charging bay, or your garage to connect the plug and start charging.

MG has decided to hide the CCS and Type 2 charging ports behind the front grill. With the car unlocked, you can press the MG badge and the panel pops out. When you move it up and out of the way, the ports are revealed underneath. This location means that the job of connecting the charger to the charge port, is made more difficult than on other EVs. This means you often (almost always), need to bend down to sight the port, before connecting the charger.

In the future, MG should consider a hinge mechanism that moves the charge cover off to the side, rather than upwards. It’s a fairly minor complaint for someone with good mobility, but if you happen to have bad knees, or a back, bending down to charge is definitely not ideal.

There’s a lot of things electric vehicle makers need to innovate on, but the charging location isn’t one of them.

No frunk

One of my favourite features of other EVs is the additional storage afforded by the funk. Typically under the hood, a void is created thanks to the lack of a combustion engine and the peripheral components that go along with it.

Given MG have repurposed the same ZS platform, the area under the hood was used to house the electric motor components. While the batteries remaining in the floor of the vehicle, basically everything else ended up in the front, meaning there’s no room for a frunk.

I understand the decision, and to land a mid-sized SUV at this price point, maybe that’s just what it takes in 2021, but I do miss the frunk here.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

Thanks to the price of the MG ZS EV, this vehicle is one of the most important for Australia and our EV journey in this country. As electric vehicle adoption remains at than 1%, Australia lags behind the developed world. One of the biggest hurdles for potential EV buyers to overcome is the higher upfront cost associated with electric cars.

With the MG ZS EV priced from A$43,990, this car is Australia’s cheapest new EV. This includes an 8-year 160,000-kilometre battery warranty, a 5-year unlimited kilometer vehicle warranty and 5-year roadside assist package, to provide owners with significant peace of mind.

To buy this car, you’re making a specific decision to not buy the ICE equivalent. That decision comes at a significant premium cost. By way of comparison, MG’s other ZS models based on the same platform, are:

  • 1.5L ZS Excite – A$21,990 driveaway ($22,000 less ~50%)
  • 1.3L Turbo ZST- A$29,490 driveaway ($14,500 less ~33%)

Compared to other electric vehicles in the market, the MG ZS EV is a great deal, particularly ones in the SUV segment. Let’s take the Hyundai Kona Electric Electric Elite, it starts at A$65,769.80.

The Jaguar i-Pace, Audi e-Tron, Mercedes EQC and Tesla Model X are all well north of A$100,000, so by comparison, the MG ZS EV looks like an absolute bargain. While the Kia-Niro and Hyundai Ioniq5 are on their way to Australia, it is expected they’ll attract price tags in excess of $50,000.

For someone who is determined their next car will be an EV and requires an SUV through preference, storage or practicality (baby seats), the ZS EV really does look like a great way to get into the market.

When it comes to a choice of colours, the car is available in Clipper Blue metallic paint (Exclusive to MG ZS EV)  (reviewed), Diamond Red, Regal Blue, Dover White and Pebble Black.

 

OVERALL

Final thoughts

Before experiencing this car, MG was a brand I could not care less about. After spending a week with it, I now appreciate just how important this car is to the Australian EV market. We desperately need cheaper EVs and what MG have produced here is a very practical, really solid offering that would suit an awful lot of Australian families.

The top end of the market provides opportunities to experiment with some more interesting interior designs, but for a car that is so focused on price, the interior really is a very practical, comfortable place to life day-to-day.

At around 250km, range is something to be aware of, but not alarmed by. During my time with the MG ZS EV, I tried hard to use the car like an owner would. Drive around town daily, consuming 30-40kms, then plug in at night to replace the range used. On the road trips, like between Melbourne and Wodonga, the 3rd party charging network from Chargefox, really solves the challenge of travelling the 350km journey. Keep in mind that we’re just at the start of the journey when it comes to charging locations, so during years of ownership, things will get even better.

With the MG ZS EV coming in at a significant premium price to the ICE alternatives, you may have a difficult decision to make as to whether you pay up for the EV. Only you can decide if the EV is right for you, but I do think it’s important to understand the resale values of ICE vehicles going forward should not be considered as guaranteed in any way shape or form.

It is expected that price parity will be reached around 2024/2025 and when that happens, demand for ICE will fall off a cliff. There will still be second hand car sales, but you won’t be able to ask anywhere near what you can today as there just won’t be as many buyers looking to buy ICE by 2026 and beyond.

For what’s on offer for just north of fourty thousands Aussie dollars, MG have created a really compelling electric vehicle and I hope Australians reward them with positive sales. I expect plenty commercial sales of the ZS EV as well as fleet managers look to zero-emission vehicles and having SUV-level storage and interior space would make it a great fit in most businesses.

8.7
Review: Australia's cheapest electric car, the MG ZS EV
The Good
  • Affordability
  • Build quality
  • Comfort
  • Android Auto, CarPlay support
The Bad
  • Charger location
  • No mobile app
  • Design
    8.2
  • Features
    8.5
  • Performance
    8.2
  • Value
    9.8
Categories
Reviews

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021
7 Comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

  • Mick
    13 March 2021 at 10:20 am
    • Jason Cartwright
      13 March 2021 at 11:29 am

      Just didn’t have enough coffee, that has now been resolved and the post updated.

      Leave a Reply
  • Anne Zelvys
    14 March 2021 at 11:40 am

    No real mention about how the boot space worked especially in comparison to the Honda (photo shows the Honda in foreground and both cars on an angle) – what size spare and where and how convenient ….

    Leave a Reply
    • Jason Cartwright
      14 March 2021 at 12:48 pm

      So in relation to storage, the photos kind of show it, but the CRV definitely wins in that battle. I’d say there’s more room in the CRV when we had my daughter’s car seat in as well. The ZS EV is definitely practical, you’d easily fit suitcases etc and the rear seats offer a 60/40 split.

      Leave a Reply
  • David
    14 March 2021 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks Jason.
    It’s kind of sad that there is no mobile App. (This car does have a functional app in some countries).
    Also I believe adaptive cruise control uses friction brakes rather than regen.
    Who knows? Maybe that can fixed with a software update in the future, as this car certainly needs the regen for range.

    Leave a Reply
  • Tony
    16 March 2021 at 11:34 am

    Great review thanks Jason. Can’t wait for cheaper EV’s in Australia when something like this is $20k, then ICE cars have had it, finally !! Not too long now, probably around 3 years to go.

    Leave a Reply
  • Scott McGregor
    18 March 2021 at 11:18 am

    Great article, I use the OVMS OBD module for an App / SOC in Percentage for the MG ZS EV. This means when I get home I simply plug, update my EO Mini Pro Charger App with the cars SOC in % (courtesy of OVMS) and the charger takes care of the rest. SOC in percentage and some charge smarts in the car would be nice of course though!

    I actually don’t mind the charger location at all, it really works for me. But I do agree I hope the charge flaps use goes well beyond the car’s 5 year build warranty.

    Leave a Reply
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