MG ZS EV – First drive review of Hyundai Kona’s first proper rival in India
The era of long-range electric cars has officially kickstarted in India. We drove the Hyundai Kona in July 2019 and it pleasantly surprised us. Now before we get behind the wheel of the Tata Nexon EV early in 2020, we drove the second only long range electric car in India, the MG ZS EV. This is also MG Motor’s second offering in India after the Hector, which received a strong response that hasn't been dampened even by new arrivals. The car we are driving is the India-spec version and it’s similar to what MG is selling in the UK, without any downsizing on the powertrain front.
The ZS EV gets an IP 67-rated 44.5kWh battery pack. Apart from water and dust resistance it’s also tested for critical safety elements like collision, high voltage interlock, short-circuit and fire among others. The battery capacity is marginally larger than that of the Hyundai Kona (which has a 39.2kWh battery). It provides an ARAI-certified range of 340km but that’s far from what it will deliver in real-world conditions. The more relevant WLTP cycle certifies the MG ZS EV for a combined range (city and highway) of 263km.
Where can the MG ZS EV be charged?
MG wants to cure range anxiety by setting up a five-way charging infrastructure. It has an on-board charging cable that can simply be plugged into a 15A home socket that charges the ZS EV to a 100 per cent in 16-17 hours. What you’d rather have is the 7.4kW AC fast charger that MG will install at your home or office for no additional cost. It takes six to seven hours for a full charge. The third charging option, the 50 kW DC fast charger, will charge the car up to 80 per cent within 50 minutes but its network is limited as it’s available only at select MG dealerships, five for now. The other two ways are road-side-assistance if you run out of charge and charging stations along key routes in satellite cities that are still a work in progress. As of now, the DC charging network is limited to Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.
More crossover than SUV
The MG ZS EV looks more like a crossover than a full-blown SUV, albeit a very well-designed one. Unlike the Kona that’s bereft of a grille, the ZS EV gets a stylish chrome-embellished one that houses a neatly integrated charging port. The front looks uncluttered and adding to the appeal are the projector headlamps surrounded by striking LED DRLs. Couple of design elements on the side profile remind you that this is a zero-emissions car – the windmill-inspired machine cut alloy design and ‘electric’ badging above the front wheel arches.
It’s hard to find faults in the ZS EV’s cabin. It’s well laid out, feels welcoming and looks sporty thanks to the all-black treatment. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is wrapped in leather and so are the seats. The ZS EV has a single-speed transmission and you can select Drive and Reverse using a rotary dial. There are also three separate buttons – a drive mode selector (Eco, Normal and Sport), a ‘KERS’ switch to toggle between three levels of kinetic energy regeneration and a battery switch that simply displays battery info on the MID. The fit and finish of the materials used is top-notch and nothing feels out of place.
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Unlike the Hector, the MG ZS EV doesn’t get a massive central touchscreen, but a rather conventional looking eight-inch unit that has a better touch feedback compared to the Hector’s screen. There’s also the latest generation of MG’s infotainment system – ismart EV 2.0 that has over 60 connected car features. The 5G-ready Airtel e-sim will allow receiving OTA updates while the smartphone app allows remotely controlling functions like AC on/off, door lock/unlock, pre-setting the cabin temperature among others. Apart from the cliched ‘open the sunroof’ command, the voice assistant also responds well to locating nearby charging stations, setting route maps and checking battery status. It even lets you connect to external Wi-Fi like your home network or your mobile hotspot. The test fleet didn’t have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay but by the time of launch, that too will be added.
How does it drive?
The way the MG ZS EV delivers power instantaneously is impressive. You won’t miss your turbo'd small capacity ICE cars while driving it. All of the 141bhp and 353Nm of torque is available immediately and the ZS EV sprints to a 100kmph in just 8.5 seconds, giving you a shove in the back when you pin the throttle in Sport mode. However, the brake energy regeneration needs some getting used to, as in the most extreme setting the car slows down quite aggressively when you lift off the throttle – in fact the only time you'll need to touch the brake will be to bring the car to a full halt. Light and moderate levels are the least intrusive and are ideal for highway cruising. It takes time getting used to and it’s all about how well you release the throttle (and thus activate re-gen).
The ride and handling feels sorted over bad roads but build up speed and zip around a corner, and the body roll is noticeable. It is not an EV you’d want to go corner-carving in. Push it hard over an imperfect patch of road and it even wallows a bit. It feels most at home while driving at normal city and highway speeds. Its suspension is comfort-biased and it fares well on that front. The steering, too, is precise and weighs up well, making the drive engaging. For city runs and highway cruising, most owners will find it hard to fault the ride and handling of the ZS EV.
Even though MG is exploring various options to cure range anxiety, as of this moment, buyers will still have their reservations. For instance, 263km in a single charge seems adequate for a Pune to Mumbai run, but factor in traffic, tricky mountain roads and other real world conditions and you won’t be entirely confident of its range. The ZS EV however, is the perfect fit for usage in urban areas and well-calculated intercity runs. Factor in the significantly lower running and maintenance costs compared to its ICE counterparts and it’s even a compelling option, thanks to the fresh technology and a very hassle-free manner in which EVs can be driven. It is a positive step towards the electric revolution and early adopters wouldn't mind splurging on it given that it's a sophisticated car. However, its long-term success depends on how well the charging infrastructure develops in India.