MG says it is doing its bit to help improve air pollution with what they deem to be the first affordable electric family car. We drive the brand new MG ZS EV to find out more.
“The electric car’s time has come,” announces Daniel Gregorious, Head of Sales & Marketing for MG at the launch of their new ZS EV. As a subsidiary of SAIC Motor (a Chinese state-owned automotive design and manufacturing company), who last year sold 140,000 BVs, they’re certainly well placed to take advantage of an electric car revolution.
While MG may have British origins with a design studio in London and its technical and engineering department near Birmingham, it’s very much a global brand with a state-of-the-art Gigafactory in China, which is capable of producing 300,000 EV batteries per year, so unlike other car makers it shouldn’t have trouble meeting demand.
300,000 may not sound like a lot but it is worth noting MG Motor UK only sold 9000 cars in 2018. That may seem insignificant when you compare it to the UK’s best seller – the Ford Fiesta which in the month of June alone sold 7507 but for MG it’s a milestone, achieving its highest annual volume up more than double the previous year. And it has continued its rapid growth in 2019, with June year-to-date sales up 47 per cent versus last year. When you put that in the context of a declining new car sales market, it’s impressive.
Despite the small numbers it actually means that over the past two years, MG Motor UK has become the UK’s fastest-growing car manufacturer, enabling the brand to rapidly expand its dealership network and lay the foundations for a long-term growth strategy. The current range includes the popular MG3 hatchback and the MG ZS compact SUV, and its latest model is the ground-breaking electric offering of this, of which it anticipates to sell 200 units by the end of 2019. Over the next few years it plans to bring out another EV and a PHEV.
Discover EV was invited to MG’s new swanky seven-story head office in Marylebone London to see what it was like.
While the concept of having an EV launch in a city centre that is making huge strides to bring emissions down and be one of the first in the world to tackle the problem of air pollution head on, in practice it’s a terrible idea. A pitiful 12 mile route was planned out for the press launch – during which time two journalists had to the share the drive, and because it was navigating around what is actually ranked the sixth most congested city in the world it was largely spent sat in a traffic jam.
The whole experience was just a little bit stressful if I’m honest – trying to avoid busy bus lanes or getting stuck in yellow box junctions, never mind commuting cyclists and taxis pulling in and out of us. It was a shame as it took the focus away from the car and from the hour or so that we got in it, first impressions were really rather good.
The ride was very smooth, doing a great job or ironing out any road imperfections, the steering felt precise and nicely weighted and the car’s manoeuvrability – as I found out within two minutes of driving the car when I had to reverse down a narrow road, slaloming between parked vans, to let the angry driver of a large lorry pass – was impressive.
The 44.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is underneath the car resulting in a low centre of gravity, supposedly making the ZS EV agile, dynamic and planted through the corners though sadly we were only able to test it in stop-start city traffic. It will be interesting to see how this car performs on both motorways and twisty B-roads.
There are three driving modes: Eco prioritises range, while Normal optimises comfort and Sport gives precedence to performance – and there’s a noticeable difference in the throttle response between them. There are also three levels of regenerative braking, which can be controlled via a switch in front of the gear selector (labelled Kers). Level one implements a small amount of regeneration, and is barely noticeable – at least at city speeds anyway – with level three offering the most amount of intensity although it’s fair to say it’s not as harsh as it is in the Jaguar I-PACE for example, but its brake pedal is at least predictable whatever mode you’re in so you can safely come to a standstill.
Driven by a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor mounted above the front axle, the ZS EV delivers 260lb-ft of torque with 105kW of power (143hp) meaning it will accelerate from 0-62mph in a not too shabby 8.5 seconds, before going on to reach a top speed of 87mph. Not that we were able to find this out. What we did feel the benefit of was the 0-30mph acceleration, which is an impressive 3.2 seconds.
The MG ZS EV has a WLTP range of 163 miles, which is actually more than the new MINI electric with 144 miles – although it could be said a family car would be expected to cover more miles than a small city car which makes up less than 10 per cent of the market share in Europe. It would have been good to have seen a longer range but let’s not forget the price point here – which is considerably less than what you would pay for a Kia e-Niro or even Hyundai Kona for that matter.
There are just two trims – the Excite, which starts from £28,495 OTR, and the Exclusive which is just two grand more at £30,495. After deducting the Government Plug-in Vehicle Grant of £3500 that brings the starting price down to £24,995 – better still if you’re one of the first 1000 retail customers MG will match the PiCG and throw in a charging point and standard installation. Assuming the residual values don’t drop more than 30 per cent you could keep it for a year and then sell it without making a loss.
If you don’t have that kind of cash to pay up front – they are predicting (due to the fact residual values are yet to be signed off) that with a £1750 deposit you can have an Excite trim level ZS EV for £279 per month, or with a £2300 deposit the Exclusive for £299 per month.
You’ll be making savings on running costs, too. MG did the maths and reckons in terms of getting from A to B you would spend £25 per month on electricity in the EV versus £75 per month in the diesel equivalent. Over the four years, taking all running costs into account, it estimates you would save £6000.
With a 7 year / 80,000-mile warranty on the vehicle and battery, customers can also be assured that their car will be in safe hands after MG declared it was to roll out new and extensive standards of training across its 100 sites specific to hybrid and electric vehicles, which is missing from a lot of rival car manufacturers. Each dealership will also have a minimum of two charging points.
Going back to that range, it was very difficult for us to assess how accurate it is given our limited time with the car. What we did ascertain was that we started our test drive with 162 miles and after our 12 mile route we ended on 143. I spoke with one of the engineers who had been driving the car for the last few months and he reckoned that on the motorway driving at around 50 mph it was very accurate. “I also found after a few days that the range wasn’t a problem,” he revealed. “It’s like petrol you just make sure you never run too low. The CCS plug, which is an enhanced version of the Type 2 plug, with two additional power contacts for the purposes of quick charging supports AC and DC charging power. So at a 50 kW charging station I could charge it to 80 per cent in 40 minutes. If I was doing shorter journeys I recharged it on my standard 7KW home charger in six hours.”
There’s another reason why MG opted for a 44.5 kWh battery and that’s because they said it struck the perfect balance between not just range but weight and size, too, in that it didn’t impact of the cars practicality (in terms of cabin or storage space) or the way it drove yet provided more than enough emission free miles for the average motorist. Talking of the battery pack it is comprised of 18 cells and weighs just 280kg, it is water-cooled to better manage the temperature allowing frequent rapid charging and optimum range whatever the weather.
With Design Chief Carl Gotham there was a lot of PR drivel creeping into the presentation so I’ll try and cut through the bull and speak in plain English. For starters the ZS EV has spearheaded a new hue for the brand – they call it the ‘colour of the future’ inspired by ‘brands in a digital era’ and ‘people leading a cleaner, purer lifestyle’. To you and me it’s Pimlico Blue and after all of the fuss that was made I was expecting the launch cars to all be in this pretty shade of blue but sadly they were mainly in the other choice of four exterior colours (namely Arctic White, Black Pearl and Dynamic Red).
Save for a few details it looks like the ZS SUV we are all familiar with. So, the new grille which is now part of MG's core DNA across the line-up and called 'Star Rider' (yep I’m not sure what that’s all about either) has been retained but when pushed inwards, the ‘breathing badge’ (so called as it illuminates when charging) reveals the cleverly concealed charging port. This helps to retain the car’s clean lines but also make it more convenient for the driver.
The spokes of the new 17 inch diamond cut alloy wheels – inspired by wind turbines apparently – are also functional in that they are designed to be light and extremely aerodynamic, helping to maximise range. Other differences include LED technology for the front daytime running lights and rear lights.
Inside the premium feel continues, with soft-touch materials, and metallic and chrome finishes breaking up the plastics nicely, the build quality is remarkable given the price. I found the seats to be too firm but that’s a personal preference, and the steering wheel only adjusts for height and not reach. The Exclusive version, which is what we were driving, feature a panoramic, sliding and opening Sky Roof which really helps to make the cabin feel light, airy and spacious. Also new to ZS EV is the Rotary Gear Selector, which allows drivers to effortlessly switch between Drive, Neutral and Reverse – and is another welcome quality touch.
The ZS EV provides around 55mm additional rear shoulder room and 80mm more rear headroom than the segment average. Thanks to the greater space provided by a flat floor, it’s been possible to integrate additional floating storage under the centre console, where you’ll also find two USB ports.
As well as space for five adults, there’s an incredible 448 litres of boot capacity on offer (which outperforms many of its rivals by some 90 plus litres including the Mazda CX3, Nissan Juke and 93 litres and Ford EcoSport) – plus a split-level boot – provides plenty of room for prams or the weekly shop, and there are plenty of other numerous compartments throughout the car providing additional storage.
I like the elevated seating position, typical of an SUV, yet it felt quite compact to drive – perfect for city driving. Exclusive versions bring even more premium equipment with heated and power adjustable front seats, although the passenger could only adjust by hand two ways.
MG say that this is most technologically advanced model to date and the array of driver assistance features that come with the MG Pilot suite is impressive. Standard equipment includes Active Emergency Braking, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention system, Adaptive Cruise Control, Intelligent Speed Limit Assist and Traffic Jam Assist (which enables the car to automatically follow the car in front at speeds below 35 mph, automatically steering, braking and accelerating within the same lane). Sadly we didn’t get the chance to try any of these out.
Exclusive versions add Blind Spot Detection and Lane Change Assist systems, as well as Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Door Opening warning to mitigate the risk of collisions.
The infotainment system is a large 8” colour touchscreen which features sat-nav together with Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™ connectivity, Bluetooth phone connection with audio streaming and DAB radio, but it’s not the most inuititive and it was fairly slow to respond. It was certainly better than some of its Japanese counterparts. Further controls can also be found on the steering wheel.
The MG ZS EV has been designed to bring EV to the masses and represents an exciting new chapter in the brand’s story. In 2011 the MG6 was the first all-new car from the firm to come through the Longbridge factory gates in 15 years – and it knew then that pricing would be critical to a successful relaunch. Fast forward almost two decades and things are looking up for MG; it’s certainly reinvented itself as a modern brand and then some with its entry into the zero-emissions vehicle market. Daniel Gregorious concluded the presentation by saying: “We’re not doing this for brand building or as a vanity project, we’re doing it to sell electric vehicles and for us EV also translates to exceptional value!” It’s corny, but this family friendly electric car could well be the start of an era for one of the most famous names in British motoring? Watch this space.
ZS EV customer deliveries will begin in September 2019. Customers wishing to make sure they secure one of the first 1,000 retail cars, available from just £21,495, can place a £500 deposit to reserve their place in the queue by visiting MG.CO.UK/ELECTRIC