MG ZS 2019 essence
quick-drive

2020 MG eZS review: Quick drive

International first drive

China's MG eZS is going to arrive in Australia next year, quite possibly as the market's cheapest electric car yet.
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The MG eZS sits at the intersection of three key auto industry topics: It’s a fully electric SUV made in China, with exports in the business case. If you’re reading you’re probably as intrigued as me.

Predictably the eZS is a derivative of MG Motor’s existing ZS, a car sold in Australia with two petrol engines, a seven-year warranty and a price to pull people away from the Mazda CX-3 and all the rest…

MG’s parent SAIC Motor made 140,000 electrified vehicles (EVs and PHEVs) last year alone, and it’s merely a top-three player at home alongside the likes of BYD. But what makes the MG eZS interesting is it will be the first of these China-made battery powered cars in Australia.

It also means the MG brand – which has its own distributor in Australia, a key export market alongside the UK – will also beat many more established auto-makers to the punch here. The current ‘affordable’ EV market is limited to the Renault Zoe, Hyundai Kona Electric/Ioniq, and Nissan Leaf.

It’s no great surprise that Chinese brands are among those leading the charge into the EV market, given the central government’s carrot-and-stick approach to growing sales of these smog-busters – offering subsidies, funding charging infrastructure, and setting sales requirements.

The 4.3-metre long MG eZS totes a 44.5kWh lithium-ion battery (Leaf has 40kWh capacity and Kona Electric a whopping 64kWh), a 110kW/350Nm permanent magnet synchronous motor, and a NEDC-based electricity consumption of 13.8kWh per 100km.

This equates to a driving range of around 350km, though you’d expect the more accurate WLTP figure to be around to 300km mark.

This means it'll be more a rival to the Ioniq and Leaf than the ultra-long-range Kona Electric, which will comfortably cover 450km between zaps.

The MG also has three brake energy recuperation (KERS) settings, though one-pedal driving is not part of this equation. It’ll dash to 50km/h in 3.1 seconds, with this metric used given its urban focus.

An AC slow-charger will top the battery up in 6.5 hours, while a DC fast charger will add 80% in 30 minutes. The eZS actually has two charging inputs inside the fake grille at the front, 250V AC and 750V DC.

It’s worth noting that SAIC Motor makes its own charging boxes, though whether MG uses these or instead opts for buying chargers from a supplier such as Tritium remains undecided.

You’d imagine its dealers will have DC chargers, and it’ll offer AC wall-boxes to buyers, as per best-practise.

The mechanicals are familiar, with MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam with stabiliser at the rear, all-round disc brakes, EPS and 215/50 R17 low-rolling resistance Michelin tyres.

Our driving experience was limited to a few laps of SAIC's massive proving ground complex in Anhui, but we can say it feels typically sprightly off the mark thanks to the instantaneous torque, smooth thanks to the fixed gear, and impressively refined on its high-quality tyres.

It also has super low-resistance steering and what felt like suitably comfortable ride, with the suspension overhauled to handle the battery weight. It just drives like a regular small SUV, though it's worth noting the Kona Electric's specific Australian suspension tune is notably great.

The interior is largely familiar to the regular MG ZE already on sale, though it has a nifty rotary shifter, rocker switches for your driving modes and bespoke instruments, plus various energy use readouts built into the trip computers.

It has voice-controlled AI, Wi-Fi hotspots and real-time charging station updates - in China...

The fit-and-finish and tactility of the touch-points is actually quite good, feeling every bit as resolved as the Hyundai competition.

The chunky steering wheel, back-seat USBs, Audi-knockoff vents and big 8.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, are highlights.

Our test model also had leather seats, a full-length sunroof, LED DRLs, autonomous emergency braking and active cruise control. The Australian-market ZS only has a four-star ANCAP rating, however.

The big question in Australia will be pricing. In China the range sells for between 120,000 and 150,000 yuan/renminbi ($AUD 25,000 - $32,000), but there are big subsidies on offer there, unlike here.

That means the entry price is ¥40,000 ($8500) less than the Nissan Slyphy EV, essentially a China-market Leaf sedan with 338km range.

Given the Leaf will sell in Australia for $49,990 and the Ioniq kicks off at $44,990, the MG eZS should be sold between $35k and $40k, since it lacks the brand equity of this pair, and the network size.

If MG can do this and offer the eZS as the cheapest EV in Australia from next year, this will give it a real selling point, and a significant marketing-led leg-up.

The product is acceptable, the price and charging support will be the real key. But what's clear is that there are few reasons why Chinese brands such as MG and Polestar can't stake real claims to EV market appreciation within the next few years.

New territory means new players, and additional offerings can only drive sharper pricing and faster developments across the industry.

There are many more images in the gallery tab above, click to see them. As ever, hit us up in the comments with questions.