MG ZS EV Drive Review. The silent electric that speaks volumes
The idea of realistically owning electric cars in urban India has taken a serious turn over the past 18 months. Post COVID-19 to be precise. Step out on to the streets of any major Indian metropolis and you are sure to spot at least a dozen EVs with their signature green number plates. Besides fleets, cab services and government vehicles, it is encouraging to see regular car buyers making the transition to adopt a relatively new technology, especially when there are still many ‘petrolheads’ out there, voicing their discontent for all things electric.
Slowly but surely, India is marching ahead on its path to electrification. Critics may still say that EV ownership in India is challenging and riddled with compromises. There is a high entry cost to deal with, long charging wait time, lack of charging infrastructure, range anxiety and uncertainty about the vehicle’s end of life cycle value. Fair points. But look around, and you will see EV infrastructure across cities and highways improving at a blistering pace. There are now entry level passenger EVs in the sub INR 10.0 lac range, going right up to the premium and luxury segments. And offerings like MG Motor India’s ZS EV are giving early adopters some much needed options without compromising on factors like drive, comfort, features, safety and tech. After spending over a week with the MG ZS EV for this review, we walked away from the experience with a fresh perspective on EV ownership in India. And a stronger belief that over the next few years, EV would be the first choice for most buyers, if not the only one.
While testing the MG ZS EV, we tried to forgo the constant focus on range, and rather focused on doing things we would normally do with a premium midsize SUV in our garage. The fact that it happened to be an EV, was incidental. From visiting art fairs and galleries, driving out for a round of golf, family dinners, going out with friends, airport drops, and even taking a quick trip out of town to Khurja (120 kms away) to stock up on ceramics & home decor – we did it all. Range anxiety was honestly an afterthought, and the MG ZS EV proved to be a worthy vehicle to judge the efficacy of actually owning an EV, while living in an Indian metropolis.
ZS EV is based on MG’s midsize SUV Astor, and shares a fair bit of styling cues with its less expensive ICE sibling, albeit with subtle design changes that differentiate it as an EV. That’s not a downer in any way though, as both ZS EV and Astor are good looking, well proportioned vehicles that stand out for the right reasons. With the new 2022 ZS EV, MG has refreshed the design with some subtle changes, starting with the new blocked off grille replacing the ‘celestial grille’ of the Astor, and a new angular headlamp design. The sleek new projector LED headlamps and LED DRLs make a stylish statement, and the charging port is now on the side of the MG logo in the front grille instead of under it. On the sides, the big ‘Electric’ badge makes sure you don’t mistake this for the Astor, and the ZS EV also gets an updated set of 17″ black & silver alloys with aero flaps for better aerodynamics. At the rear, the ZS EV looks quite like the Astor, with an eye-catching tail lamp design and subtle boot lid spoiler. Thankfully, the faux exhaust outlets have been done away with, and the exterior is rounded off with a tastefully designed rear bumper with some chrome accents thrown in. Much like the Astor, ZS EV isn’t radical with its design choices, making for a more elegant crossover-like appeal, rather than an all-out off-roader. Overall, it looks rather upmarket, refined, well proportioned and modern – the kind of design that we imagine would age well. It turned heads wherever we went, and people walked up to us to have a conversation on the first hand product experience. The interest in the segment was evident, and more often than not, they assumed the ZS EV to be higher priced than what it actually was.
ZS EV shares an identical interior layout with the Astor, though it loses out on the gorgeous Sangria Red theme of the top end Astor. Instead, we have an all-black interior here (there is a newly introduced ivory & black combination as well), with a modern, uncluttered dashboard design. This to our mind, is one of the best cabin interior in the under INR 30.0 lac bracket. We particularly like the brushed metal insets, the turbine style circular AC vents and the red stitching across the cabin. The large 10.1″ infotainment screen dominates the dashboard and impresses with its sharpness, clarity and touch sensitivity. There is a row of physical toggles and buttons neatly laid out below it, and thankfully MG has retained physical tactile switches for commonly used functions such as climate control and volume controls, which means you don’t have to fumble with the touchscreen menu too often. The infotainment system itself is a breeze to use, with sharp graphics, a responsive touchscreen and an easy to navigate menu. The built-in navigation system is surprisingly easy to use, and though we relied mostly on Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto, the inbuilt system was equally impressive. The system reads road signs, senses speed limits, and helpfully shows nearby charging stations; although it doesn’t tap into the entire network of third-party charging stations. There is also an extremely sharp fully digital 7″ instrument cluster, with crisp graphics throwing up information on battery voltage and RPM, in addition to the usual information such as speed, range and battery power usage. We just wish that MG had given more screen space to show regen level, range and drive modes, and incorporated media playback and navigation into it. But all in all, the instrument cluster does a great job of providing most of the information you need at a glance.
MG ZS EV comes with a long feature list, including a massive dual pane sunroof (with one of the best wind deflectors we have experienced), wireless charging, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a fantastic 6 speaker audio system, power adjustable driver’s seat, automatic climate control with a built-in PM 2.5 filter, cruise control, automatic headlamps and wipers, heated ORVMs, front and rear parking sensors and a 360 degree camera system, in addition to 75+ connected car features accessible through the app/ smartphone. If one were to point out a few misses, it would be the absence of ventilated seats and heads up display – features that even lower priced vehicles are now offering.
What trumps the loaded feature list is the cabin quality of ZS EV. MG has maintained an uncompromising build quality with all its offerings, and ZS EV is no exception. Almost all cabin surfaces are soft touch, with leatherette lining much of the dashboard and door panels. Some bits of hard plastic on the door sills and lower parts of the cabin that you would encounter, are of superior quality. The switch work is well damped and there’s hardly any flex in cabin material. The rotary drive selector dial is the only thing that feels a bit small and compromised, and it could easily do with a backlit display and better chrome finish.
The cabin is spacious and comfortable, especially for the driver and front passenger, who are treated to a set of well bolstered and supportive sport seats. The rear comes with AC vents and a central armrest, two much needed additions over the previous generation. While legroom and headroom for rear passengers is ample, some additional under thigh support would have made it more comfortable. This isn’t the widest car around, and seating three over long distances may be a bit uncomfortable. The flat floor helps though, and short distances can be covered with ease. Storage inside the cabin has been well thought through, with large door pockets, cup holders for front and rear passengers, and some additional storage under the front armrest. With a capacity of 470 litres, ZS EV gets a decently sized boot and we even managed to squeeze in a full size golf set. Overall, there is more than enough boot space to pack in stuff for a weekend family getaway.
ZS EV is also one of the safest offerings in the segment. The previous generation scored a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating, and the new model is expected to maintain the same. Other safety features that come as standard include 6 airbags, ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, Hill Start and Hill Descent Control, pedestrian warning system and electronic parking brake with auto-hold feature. Also on offer are some segment-first safety features, such as the rear-drive assist system, which includes blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert & lane change assist. The blind-spot detection system is extremely easy to get used to in daily driving, as a little orange indicator lights up in both ORVMs to make sure you don’t miss a vehicle while changing lanes. This is one feature that we feel should mandatorily find its way into every production car. There is also a thoughtfully placed USB port behind the rear view mirror for fixing a dash cam.
The new revised iteration of ZS EV comes with a new battery – a 50.3kWh unit as compared to the 44.5kWh battery pack in the previous generation. The seemingly modest battery gain actually does wonders for the range of the car. The claimed range of 461 kms is up from the earlier 419 kms. But like in most EVs, real world conditions take a toll on the actual juice you get out of these batteries. With the ZS EV, we got slightly more than 350 kms on a 100% charge. Eco mode added an extra 15-20 kms range, and Sport mode shaved off almost 30 kms. The added distance helps overcome range anxiety, and although an increase of 40 kms or so might not sound like a lot, its real world value is profound.
To power the vehicle, a 7.4kW AC wall box charger can charge the ZS EV from 0-100% in under 9 hours, while a 50kW DC charger can juice up the car from 0-80% in less than an hour. Through the network of charging stations across Delhi NCR and beyond, we were always able to find a suitably fast charger around us without having the battery dip below 25%. While we did encounter some instances where charging stations had been set up but were not working, all in all, the admirable range of the ZS EV meant we were able to reach the next one without any semblance of anxiety. Over the course of our time with the ZS EV, we drove over 800 kms and charged at third party charging stations for a total of INR 1,800.00. This translated to a frugal running cost of INR 2.25 per km, which makes a compelling case for itself. With home charging, the running cost drops further to just INR 1.00 per km. Whichever way you look at it, a shift to EV makes a lot of sense.
With its larger battery, the new ZS EV gets a 33bhp bump over its predecessor at 176bhp, although peak torque is down by about 70Nm, with the figure now at 280 Nm. MG has tried to balance the increase in battery capacity by giving the ZS EV a mix of power and efficiency – hence the lower torque figures and increased range. What this means is that acceleration is rather evenly matched with the previous generation, with the car accelerating from 0 to 100 in about 8.5 sec in Sport mode, all the way to a new and increased top speed of 180 km/h. But performance figures hardly do justice to the sheer sensation of driving the ZS EV. The electric motor pulls like no other ICE powered car in this segment or the next, and the instantaneous and seemingly unending surge of power that you get when you put your foot down is addictive to say the least. What we particularly liked about the ZS EV is that it doesn’t limit power in Eco or Normal mode, so no matter which driving mode you are in, you get almost all of the grunt that the battery has to offer. Throttle response is sharp, overtaking is an absolute breeze and the car is relentless in its acceleration even past 80 km/h. Put it in Sport mode, and the throttle response is even sharper, and the car lunges forward at the slightest tap of the accelerator. We found the ZS EV to get quite squirrelly under hard acceleration, and there’s even enough power to spin the wheels from standstill. The sudden acceleration in Sport mode can be a bit unnerving for the uninitiated, and since Eco or Normal mode offer enough grunt to tackle daily driving without compromising on range and efficiency, it’s best to leave Sport mode for those occasional flat out highway drives or curve challenges. Braking is sharp too, inducing greater confidence at high speeds. The brakes can feel a bit grabby sometimes, and that’s due to the regeneration system in place. The regen system has three levels, with Level 1 providing the least and Level 3 the max. Although we kept it at Level 3 on most occasions, we felt that regeneration could have been a tad stronger on its highest setting.
In terms of handling, ZS EV hits the sweet spot between ease of driving and performance oriented dynamics. In Eco and Normal mode, the steering is light enough to make city driving and parking an absolute breeze. The relatively small footprint of the car makes it easily manoeuvrable as well, and this would rank as one of the best mid range urban SUVs we have driven in recent times. Sport mode adds a bit of heft to the steering, and feedback is decent during cornering. EVs in general do lose out on a bit of steering feel and ZS EV is no exception; although MG has done a decent job in calibrating the steering to provide a relatively decent amount of feel and weight during more enthusiastic driving. The vehicle also remains planted during cornering, with minimal body roll even at high speeds. One area that could do with some improvement is the ride quality, which is a bit too firm for an average family’s liking. It feels bumpy and jerky at slow speeds or on slightly bad patches, and improves as the vehicle gains speed. It is understandable that the suspension had to be stiffened to compensate for the weight gain due to the heavy batteries, which has resulted in sharper driving dynamics. But we wish it wasn’t at the expense of ride quality. Finding the right balance between drive quality and ride quality can make the experience on the move far better for all occupants.
MG ZS EV comes at a steep price tag though. The ‘Excite’ variant start at INR 23.38 lacs, and although it has the same battery set up, it misses out on some premium features like the dual pane sunroof. The top of the line ‘Exclusive’ variant is priced at INR 27.29 lacs, with the ‘Exclusive Ivory’ variant priced at INR 27.39 lacs. All EVs in India command a premium at the moment, but slightly more aggressive pricing for the ZS EV would have made it a no-brainer for affluent middle class families considering an EV purchase. At this price point, it is difficult to compare it with the more popular Nexon EV Max or the newly launched Mahindra XUV 400. Hyundai Kona can be considered the only direct competitor for now.
All things considered, the ZS EV has a lot going in its favour, even at current prices. It is a better specced vehicle than most other EVs in the mid market segment. While the cost differential for the entry variant would be under INR 5.0 lacs (compared to the similarly specced Astor), running costs can easily save upto INR 1.5 lacs annually. There are EV subsidies upto INR 1.5 lacs, and a battery warranty of 8 years. Over time, you not only recover the initial cost but also end up saving a lot more, as you drive more. MG also offers free initial service and buy back/ upgrade options, so there is hardly any maintenance cost or end of cycle resale value to worry about.
It’s hard to dislike the ZS EV or find faults with it. Once you drive this one, other powertrains would seem inadequate and leave you asking for more. It speaks volumes through its low-pitched hum, encouraging you to make the shift to a cleaner greener lifestyle and lower your carbon footprint through a clean energy alternative. Without compromising on aesthetics, driving dynamics, comfort, safety and tech.
If you are in the market for a midsize premium vehicle, we recommend taking a test drive of the MG ZS EV. It will surely change the way you look at electric vehicles, evaluate your own future mobility needs, and make you consider the pros and cons with more clarity.