Under the cloak of an English sports car stalwart, the Chinese automotive revolution is occurring.
Morris Garages, or MG as it’s commonly known, has been around for more than a century. Now owned by one of China’s biggest manufacturers, the brand is back.
Last month MG boasted a market share of 3.6 per cent. While well short of the lofty 21.9 per cent posted by Toyota, the MG slice was bigger than Mercedes-Benz cars, Honda, BMW, Subaru and equal with Volkswagen.
Starring for MG have been the compact MG3 hatch and the ZS small SUV.
Outside the spotlight is the all-electric version of the ZS, which doesn’t attract the sales headlines but it is Australia’s least expensive electric vehicle.
Priced at $43,990 drive-away that undercuts its nearest rival, the soon to be updated Nissan Leaf, by nearly $10,000.
Base models of the ZS are available for $21,990 drive-away, but if you match the features in the electric version it is more closely aligned to the turbocharged petrol range-topper which is $11,500 less expensive.
How quickly it takes to bridge that running cost gap depends on your power source.
Those with solar power at home could make the most of the energy during daytime hours. Average electricity costs per kilowatt hour vary between states, but the lowest is in Queensland and the ACT at 22 cents. Australia’s Green Vehicle Guide says the MG’s electricity will cost about $680 a year to run compared to $1603 for the 1.3-litre turbo petrol using premium unleaded.
Standard features meet expectations of what’s expected for this kind of money, including unique 17-inch alloys, electric adjustable seats, panoramic sunroof, push button start as well as an eight-inch touchscreen that has smartphone mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
All other MGs have a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, but this EV only has five years with eight years/160,000km for battery coverage. There’s no official reason for the difference other than MG has a different policy for combustion engines and EVs.
Light blue, white and black are all complimentary colours, while red and regal blue cost an extra $500.
Service costs are at the affordable end of the scale with $1602 covering five years.
Five stars were awarded to the ZS in 2019, and this model comes with a strong list of inclusions.
Emergency braking is the most vital feature which can automatically slow or stop the ZS if an impending frontal impact is detected. It also has radar cruise control with traffic jam assist to essentially drive itself and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles when in snarls, along with a function which constantly monitors speed signs and alerts the driver if exceeding the limit.
Rear cross traffic alert, which warns of approaching vehicles or pedestrians, is brilliant when reversing from busy carparks. That AEB functionality doesn’t work in reverse like some other vehicles, while also missing is a cross junction assist function which can warn of peripheral traffic approaching at intersections.
Overall crash testing delivered good results for child and adult protection.
Clean design and a functional layout ensure easy cabin navigation.
While the steering wheel has real leather, the seats and door inserts use a man-made version — the material feels low-rent and is like a heat conductor on hot summer days.
Some of the functions are unique. The touchscreen design is basic, and aircon changes are shown in bar graph increments rather than degrees.
Cup holders perfect for takeaway coffees are featured within console area that has a cover which can slide to hide the contents, while each door is capable of accommodating a bottle. In front of the drive controls is a storage spot perfect for a phone.
The ZS is a compact SUV but there is reasonable room for the growing family. Boot space is about what you’d expect at 360 litres — similar to a Hyundai Kona but larger than a Mazda CX-3 — but there’s no spare tyre, just an inflation repair kit if you get a flat.
Rear seats have a 60-40 folding function and we managed to fit an adult-size bike inside with a front wheel removed.
Depending on the drive mode selected, the ZS acceleration response varies from quick to downright rapid.
The console toggle enables shifting between economy, normal and sport — the latter delivers the most fun with maximum power and torque at the ready. It’s not Tesla Model 3 quick, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 8.2 seconds … but it feels much faster in the metal.
Fully charged the range is about 240km, although that can change depending on the terrain and mode selected. One trade-off for sporting shenanigans is reduced range.
With the battery under the floor it helps provide a solid foundation and a low centre of gravity. The ZS EV will rock and roll with aggressive changes in direction and challenging cornering, but behave and the chassis follows suit. Dull and light steering may not inspire keen drivers, but they’ll be shopping elsewhere.
Having sampled other EVs during recent years, the MG delivered one of the slowest charging times using a basic 10-amp household power point. One quick top up during two hours provided just 17km of extra range. MG says from near zero to full would take about 33 hours using the same set-up.
That makes an in-home fast charger a must and reduce a full charge to about seven hours. They vary in cost, bank on between $1000-$1500 installed.
Use a DC fast charger and replenishment can take as little as 45 minutes.
Drivers can make use of the kinetic energy recovery system (called KERS on the toggle) which has varying levels of braking. That essentially enables one pedal driving where you don’t need to brake — it takes some practise but can be useful to keep charge in the battery.
I’m ahead of the automotive evolution curve and this price stacks up in terms of long-term payback.
Electric power lights my fire. This is the future, the range anxiety is dissipating and I’m ready for zero emission driving.
NISSAN LEAF $53,190 D/A
About to be updated, this is the only factory vehicle which has bidirectional charging so you can use it as a home battery as well as a car. Has a range of about 270km, generates 110kW/320Nm and a 40kW/h battery. A range of more than 380km and a bigger battery will feature the new model.
HYUNDAI KONA ELECTRIC $64,718 D/A
Big step up in price but also in range, offering more than 450km from a 64kWh battery, with the motors generating 150kW/295Nm. Cool little package with funky looks to set it apart from the Kona family.
Mainstream acceptance of electric vehicles takes one step closer with the EV from MG. Those who can use solar or wind power to supplement the charging will get best value. A zippy, solid all-round performer.
AT A GLANCE
MG ZS EV
PRICE $43,990 drive-away (cheapest Aussie EV)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5yr/unlim’ km (short), 8yr battery; $1602 5 yrs (OK)
MOTOR Single, 105kW/353Nm, 44.5kWh battery (zippy)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane-keep assist, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert (good)
CONSUMPTION 18.6kWh/100km (15.9 on test)
SPARE None, repair kit (average)
BOOT 359L/1187L (fine)