Australia's cheapest EV: can it survive a week of on-street parking and one very sandy dog?

Patrick Keneally
·5-min read

The big question facing a lot of prospective electric car owners is: will it make my life easier or harder? It’s a question that I desperately want to answer. As the owner of a VW Tiguan with a dirty secret (the company lied about how bad its emissions were and misled regulators) I am more than ready to embrace the new era of zero-emission cars. But I was not convinced that any electric vehicle on the market would cope with my life – city bound, apartment dwelling, with two kids and a large, often very sandy and badly-behaved dog.

Related: Dirty lies: how the car industry hid the truth about diesel emissions

The MG ZS EV – not the world’s most catchy car name – is the cheapest EV to enter the Australian market ($43,990 drive away) and it started me thinking whether it would be a workable replacement for our planet killer. MG loaned me one for a week so I could find out.

My chief worry was charging. We live in an apartment and don’t have off-street parking – all charging would need to be done at public charging stations. I had thought of running an extension cord out the window and across the street but in a La Nina summer that seemed slightly risky, and good luck finding the perfect parking spot outside the apartment to make that happen when your battery is on 1%.

Range and charging, along with price, always come up as the big deterrents for potential EV buyers. Range wasn’t something I was worried about. The MG ZS EV will keep your on the road for 263km on a single charge (most other makes are even more than that) and most of our trips are local – to the supermarket, football, netball, swimming lessons, etc. I used the car every day for the week I had it and the battery still had plenty in reserve – I only had to charge for the experience of it. My low daily mileage would not be uncommon. The average Australian passenger car travels just 30km each day.

While the battery life was more than suitable, charging was not as convenient as I had hoped. For people with driveways and home chargers (the majority of early EV adopters) it is not a big issue, but for people without home charging it’s a make or break dilemma.

Related: 'Always be charging': is the great Australian road trip ready to go electric?

First, I drove to the local Tesla charger, but it wouldn’t work for non-Teslas. The charger at the beach didn’t have the required cable (what better way to charge than to go for a swim!), the Westfield near me had a charger, but you had to pay for valet parking to use it, which defeated the purpose.

I ended up driving to a shopping centre 20 minutes away to find a working charger. When finally I did plug in, the experience was great. You download an app, put the charger in the socket hidden below the MG badge, and go for a walk. In half an hour the car went from 60% to 92% powered. You can watch the charging on your app remotely and it cost just $5. That’s still a win in my books.

As for the car itself, outwardly there is nothing ostentatious about the MG ZS EV. It is more Toyota Camry than Tesla Model X. It certainly didn’t turn any heads on the school run. The reaction from colleagues was a bit more encouraging. The men of a certain age who excitedly joined me (literally sprinting out of the office) for a drive were more interested in the details, which for the record are: a 44.5kWh lithium-ion battery, delivering 353Nm of torque, with a max output of 105kW (140hp). There are three driving modes – eco, normal and sport – and three levels of regenerative braking. The braking can take a while to get used to but the sport mode and the instant acceleration are wonderful.

It also has a nice large touch screen with satellite navigation, climate control and Apple CarPlay. It is spacious, providing plenty of room for us all, and the interior is enhanced by the panoramic glass “stargazer” roof. The boot is an impressive 470L.

At one point, we piled in to go for a drive and view the great conjunction and spent a good hour or more waiting for the clouds to clear in relative comfort. Being able to run air conditioning without the engine running is great, but also slightly disconcerting – in a petrol car it would run the battery flat in minutes. Another plus in the family car case is the five-star NCAP safety rating, actually better than the petrol version.

Would I buy it? Yes, it was a hassle to charge without a driveway and a home charger but it’s absolutely do-able and improvements in public charging infrastructure are being made, albeit slowly. It’s a nice feeling after a year of terrible climate change-induced drought, and bushfires, to get behind the wheel of a vehicle that you know is not actively making the situation worse. While individual actions are never a replacement for coordinated global ones, an EV does let you drive around with a certain self-satisfaction.

The fact that the car is close to $5,000 cheaper than its nearest competitor (Hyundai’s Ioniq – $48,490) brings it into the realm of consideration for many more Australian families. Once you practically eliminate fuel costs, dramatically reduce the need for servicing and replacement parts (EVs have fewer moving parts, hence fewer things to go wrong), the MG ZS EV is looking fairly competitive with a petrol car.

It was also just a lot of fun to drive, combining good visibility, a low centre of gravity for good handling, and silent, instant acceleration. Scott Morrison’s prediction before the last election that under Labor electric cars would kill the weekend has never looked so backwards. The MG ZS EV is a quiet and impressive achiever.