In recent years MG has slowly carved itself a small corner of the new car market.
Like Dacia, the Chinese car maker has focused on selling low-cost cars to people who don’t give two hoots about badge image and just want a new set of wheels for as little as possible.
Its first couple of models weren’t particularly well received but the ZS - launched in 2017 - seems to have hit the sweet spot, meeting the never-ending desire for SUVs and helping to propel MG’s fortunes upwards.
Initially sold with a couple of uninspiring petrol engines, in 2019 MG added an electric option to the range to meet demand for wallet-friendly EVs. Now, for 2022 it’s given the all-electric model a gentle cosmetic and major mechanical overhaul.
On the surface, the traditional grille has been replaced with a closed-off textured front panel incorporating the charge port, and the headlights have been redesigned. I’m not convinced it’s an improvement but it certainly makes the car stand out from the petrol-powered version, as do the EV-specific “aero” wheels designed to limit drag.
Behind the new face, the updated ZS EV gets two drivetrain options that replace the previous 44.5kWh/141bhp arrangement.
Standard range cars now get a 51kWh battery matched to a 174bhp motor on the front wheels. That’s good enough for 198 miles of range under official testing - already better than the old model’s 163 miles.
Long-range cars, however, step things up with a 72.6kWh battery, although the motor’s output is reduced to 154bhp to help eke out even more range from the larger battery.
Official range is 273 miles, with consumption of 3.5 miles per kWh, while during my time with it, the trip computer estimated a real-world range of 234 miles.
The long-term trip computer showed an average consumption of 3.2m/kWh but I regularly saw 3.8m/kWh (thanks in part to some warm weather) and even managed 4m/kWh on a normal run between two local towns. Pleasingly, the trip computer’s estimate remained accurate over different driving conditions - something with which some rivals still struggle.
Range like that allows it to compete with similarly priced rivals such as the Kia Soul EV and Hyundai Kona electric, and outperform other electric compact SUVs like the Peugeot e-2008 and Vauxhall Mokka-e.
The ZS EV can also match or better most of its rivals for interior space, offering relatively generous room for four passengers and an impressive 470-litre boot.
However, other elements of the interior let it down. I may have simply struck unlucky with a “Friday afternoon” car but ours displayed a number of build quality issues including creaking panels, incorrectly fitted components and a buggy infotainment system.
Those, possibly isolated issues aside, the cabin is a plain affair with a simple layout for controls, and materials on most touch points that fall firmly into the “acceptable” category. The “leather-style” upholstery is clearly not the real deal and the dash plastic is a naff faux-carbon weave but elsewhere the switchgear feels solid enough and it’s not perceptibly worse than any other budget brand.
However, despite MG’s budget image, this high-spec long-range ZS is more than £34,000 and feels less well finished than its similarly priced rivals.
That price is for the range-topping long-range Trophy Connect model and means that the car doesn’t qualify for the plug-in car grant. All three standard range cars do qualify for the grant, as does the long-range version of the basic SE spec.
Every version of the ZS EV is generously equipped, with a suite of driver assistance systems, a 10.1-inch central touchscreen, smartphone mirroring, sat nav, automatic climate control, auto-dipping headlights and keyless entry and start. Heated seats, connected infotainment services, wireless phone charging and blind spot alert are among the handful of extra features the higher-spec car brings.
Back on the road, the ZS EV shows little in common with past cars that carried the octagonal badge. Performance from the less powerful motor is still adequate for this type of car, with a 0-62mph time of 8.2 seconds. However, the ride is very, very soft. That’s great for handling potholes, not so great for handling corners and at odds with the weirdly fast steering. How much of a concern that will be for MG’s current target demographic is a matter for debate.
The ZS EV is in a tricky position. While the MG5 estate is a unique prospect, the ZS is up against a host of other electric SUVs and in high-spec long-range form doesn’t offer significant savings over them. Its range is impressive, as the interior space and equipment levels but other models offer better design and build quality for similar money.
MG ZS EV Trophy Connect Long Range
Price: £34,495 (£35,040 as tested); Motor: Single 115kW electric motor; Battery: 72.6kWh; Power: 154bhp; Torque: 206lb ft; Transmission: Single-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive; Top speed: 108mph; 0-62mph: 8.2 seconds; WLTP range: 273 miles; Consumption: 3.5miles/kWh; Charging: Up to 100kW