2023 MG ZS EV Essence review
Want an electric car priced like a top-spec Toyota Corolla Cross, Kia Seltos or Mazda CX-30? The MG ZS EV has already achieved price parity.
The Chinese-made small electric SUV has been given a major refresh, while retaining the headline as Australia’s most affordable electric car (for now).
But with fierce competition from the BYD Atto 3 newcomer and even its very own MG 4 small hatchback incoming, is the new ZS EV update enough to still attract buyers to switch to an electric car?
The MG ZS EV is now offered locally in two model grades – Excite and Essence – both using a standard range battery pack.
We test the top-spec ZS EV Essence starting from $47,990 before on-road costs and incentives. The only option fitted here is the Solane Silver metallic exterior colour ($700).View the full price and specs
EDITOR’S NOTE: The test vehicle was provided by MG Motor Australia for a 21-day independent evaluation.
MG ZS EV Design
The facelifted MG electric car gains revised exterior and interior looks to align it with the petrol-powered ZST twin, which debuted in 2020.
The new ZS EV looks far more sharper than its predecessor by removing the conventional black front grille with a honeycomb patterned body-coloured face, distinctive L-shaped LED daytime running lights, flat 17-inch alloy wheel covers, and sportier-looking front- and rear bumpers.
It’s still a more conservative design than the BYD Atto 3, but the update lifts the small electric SUV to keep it fresh with a more contemporary look and slightly cute-angry smooth face (which piques the interest of some heads).
This optional $700 Solane Silver metallic paint complements the chrome trim, flatter MG logo and the roof rails well – the latter standard on this flagship Essence grade.
Stepping into the MG ZS EV interior is less impressive, though.
The facelift does gain new materials and a larger touchscreen, with all models featuring red contrast stitching and faux carbon fibre across the dashboard, seats and doors. Lashings of gloss black and matte and gloss chrome surrounding the air vents, door handles and switches help break up the cabin.
However, flat-bottom perforated steering wheel leather trim is quite thin and it feels like hard vinyl plastic – unbefitting for its $50,000 mark price tag.
The overall interior quality presents well with some soft touch materials across the upper dashboard and carbon fibre inserts, clicky switches and an even more satisfying overhead sunglasses box found only on this Essence.
All doors close with a solid thunk, except the tailgate, and the grille flexes when you close the charging port lid.
But, there are some areas where cost-cutting is noticeable, including harder scratchy plastics on the upper doors and the lack of any resistance on the glove box and centre armrest hinges – so they just fall down with a flimsy thud.
Notably, the synthetic black leather seat material looks and feels lower quality.
UPDATE 20/1/23: A previous version of this story noted some fading on parts of the processed leather seats (as pictured above). This has been clarified as mistreatment from a previous loaner.
But, it does seem opting for the base model’s fabric seats would be more durable in the long-run.
Our tester was strangely assembled with the driver’s seatbelt clip facing inwards, so it had to be twisted in order to click into the buckle. The front passenger’s seatbelt had no such issue.
MG ZS EV Practicality
The updated ZS EV carries the same boot capacity as its predecessor and petrol equivalent MG ZST at 359-litres or 1187-litres when the rear row seats are folded down.
Like its BYD Atto 3 rival, there’s no frunk storage compartment, even though there’s plenty of empty space under the bonnet.
The boot is impressively practical for a small electric SUV with a two-level adjustable floor to either increase the height volume or ensure a flat loading lip, and deep netted pockets on each side for storing smaller items.
But, it lacks any bag hooks, doesn’t have a luggage net, and taller people may need to watch their head due to the slightly low tailgate opening. There is some extra storage underneath the floor where the home charging cable and tyre inflation kit sits.
The included MG trickle charging cable has a particularly convenient cable organising solution. It has protruding prongs on all four corners to help guide you to wrap the cable around and a built-in strap buckle to lock it into place, so the usually long and ungainly EV charging cables don’t loosen and take up unnecessary space in the boot.
The rear seats of the MG ZS EV are also spacious for its class with plenty of legroom, foot room for stretching underneath the front seats, and good headroom despite the presence of a panoramic sunroof on this top-spec Essence trim.
Despite being based on a combustion engine platform that dates back to 2017, it only has a minimal centre transmission hump in the floor.
There’s also two ISOFIX child seat anchor points and three top tethers; rear air vents; USB-A and USB-C charging ports; one-touch down windows (but not up except the driver); and this Essence model exclusively gets seatback pockets.
Unfortunately, the rear row is let down by the lack of any interior lights so it’s difficult to see at night or in an underground carpark – a particular pain point if you’re fumbling with child car seats.
Also, there’s no tinted privacy glass at the back, it’s missing a rear centre armrest, and the sunshade for the large panoramic sunroof is somewhat thin and doesn’t block out ultraviolet light as well.
Thankfully, the MG electric car’s door pockets are large and don’t force bottles to be slanted unlike some other models, the glovebox, centre console armrest bin and cup holders are decently sized, and the front tray can just fit a large smartphone which has a Qi wireless charging pad on this Essence.
Critically, it’s hard to find a comfortable driving position due to no in-and-out reach adjustment on the steering wheel and very limited height adjustment – which could be a dealbreaker for some drivers.
The front row passenger is interestingly treated to a handle grabber at the centre console, which is usually found on offroad SUVs and utes, while the driver has a padded knee rest. Both front seats are heated, but only one-stage and there’s no steering wheel heater even on this Essence grade.
We also commend the inclusion of a PM2.5 air filter, which effectively isolated the cabin from nasty pollutants emitting from the tailpipes of other vehicles on the road.
MG ZS EV Technology
The MG ZS EV facelift introduces a larger 10.1-inch touchscreen and a 7-inch driver’s instrument display.
The infotainment software is based on the Android mobile operating system (not Android Automotive) and shares some surprising similarities with its BYD Atto 3 competitor.
The Chinese automaker’s upgraded user interface design is more modern with the odd strange Chinese-to-English direct word translation. The layout tabs of MG’s settings app is reminiscent of the BYD electric car and both even share the same built-in maps based on Nokia’s open-source Here Technologies.
It’s a modern and intuitive navigation system that’s easy to search for a destination (via the Android keyboard) and integrates with the ZS EV’s remaining range. But, even though the setting is enabled, it didn’t automatically switch to dark mode most of the time.
The ZS EV comes standard with wired Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto connected via an USB-A port. Both interfaces are scaled up on the larger touchscreen, but I noticed the latter wouldn’t want to play audio after the ‘ready’ state chimes when the vehicle is turned on. A simple reconnect solves it, though.
The single-zone climate control system must be operated via the infotainment system. While it is difficult to use while driving, there are a row of shortcut switches down below so you don’t need to dive into the climate app every time.
Disappointingly, the display’s capacitive sensor doesn’t recognise touch inputs as well. A swipe can be misregistered as a tap and even doesn’t respond to gentle finger taps.
Although the touchscreen software and processor perform well, the unresponsive touchscreen hardware makes it feel sluggish than it really is – including when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Even though the display is integrated well into the dashboard and slightly angled towards the driver, it’s set low down in the cabin so it’s not easily glanceable while driving.
Meanwhile, the driver is faced with a digital centre screen with dot-matrix LEDs on each side showing the digital speedometer and power/regen levels. It’s a clever implementation that hides the fact that the display doesn’t fill the entire instrument cluster on the new MG ZS EV.
The driver’s screen always shows important information such as the battery state-of-charge percentage and pages showing the drivetrain, 12-volt battery and tyre pressure health, and adaptive cruise control. But, the text is small and tends to pack a lot of information on one screen.
New for the ZS EV is iSmart mobile app connectivity on all models; however, we were unable to test it out. It does the fundamentals on paper, including checking the charging status and preconditioning the climate control – and is a welcome addition given the affordable electric car price.
This flagship Essence variant gets a six-speaker system with a three-dimensional audio effect. The feature doesn’t seem to make any noticeable difference, but the overall sound quality is good. The entry-level Excite only has four speakers – which is poultry and unexpected at its circa $45,000 price point.
There’s also a handy USB-A port behind the rear view mirror to power dashcams.
MG ZS EV Safety Assist
The small electric SUV comes standard with active safety assistance systems dubbed ‘MG Pilot’. This includes auto emergency braking; lane centering assist; adaptive cruise control; a 360-degree surround view camera; rear parking sensors; and more as detailed here.
Only opting for this top-spec ZS EV Essence gains potentially life-saving blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems – but it’s worth mentioning that only the former doesn’t sound an audible alert when there’s a car in the blind-spot zone (only flashes the wing mirror light).
The adaptive cruise system works well at keeping a distance with the vehicle in front and even shows neat Tesla-style animations on the instrument cluster visualising the surrounding car, truck or motorcycles.
Despite the proudly attached MG Pilot badge on the tailgate, the lane keep assist is twitchy and can’t always keep in the centre of the lane. Similarly, the lane departure assist is too sensitive and aggressively pulls the wheel.
Thankfully, it can be turned off so I just left it on lane departure warnings on only, but still chimed sometimes on the lowest sensitivity setting even when I wasn’t close to the line markings.
Critically, the adaptive cruise control also doesn’t use regenerative braking when slowing down which contributes to the electric car’s inefficiency (as described below).
It tends to slow down itself when on a sharper turn or curve, and can’t always maintain to the set speed limit – it can float at 3km/h over before applying the brakes and often hovers at 1km/h below with no speed tolerance setting available.
It’s also difficult to set the speed in 1km/h increments, but adaptive cruise is easy to operate otherwise given it’s on a separate stalk behind the wheel.
The standard road sign recognition also works well by displaying the speed limit in the driver’s instrument display and doesn’t sound any annoying chimes unlike some other brands.
Furthermore, the standard 360-degree camera quality is grainy, but still legible. It can be toggled via the favourites button on the steering wheel, shortcut at the bottom of the touchscreen, and even turns the side camera front wheels view automatically when indicating at low speeds.
Unfortunately, the cameras can’t be displayed travelling above 15km/h and there’s no rear blind-spot camera view. The rear parking sensors are also limited to three modules placed at the centre and no front sensors are available – even on this top-spec circa $50,000 car.
The ZS EV’s new LED headlights perform great at night, with good spread and reach, and an auto high beam function. We also commend the Chinese automaker for setting on the automatic headlight function as the default every time you start the vehicle.
MG ZS EV Range and Charging
The updated MG ZS EV packs a larger 50.3kWh battery pack based on the safer, longer lasting, and cobalt- and nickel-free lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) chemistry. It also gets a bump up in charging speeds at up to 11kW AC and 80kW DC on the standard 400-volt class architecture.
In our real-world charging test, the new ZS EV went from 15 to 80 per cent in 40 minutes on the fastest-available 350kW ultra rapid charger.
Even though we turned on the battery heating setting in the infotainment system, the session only peaked at 67kW at the start and gradually slowed down to 40kW at the 80 per cent mark.
The MG doesn’t deliver a quick charging time, but it’s worth noting that most public EV chargers in Australia are 50kW or 75kW DC anyway and are often a more sensible choice for electric car owners.
Despite the new LFP battery, MG still recommends charging to 80 per cent to preserve its health. Unfortunately, you can’t set an automatic charge limit cut-off, so you’ll need to constantly monitor the charge status in the car or mobile app. Also, the live charging speed doesn’t display in the touchscreen nor the instrument cluster.
The MG ZS EV’s owner’s manual suggests it should be charged on slower AC power at least once per month for the battery management system (BMS) to calibrate its cells (dubbed ‘equalisation charging’) to ensure it shows an accurate state-of-charge and remaining range readout.
In contrast, Tesla suggests regularly charging its rear-wheel drive LFP Model 3 sedan and Model Y SUV to 100 per cent for BMS calibration. LFP batteries can still degrade after 80 per cent, but Tesla believes the trade off is warranted due to the chemistry’s longer lifecycle anyway.
Moreover, the MG small electric SUV’s front-right Type 2/CCS2 charging port is easily accessible – unlike the BYD Atto 3 which is awkwardly on the front-right wheel fender and requires cables to be twisted or some questionable parking angles.
The updated ZS EV’s charging flap now opens on the side – addressing a key gripe on its predecessor, which required owners to lift up a large portion of the grille and squat in order to see the ports. We also like the built-in caps that flick open on a hinge, instead of dangling and scratching the bodywork unlike some other brands.
The Chinese car brand claims its refreshed affordable EV has up to 320km driving range and 171Wh/km energy consumption on the stricter WLTP testing cycle.
In our almost three-weeks with a varied mix of urban and highway driving, we achieved around 289km of real-world range from a 174Wh/km consumption on the trip computer.
Unfortunately, it’s not as efficient given its smaller battery, size and lower powered motor.
The adaptive cruise control does not use regenerative braking and the lack of a stronger one-pedal driving regen intensity are likely contributors to its above-par energy consumption.
For reference, we saw 143Wh/km on the BYD Atto 3 Extended Range, achieved 150Wh/km on the bigger battery Kia Niro EV small SUV, and only 161Wh/km on the Hyundai Ioniq 5 medium crossover.
The MG’s slower charging times coupled with a smaller range battery and inefficient electric drive unit means it isn’t suited to travelling on long road trips.
You’ll need to stop more frequently and bet more on the patchy reliability of public EV chargers – although it isn’t impossible.
The new ZS EV gains vehicle-to-load (V2L) capability via the exterior front charging port to power any device using a standard home socket.
However, the V2L adapter is a separate purchase dealer accessory. We weren’t able to test it out, but you can set an auto discharge cut-off limit when the battery reaches a certain percentage.
MG ZS EV Driving
The MG ZS EV is powered by a single electric motor producing 130kW of power and 280Nm of torque and is front-wheel drive. The company claims a 0-100km/h acceleration time in 8.2 seconds.
Compared to its predecessor, it’s up 25kW but down 72Nm. Yet, there’s still plenty of enough instant torque to leave every petrol and diesel car in the rear-view mirror off the line, and overtake with ease.
It’s certainly not warp speed quick compared to pricier EV models, but accelerating in the MG electric car is more comfortable for passengers.
When sport mode is enabled, the ZS EV noticeably dulls down the available torque when accelerating from a stop to prevent wheel slip, but it can still get caught out and understeer when turning – a common consequence for a front-driven EV.
Additionally, the steering can feel somewhat light and the smaller battery means the MG doesn’t feel as planted on the road while travelling at highway speeds.
We also noticed the speedometer readout is within 1km/h accurate to the real-world GPS speed in our tester, so the adaptive cruise control dancing above the set speed at times was unnerving.
For an affordable electric car, the MG offers impressive driving dynamics that feels nimble thanks to its smaller battery, comfortable ride setup, and good outside noise isolation for its price with only some wind noise on the highway.
But, the climate control system and front electric motor whines are quite audible in the cabin and outside.
There’s good all-round visibility out the windows and is manoeuvrable given its city-friendly size, while giving the higher ride height of a SUV.
Furthermore, the new MG ZS EV offers three regenerative braking modes toggled via the ‘KERS’ switch on the centre console. Even on the strongest level, it is quite weak but can maintain the speed when travelling down a hill.
The regen cuts out when travelling under about 15km/h and the brake pedal is quite long, so a harder press is required to activate the hydraulic brakes. A one-pedal driving option would be welcome to improve its inefficiency as it was available on the old model.
When the brake pedal was pressed harder by the driver or adaptive cruise, I did sometimes hear a noticeable grinding noise which wasn’t confidence-inspiring.
The MG ZS EV is backed by a strong seven-year, unlimited kilometre vehicle and battery warranty with no parts exclusions, unlike the BYD Atto 3.
The Chinese car brand only requires servicing every 24 months/20,000km (whichever occurs first) with every visit priced at $268, except the 96 month/80,000km service costing $807. It also has a more established network of 80 dealers nationwide.
We commend MG for implementing both longer servicing intervals and reasonable capped-price servicing costs – which are more fitting for an electric car.
2023 MG ZS EV Verdict
8.0 out of 10
💰Value for money: 8.5
📱Tech and safety: 7.0
📏Size and practicality: 8.5
⏱️Driving and performance: 8.0
🔌Range and charging: 7.0
🛠️Warranty and running costs: 9.0
The refreshed MG ZS EV is a step up from its predecessor with a more modern design, upgraded tech, and a larger LFP battery – while still achieving price parity with petrol-powered rivals such as the Toyota Corolla Cross and Kia Seltos, albeit still around $15,000 pricier than its MG ZST twin.
The PM2.5 air filter is underrated, offers a practical boot and rear passenger row, and delivers impressive driving dynamics.
Unfortunately, the ZS EV’s interior quality is good, not great; the limited steering wheel adjustment may be a dealbreaker; the unresponsive touchscreen is irritating; lane keep assist is too sensitive; adaptive cruise control doesn’t use regen braking; and isn’t as efficient for its size with electric driving range more suited to the urban and suburban confines.
But while the BYD Atto 3 newcomer might seem more appealing on paper, the MG has the upper hand when it comes to warranty provisions, servicing costs, and an established dealership network.
The ZS EV’s more conservative design, inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (at least on launch), and better placed charging port are appealing points, too.
Yet, while only this top-spec Essence gets blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, the base Excite is the better value pick at $43,990 before on-roads and incentives – which slightly separates it from the BYD Atto 3 on price – even though it sticks with a paltry four speakers.
Amid new competition on the horizon from its very own (and much-lauded) MG 4 small electric hatchback, GWM Ora Funky Cat and all-new Hyundai Kona Electric SUV, the MG ZS EV isn’t as enticing as it once was – despite still wearing the ‘cheapest electric car in Australia’ title (for now).
Figures by Danny Thai
Photographs by Henry Man
Stay up to date with the latest EV news
- Get the latest news and update
- New EV model releases
- Get money savings-deal