If you want to understand the uphill battle electric vehicles face in Australia today, start with pricing.
That’s basically double what you pay for the cheapest petrol-fuelled version of the same compact SUV.
OK, for Victorians that price drops $3000 thanks to new incentives, but it’s still a huge disparity and one that continues to challenge the popularity of BEVs.
And that’s not the only impediment discovered in a week testing the ZS EV.
The satisfaction derived from driving emissions-free was stymied by range anxiety and the frequent hunt for recharging infrastructure.
What is it?
The MG ZS EV is the flagship and sole BEV in the compact five-seat, five-door ZS SUV range offered in Australia by MG.
If you’re presuming MG is still a British car company that primarily focusses on sports cars, think again. It’s been owned by the giant Chinese conglomerate SAIC since 2007 and cheap SUVs and hatchbacks are its focus.
So successful has it been in Australia in recent times it has climbed into the top 10 sellers list, something aided by Japanese brands, including Toyota and Honda, abandoning the entry-level price bracket.
The ZS EV is thoroughly orthodox apart from its drivetrain.
A 44.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack sits under the floor and feeds a 105kW/353Nm synchronous electric motor that drives the front wheels via a single-speed automatic transmission.
The maximum claimed range is 263km, according to the European WLTP measure, but around 220km was more realistic in real-world testing.
Using a 50kW DC fast charger it can recharge its battery to 80 per cent capacity in 45 minutes, or in seven hours using an AC 7kW home wall charger.
If you have no other choice it will take 33 hours plugged into a normal three-pin 240v plug.
Why is it important?
The MG ZS EV is the most affordable new BEV to be sold in Australia.
It is close to $20,000 cheaper than the Hyundai Kona Electric, which sits in the same compact SUV segment.
The difference is the Kona has a much bigger battery which adds significant cost. So the MG trades in range to make it more affordable. That’s commendable of course, but it also limits just what the MG ZS EV can credibly do.
You just don’t realise how quickly 220km rolls under your wheels until you really pay attention. And you also don’t realise how few BEV fast chargers there are until you need one.
What does the MG ZS EV get?
Because it is so expensive, MG has kitted the MG ZS EV out pretty well.
It comes standard with a panoramic sunroof, a somewhat fiddly eight-inch colour touch-screen, six-speaker audio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, satellite navigation, fake leather trim, power-adjustable driver’s seat, air-conditioning and adaptive cruise control.
There is no spare tyre.
Safety systems include traffic jam assist, intelligent cruise assist, lane departure warning, speed assist, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and intelligent headlight control.
A reversing camera is also standard.
The MG ZS EV gets a five-star ANCAP safety score based on European testing and is covered by a five year/unlimited km warranty. That’s two years less than its petrol-powered brethren.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 20,000km, and the battery is covered by a competitive eight-year/160,000km warranty.
What do we like?
The MG ZS EV is a very liveable package. It has enough room to fit kids comfortably in the back seat and has decent space in the boot at 359 litres. Drop the rear seat and that expands to a very usable 1187 litres. In-cabin storage is good, with plentiful pockets, cup holders and bins.
Its modest overall size also makes it very good for urban commuter work. It is just about perfect for a trip to the supermarket and slotting into the tight spaces you’ll find there.
The appealing core traits of electric motors are quietness and instant pulling power from zero revs. The latter means the ZS EV is great for traffic launches and prompt overtakes.
It gets notably more zippy in sport mode, but also thirstier for juice.
What don’t we like?
The range is too short for the MG ZS EV to be considered anything other than an urban runabout.
And even then you need to have your charging arrangements in-place so you don’t get caught out.
This is not always the easiest to thing to achieve and we often drove for long periods in economy mode with the heating switched off to eke out more kays and three-mode regenerative braking on max to try and claw back some power.
Happily, the ZS EV is fitted with heated seats far less power-hungry than an A-C system.
The MG ZS EV is not a particularly dialled-in drive either. The steering is numb and the rear suspension is bouncy, so you feel a lot of motion after crossing a speed hump or the like.
Disappointingly, the steering wheel does not adjust for reach, making it harder for the driver to get comfortable.
Buy it or not?
The potential of the MG ZS EV is obvious, but so are its limitations.
Another 100km of range would be most welcome, but the price rise that would come with it less so.
At its current price it is still too expensive for most people to justify when a small petrol-powered compact SUV can be had for many thousands of dollars less.
When the limited range is also considered the ZS EV becomes a niche buy for suburban work.
For those who want to go BEV now, the MG ZS EV is easily justifiable. This little Chinese SUV helps us see our electrified automotive future more clearly than ever.
And it looks bright.