We Took Australia’s Cheapest EV on a 1,000km Road Trip and We Have Some Thoughts

We Took Australia’s Cheapest EV on a 1,000km Road Trip and We Have Some Thoughts

The MG ZS EV is an interesting electric vehicle. The cheapest electric car in Australia (at the time of writing), the ZS EV doesn’t trade the “cheapest” title for a lack of features but compared to other electric vehicles for sale in Australia, it is lacking.

The value proposition of the MG ZS EV isn’t well-considered, and it all comes back to range. Promising a 320km WLTP range on a full charge, the MG ZS EV makes non-city travel an anxious pain at best and a poorly planned accident at worst.

How do I feel so confident in saying this? Well, over four days, I clocked more than 1,000km in the MG ZS EV, driving it between Sydney’s Inner West and Coffs Harbour. Here’s what I have to say about the MG ZS EV.

mg zs ev review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

A trek on a charge

Firstly, I want to completely demystify this whole “range anxiety” thing. Every new EV in Australia, at the time of writing, has a big enough battery to effectively travel between Australia’s major cities, stopping at chargers placed along the way.

The most difficult thing about this is that charging times are quite slow (generally speaking you’ll often spend about half an hour at a charging station for enough charge to get you to your next stop) and most charging stations only offer two chargers at once (I did have to queue up two out of five times during the trip). Many cars, such as the Tesla Model Y and the Polestar 2, offer greater battery range so that you can skip the odd recharge.

The MG ZS EV pushes your range comfort zone to the brink. Offering only 320km WLTP range, the car reports a battery at 100 per cent as 254km range when turned off. I’m not entirely clear why this difference between WLTP range and reported battery range is so dramatically different, but it’s something that I didn’t experience when reviewing the Polestar 2, The Kia EV6 or the Kia Niro EV.

Owners of the car have suggested that the range expectation difference could be due to the operating system not being up to date, however when I discussed this with MG, they told me it could be down to the way the car manages battery life. 254km is roughly 80 per cent of the 320km WLTP range this car offers, which is the same percentage the car is meant to lock at to maintain battery life. Once it reaches this point, it can be charged to 100 per cent (or, perhaps more accurately 120 per cent) at a much slower rate, similar to any other EV.

If this is the case, then the car didn’t communicate this clearly, as it was reporting 254km… As 100 per cent. Drivers would likely only see the car reach levels of 320km (or above) when having the vehicle on charge for extended periods of time, but this was not something I saw once during my week with the vehicle, aside from when I first picked it up. Regardless, 320km isn’t a lot of wiggle room either.

mg zs ev review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

And this is absolutely to its detriment. 254km is obviously not a lot and is just under half of what you’d get in a standard Tesla Model 3, Cupra Born, Polestar 2, or Ioniq 5 (cars that, granted, cost over $20,000 more).

This was evident during my trip between the Wallsend NRMA charger (my first charging stop after leaving Sydney) and the Taree Evie charger, about a 162km distance. I charged the car up to about 200km driving range and on arrival, I was down to 12 per cent (31km).

This was… Terrifying. I’ve done this exact trip (Wallsend to Taree) in the EV6 and the Polestar, along with the Nissan Leaf, but the MG ZS EV was the first electric car to actually make me anxious about range. With only two chargers available at Taree, I worried if they would be out of order or if the queue would be too long.

Thankfully, nothing bad happened, and after 40 minutes I was charged to 87 per cent.

From here, I stopped in at a charger at Port Macquarie for about 30 minutes for the third public charge and was then on my way to Sawtell, near Coffs Harbour, the halfway point on my journey.

mg zs ev review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

I documented my trip in this thread, but I’ll break it all down here too.

Notes on the drive

This first day of driving (and much of the trek back) was done almost entirely during heavy rain. The car, sitting on 215/55 R17 wheels, had very little traction in the wet and I had to drive carefully, especially when taking off from a stop. For comparison, the Kia Niro also had 215/55 R17 wheels and the BYD had 215/55 R18 wheels, resulting in the same issues as the ZS EV.

Also, weirdly, the car had a habit of making strange noises. Letting the car auto-brake in traffic, it made a terrible *CLUNK* noise when it came to a full stop. I have no explanation for this, however, I heard the same noise when I accelerated heavy from a complete stop.

Ultimately it’s a comfortable car to drive with lovely seats and a nice external and internal colour scheme, neatly sitting in the small SUV/large hatchback range. The backseat feels comfortable and it could easily move a lot of items with the seats folded down and boot utilised (just mind the absence of a frunk).

mg zs ev review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

The user interface was slow at times and would often need up to 10 seconds to warm up before being ready to use (especially after being parked for more than a few hours).

There aren’t many car settings that you can customise using the infotainment unit, but it provided enough information and had tactile buttons for much of the interactions (I love buttons and in my opinion, cars shouldn’t shun them).

On this point, the screen was smaller than you’d expect from an EV (definitely the smallest of every EV I’ve reviewed so far), but I liked this, because it didn’t feel intrusive on the driving experience. Android Auto functionality was well fleshed out and this is where the majority of my time with the UI was spent.

mg zs ev review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

With smart cruise control enabled, the MG ZS EV could see the lines on both sides of the road, however, instead of guiding through them, it would often go over them and beep at you as it did. The Polestar 2, for comparison, easily navigates through these lines without issues and would only struggle if they were obstructed by a shadow.

Vision was also very satisfying. Rear vision was strong, stronger than the BYD in my opinion, but I was disappointed that the parking and smart tech didn’t include reversing alignment lines. That being said, the inclusion of a 3D camera array to help with parking was nice and definitely not a feature that I expected the “cheap” car to have.

Actually, here are a few things that the cheapest model doesn’t come with:

  • Blind spot detection
  • Electrically folding door mirrors
  • Glass sunroof
  • Front seat heating
  • 6-way adjustable driver seat

All of these above things are available on the more premium model and… The BYD Atto 3, the next cheapest electric car. Frankly, if you’re spending this much on a car, it’s odd that it wouldn’t have these things (except for perhaps the glass sunroof).

mg zs ev review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Losing the plot

On the way back, I stopped in to stay two nights with family in different cities where I used the emergency wall socket charger on both occasions after single public charges each day. These were more comfortable trips, effectively being 173km and 241km on each journey, however, I was still compelled to publically charge, even if I was within the estimated range of the car. I wouldn’t have had this problem if I had a larger battery, but I’m just trying to underscore a point here: the MG ZS EV is not an all-rounder.

mg zs ev review
The MG ZS EV beside a Hyundai Kona. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

And here’s where the idea of the “cheapest EV in Australia” fizzles away to me: the MG ZS EV doesn’t exist to be an alternative to any particular car, it exists to be a side car. This is the car that you drive around the city, recharging at home and only ever using it to go to the shops, taking the kids to school or running errands around town, while your other car has greater range and is more capable of those longer journies.

This completely destroys the MG ZS EV as an option. If the purpose of getting an EV is to be a more ethical consumer and car owner, then you cannot justify owning a second car unless you absolutely need it. If you’re really trying to save the planet, the best thing you can do is consume less rather than consume more ethically.

mg zs ev review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Who is the MG ZS EV for?

The MG ZS EV does buyers a disservice by clinging to the “cheapest” EV name. It is not a practical car. It seems to be a perfect secondary car, but this defeats the purpose of owning an electric car, where the pitch is more environmentally friendly driving.

My entire opinion would be different were it capable of greater range. That is its only true problem. I’ve proven in this article that you can certainly take this 320km WLTP car on a 1,000km road trip, but it is not a comfortable journey.

Although there seem to be enough public chargers across the Australian east coast, I’d be worried about driving inland or, hypothetically, not getting enough charge in between stops (and with queues and not many chargers at the stops, this is a problem I certainly faced). You can drive long distances within your battery comfort zone, which I did, but here’s the kicker: the six-hour trip between Sydney and Coffs Harbour, queues and comfortable charging wait times included, took me 11 hours.

That’s a fault of EV infrastructure at large, sure, but it would have been mitigated were the battery larger. With a larger battery, I’d be on my way faster with a more comfortable range expectation.

I want to love the MG ZS EV and I wish it well, but I don’t think it’s long for this world. At a few thousand dollars higher, the BYD Atto 3 Extended Range model offers 420km WLTP range and next year, Volkswagen is set to bring its cheap EVs to Australia, let alone the rest of the BYD fleet coming down under and the others that will soon follow.

The MG ZS EV is an irrelevant car and if you can afford to shop at this price point, you’d be better off spending a bit more to get a car with more range.

The MG ZS EV Excite starts at $44,990 and the more feature-packed MG ZS EV Essence starts at $48,990.

Want more Aussie car news? Here’s every EV we’ve reviewed in the last two years, all the EVs we can expect down under soon, and our guide to finding EV chargers across the country. Check out our dedicated Cars tab for more.

This article has been updated since it was originally published. 

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