MG ZS EV first drive review
For MG Motor India to plan their second launch in the country to be an electric vehicle is a bloody aggressive move. Or is it? The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense. MG has already said it wants to do things differently in India. And Hyundai has already tested EV waters with the Kona, which I hear has sold out its initial batch of over 300 cars. And the ZS EV import unit, that we had the opportunity to drive, is larger, more spacious, looks more crossover-SUV-like and is likely to have a price tag that will surprise. MG will also set up fast charge stations at dealerships around the country. What of the other details then?
How does it look?
Well, that changes with just how you're looking at the ZS electric. As an EV, it's a safe, subdued design which doesn't try too hard to be different. As a C-segment SUV, it's quite good-looking, with nice and tight proportions. Everything from the chrome studded grille, non-fussy bumpers, clean lines and squared-off tail lights suggest restraint in the design.
The MG signature omega-shaped daytime running lamps are distinctive and the most significant part of the design, in terms of showing MG's legacy. The centre portion of the grille with the MG logo slides open to reveal the charging port, and is neatly integrated. It's not a very aggressive design though, for sure, and the low front end makes the entire package look more crossover than SUV.
Just how large is it? Its dimensions make it larger than the Hyundai Kona electric by a fair bit but at 4,314x1,809x1,644mm (LxWxH), it's exactly Seltos-sized, which puts it right into the action end of the SUV market. You can't really tell by looking at it, but its wheelbase of 2,579mm is shorter than that of the Kona's by 21mm. MG is quick to point out that the ZS EV we're driving is not in its final India-spec, but given that the car will be brought in as a CKD (Completely Knocked Down) unit, it's fair to expect no significant changes to the car. Perhaps the only thing that could change are the 17-inch diamond cut wheels - we hope they don't.
How nice is the cabin?
After spending the better half of a day inside the ZS electric, the thing that stuck with me is how cleanly designed and, well, normal the cabin is. The low dash and window line means visibility is great, while the central stack is angled towards the driver. The flat-bottom steering looks and feels great, while the analogue dials and digital display between them are easy to read. Wait, analogue dials? Yup, the ZS EV has a second dial to illustrate the percentage of power you're putting down, right where a rev counter would be.
The markings, font, colours and superb polished needles remind one of an expensive watch; unfortunately with the Hector getting a full digital panel as an MID, some may see this as a step backwards. The ZS EV we were driving also had an 8-inch touchscreen panel, without any of the connected tech, like we've seen on the Hector, but it's worth keeping in mind that the only other EV (the Kona) doesn't offer that tech either.
Fittings like the rotary transmission controller are really well-finished, and using it definitely feels like a slice of the future. The cabin feels spacious, helped by a huge panoramic sunroof, and there's more legroom on offer than in the similarly-sized Seltos, though the floor is absolutely flat (it's got the batteries underneath). Rear AC vents are conspicuously absent, though there's a chance that'll change.
MG Motor's parent company SAIC has a JV with Volkswagen in China, and there are no prizes for pointing out where the influence comes from. The plastics are a step above what you've seen on the VW Polo and are largely on par with other SUVs in the Rs 20 lakh segment. We reference VW, because if you look closely you can spot the similarities in the window switches, lock/unlock switches, steering controls and more.
Right, how does it drive?
Under the hood of the ZS EV is not much you'll recognise, except if you're into building custom gaming PCs! The synchronous motor sends roundabout 143PS and 353Nm of torque to the front wheels, if the car's UK spec is any indication. The ZS EV gets its juice from a 44.5kWh battery pack packaged under the floor of the car. Note, the ZS EV is already on sale in the UK, and is rated for 263km of range on a single charge according to the WLTP cycle. It also has a claimed 0-100kmph sprint time of 8.5 seconds.
Pressing the throttle all the way down will have you believe that figure is conservative, the ZS electric will pin you into your seat! Electric torque is worth more, since it all arrives the moment you put your foot down, and there is some torque steer the moment you do that. This can take you by surprise but is a great, if juvenile, remedy for those lamenting the lack of excitement in EVs. The real surprise, however, is just how strong the ZS EV feels even as it climbs towards and above the 150kmph mark, usually the point at which electric cars' performance starts to taper sharply. Of course, throttle response is affected by which of the three driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) you're in, but so is off-throttle braking.
Like most modern EVs, the ZS also recoups energy via brake regeneration. With three levels, which is also affected by the driving mode, you can set the ZS EV up to feel pretty much like a normal internal-combustion car, or come close to one-pedal driving with very aggressive off-throttle braking. We saw a range of a little over 300km when we drove out of the MG plant, which had dropped to about 70km at the end of a near 150km trip, mostly filled with nailing the throttle at every opportunity. Taking into account sensible driving should have you get close, or over the advertised range. Really surprising is just how much hooligan behavior the electric ZS brought out!
The quickness aside, the light, precise steering gives the ZS great agility which makes it quite fun! Helped, of course, by the low centre of gravity which further helps mask its size, especially when you're hurtling down a set of freshly paved twisties. Body roll is remarkably well-controlled, as is the amount of mechanical grip it seems to have. The flipside is ride quality that feels typically European, in that it gets better as speeds rise, feels utterly planted at highway speeds, but could do with more bump absorption at lower speeds. If fixing this is a trade-off MG will make to prepare the ZS EV for the Indian market, we feel it'll be the more popular choice. We're told it'll take about 40 minutes to charge to 80 per cent using a fast charger, though using a wall charger will take a little over seven hours to top up the battery fully.
Our spin in the not-yet-finalised spec of the MG ZS electric vehicle shows that the duality of nature of EVs could be something to look forward to. The ZS felt very well behaved at low speeds, allowing one to accurately maintain city speeds, while showing that the inherent low centre of gravity makes for a good handler as well. If MG prices it well under the Hyundai Kona EV, the ZS could very well be the car that sparks the electric revolution in India.
Also see: MG ZS EV | First Drive (India)
Starts Rs 20.88 Lakhs
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