MG had the cachet (for a while) of being the most “affordable” EV in the Australian market. With more competition in that space, how does the company’s electric car compare?
Nicely nippy for such a big vehicle
Large appeal for those who like the SUV style
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Ready
It’s still not inexpensive
Essence version is really getting up there in price terms
Some dodgy grammar in the in-car UI
STOP BEEPING AT ME WHEN I CHANGE SUBURBS!
Here in Australia, there’s not a whole lot of choice when it comes to cheap EVs.
Actually, I’ll correct myself there.
There’s no choice at all, because if you want a cheap new EV, they simply don’t exist here yet.
No, don’t go look up the EV deathtraps on AliExpress; those things wouldn’t be legal on Australian roads at all. Also, I use the term deathtraps, because well, what kind of car do you think you’re going to get for under $1,000?
What you can get are lower-cost EVs that sit below the kind of premium price points that the likes of BMW, Porsche or Tesla occupy.
For the longest time, the standard bearer here has been MG’s ZS EV.
MG loaned me a 2023 ZS EV Essence to test out for a week, to see how I found its take on a more affordable electric vehicle.
Now, I should point out at the outset that I’m not a massive car enthusiast. If you’re hoping to see discussions and tests of 0-60 speeds, observations on pulling donuts or drifting or how it compares to the Porsche in my garage, you’re not going to find that here.
For a start, I’m a tech journalist – Porsches are well outside my tax bracket and always have been.
What I am is an everyday driver, and there does seem to be an awful lot of us about. I’m also someone who made the switch to EV driving nearly two years ago.
In the global sense that ain’t much, but here in Australia we’re definitely still in the “early adopter” phase.
As such, my frame of reference is my daily drive, a 2016 import Nissan Leaf, as well as the Tesla Model 3 I share with my partner, though she’s more frequently behind the wheel of that car than I am. Still, that gives me a range perspective, from cheaper (for reasons) through to a more premium model to compare the MG ZS EV to.
Importing and driving a Japanese Import Leaf in Australia
Driving a Tesla from Sydney to Adelaide and back: Part One
Driving a Tesla from Sydney to Adelaide and back: Part Two
Driving a Tesla from Sydney to Adelaide and back: Part three
How much does the MG ZS EV cost in Australia?
This is a more complex question to answer than you might think.
For a start, MG sells two models of the MG ZS EV; there’s the entry level MG ZS Excite, and the slightly fancier MG ZS Essence, which is the model that MG provided to me on a loan basis.
The Essence gets a few more road safety features, faux leather seats, wireless chargers and a panoramic roof if those features are important to you. There’s also a long-range model due to hit Australia this year but that’s not available just yet.
Actually, it’s even more confusing than that, because you can also buy a cheaper car called the MG ZS that runs on petrol if you must.
But that lacks the EV suffix, so it’s not relevant here except to note that you should check precisely which car you’re promised if you’re buying one second hand or online or such.
MG’s pricing for its MG ZS EV varies a little by state; here in NSW where I’ve tested the MG ZS Essence, the entry level Excite model starts at $46,709, while the Essence would run you $49,709, based on MG’s web site at the time of writing.
Buy the same car in Victoria, and you’re looking at $48,416 or $51,542 respectively.
And so it goes depending on the state or territory you live in.
For whatever it’s worth, MG’s listed prices suggest the cheapest MG ZS EVs are to be had in the Northern Territory and the most expensive are to be found in Western Australia.
That assumes you want a black or white car; if you’re after Blue, Red or Silver – “Brighton Blue”, “Diamond Red” or “Sloane Silver” if you like marketing names for colours – you’ll pay an additional $700 on top of your state-based price.
But of course it’s more complex than that again, because why not?
There’s a bevy of state-based rebates and inclusions to bear in mind that can drop that price down by thousands of dollars. You could in some states drive away in one for around $45,000-ish dollars.
MG ZS EV Essence: Design and Interior
The MG ZS EV Essence sure is a big lad. It’s that very popular “small SUV” shape that so many drivers do seem to like these days, whether it’s for the height of the ride or the appearance of having more space or even the dim hope that they might go off-road with them at so point. Based on my observations alone, that latter case doesn’t seem to happen much.
I did like the blue – sorry, Brighton Blue – finish of the model MG loaned me, although I don’t know if I’d like the $700 hole it’d leave in my wallet quite as much. On the interior, the finish is decent but certainly not quite at a premium level, with a few items that creak a little, showing off their plastic nature.
Only the driver’s seat has actual digital adjustments, and it did take me a little fiddling to find a comfortable driving space. This is where I do have to admit that I’m personally not a big fan of the smaller SUV shape and size, and that relays into the drive position. It’s higher than I’d personally like, and of course a bigger fatter shape is less aerodynamic, which has some impact on its EV range. More on that later.
I did mostly like the way that MG lays out the MG ZS Essence’s controls, however. There’s an expansive dash screen that displays speed and power usage in easy sight, as well as a 10.1 inch tablet to the side.
That’s more like the Leaf I drive most days than the Model 3, where I’d dearly have loved at least an easy in-sight speedo behind the wheel. There’s a set of toggles for in-car comfort – aircon, volume and the like underneath the screen and an additional set beneath that that cover off driving mode and regenerative braking systems.
Most of this works well, though I do have a few observations and niggles.
If you’re using the in-car UI, there’s some slightly odd grammar and translation work at play that shows off the car’s non-English origins. I’m not fussed about the car brand ownership in any jingoistic way, but it’d be nice for this word-obsessed journalist not to get cranky due to poor grammar choices.
Yes, this is the most minor point imaginable, but then most people will pick up on smaller points about cars to make them a must-buy or don’t-buy prospect. I’d feel bad if I didn’t point it out.
Cruise control is handled via an additional stalk control under the indicator stalk, and it took me a while to get used to not hitting one when I meant to hit the other. I would have greatly preferred if MG had put cruise control amongst the buttons on the steering wheel instead.
The MG ZS EV uses a rotary dial for gear selection. This is totally workable – and indeed, better than the weird UFO selector on my 2016 Leaf.
My only criticism with any of the controls is that while the MG ZS EV has a full 360 degree camera for reversing – which I love – it can sometimes be a little slow to fire up and show me what’s going on, and the detail could be a little finer.
There’s a space under the screen for a single mobile phone to sit that also acts as wireless charger – at least on the Essence model, it’s not part of the Excite’s feature set – but only if you’re happy for your phone to sit sideways. Getting an iPhone 14 Pro to sit nicely and charge was a little challenging, and even larger phones may struggle more.
It does feel as though the fanciest features are reserved purely for the driver, though. Sit in the passenger seat, or especially in the back and it’s a little bit more basic again. At least in the back seat you do get a couple of USB plugs for charging phones on the go. It’s not a big space back there, however, so if your family or friends are on the taller side, they might find it a touch cramped.
MG ZS EV: Driving
For such a large vehicle, the MG ZS EV is a surprisingly nippy beast. It offers three different driving modes – Sport, Normal and Eco – to pick from depending on your preferences in terms of handling and how quickly you feel you must burn off from the lights. I’m firmly in camp Eco – and to be clear my Leaf stays in Eco its whole life and the Model 3 lives in Chill mode too – but I did test out Sport and Normal modes as well.
Actually, I had to test out Normal mode, because for some reason MG’s default position appears to be to drop back to Normal no matter what the prior driving mode was when you last used it. It’s a minor complaint, but I’d prefer to be able to set and forget my driving preferences, not have to switch them on every time. I don’t think I missed a setting for this; if I’m wrong let me know in the comments below.
The MG ZS EV is, like any other EV, basically able to access all of its power from a cold start, which means you really can zip away from the lights at higher speeds than other drivers might expect.
That’s kind of fun (if a slight waste of power), but I was surprised at how generally nippy the ZS EV felt to drive for both city and highway driving. Like every other EV, noise is kept to a minimum beyond evident tyre noises at fast speeds. You’d still get those in a petrol car naturally, just muffled by the actual engine thrum. Apparently some people like that. I’m not one of them.
Again though, there were a few quirks that MG could do with fixing.
The MG ZS EV has a regenerative braking system – or in fancy MG-speak, the Kinetic Energy Recuperation System, or KERS – with multiple levels depending on how much brake control you want to give the car.
Me being me, I want it all, ideally as close to one-pedal driving as possible. At maximum KERS level, the MG ZS EV comes close… but not quite there.
If I let it, it’s going to nudge the cars in front of me, because you do have to tap the brakes for those critical last few metres. It’s a total taste play here – I know drivers who are aghast at the idea of not being 100% responsible for the brakes who wouldn’t care – but at this price I would have liked to see proper one pedal driving as part of the KERS package. Coming this close feels like it’s teasing me.
The 10.1 inch touchscreen is Android Auto or Apple CarPlay compatible, but only via a cable, not wireless. If you lack that cable (or like me, are testing out a car as fully as possible in a compressed timeframe) you’re likely to use the in-car GPS system. It’s fine for finding locations and route tracking, but it has the habit of beeping an alert chime when I change suburbs. Or when it thinks I’ve changed suburbs.
I dug around in the menus to try to find a way to get it to shut up, but I can’t find it. I don’t know why it thinks I need to know that I’ve moved from Strathfield to… wait for it… Strathfield (yes, it did this to me) with an alert chime, but it does. If you’re using Apple Maps or Google Maps via your tethered phone, thankfully it shuts up.
I’ve already admitted that the small SUV shape of the MG ZS EV isn’t my preferred model, but I’ll equally admit that I had few issues getting the car around city locations and for some mid-range freeway driving without issue. Although MG’s chosen press car licence plate did garner me more than a few stares. It certainly wouldn’t have been my choice.
MG ZS EV: Range and Charging
The 2023 model MG ZS EV runs from a 50.3kWh battery that’s claimed to get 320km of range from a full charge. Certainly if I charged the MG ZS EV up to 100%, that’s the exact figure the dash wants to tell me it can get to.
But can it? Manufacturer range claims are always on the rubbery side, whether you’re talking electric vehicles or not, and a lot can depend on your driving style, weather conditions and speed. I was also somewhat limited in terms of timing, only having the car for a short span and not quite having the time to go on a multi-day trek with it to get a wider feel for its range.
For sure, if you’re actually only doing the average distance for an Aussie car these days each day (30km or so, give or take) then there’s no drama there at all. To put it through a slightly rougher test, I drove the MG ZS EV from Sydney to the Central Coast and back, a round trip of around 120km, starting with the battery at 85%.
To give the MG ZS EV a little more work to do, I put it into Sports mode. That wouldn’t be my everyday choice, but it’s the mode that’s most thirsty for electrons. Would I end up on the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck?
It managed the trip there and back chewing up 35% of the battery, including some regenerative recovery due to the winding downhill road leading into Gosford, though it lost all of that and more going back up the same hill on the way back.
A quick bit of back-of-envelope maths would put its effective range in that scenario at around 290km or thereabouts, which actually isn’t bad against that claim. Shift into eco mode and maybe have slightly less of a hill climb and I reckon you could get quite close to that 320km range.
What about charging, though? MG provides a standard “Granny Charger” cable that can live underneath the boot cavity for emergencies, because like all of them it’s dead slow. I mostly charged with an at-home Tesla 3rd Gen cable to keep the MG ZS EV topped up, because it was already there and it felt daft to go back to a slower charging standard if I didn’t have to.
The MG ZS EV can also take a much faster DC charge, although where I am in Sydney is not blessed with examples of that type, sadly. I did try (not-at-all-DC-but-public-at-least) charging at the Rhodes shopping centre, but the only available charger was broken. Which was probably why it was available at all.
It’s not MG’s fault that Australia has a lot of work to do when it comes to public charger access, though I do find it odd that I live in the electorate of the very EV-positive NSW Treasurer (at the time of writing)… and there are precisely zero available public EV chargers to be had. At least for now.
MG ZS EV 2023: Should You Buy One?
The MG ZS EV has its competitors now – BYD’s ATTO 3 is the obvious one, but Cupra’s got incoming cars in the $40-50K space coming as well – but it’s still a rather good car in my view.
Does that mean I’d buy one?
Probably not, but that’s got a lot more to do with the SUV shape not being to my personal taste than anything else.
I 100% can feel the upgrades from my much simpler, cheaper, second-hand import Leaf, and I can imagine plenty of folks would prefer a newer car with an actual Australian warranty, too.
At the full whack Essence price I do start wondering about the more premium sedan styles – your Model 3s and Polestars and the like, however. It’s great that there’s more affordable EV options on the market and at least some competition, but nobody should pretend that a $49,000 car (maybe less with rebates) is an “affordable” model.