Australia's cheapest EV has been given a thorough update, and while there's still room for improvement, the price is certainly right.

With electric vehicles enjoying their greatest popularity ever, holding the title of Australia’s cheapest EV is one that’s more important than ever. Previously, it was a bit of an afterthought when the now-discontinued Hyundai Ioniq held the throne in what was a tiny section of the market at the time, but the torch has now been passed.

Enter the 2023 MG ZS EV Excite, officially the cheapest EV you can buy in the country right now. Priced from $43,990 before on-road costs – but more on pricing here, as it’s somewhat of a curious topic with the ZS EV – the familiar British brand is now owned by China’s SAIC Motor, and the ZS small SUV is the first model it’s using to foray into electric propulsion.

First launched in Australia in late 2020, the ZS EV has been given a thorough facelift that now truly distinguishes it from its petrol-powered counterpart, the ZST, with a distinctly grille-less nose and aerodynamic wheel covers that leave no one guessing as to just what’s powering it. Unlike when it first launched, though, it now has some strong competition in the form of the BYD Atto 3, another Chinese-made small SUV which is a total newcomer to the Australian market.

Certainly, the facelifted styling makes the ZS EV look much smarter than before, and although it is still quite derivative, it managed to attract a surprisingly high amount of prolonged glances during my time driving it – an extensive three weeks over the summer holidays, which gave me plenty of time to come to grips with what is an undeniably important vehicle.

Visually, you’ll have a hard time distinguishing the base Excite model tested here from its more expensive Essence counterpart. Both ride on the same relatively small 17-inch wheels with plastic aero covers (which come clad in Michelin Primacy 3 tyres) and this base model isn’t penalised with cheaper exterior trimmings. The only distinguishers are located up high – the Essence sports silver roof rails and a panoramic sunroof, while this Excite model does not.

Inside, there are a few more obvious differences, with the base model sporting cloth houndstooth seat upholstery, which is contrasted by a perforated leather steering wheel, faux carbon fibre trim, and red contrast stitching. While some may wish for the top-spec’s heated synthetic leather seats, I actually think the houndstooth makes this interior far more fun and serves as a nice throwback to the brand’s British origins.

Standard equipment on the ZS EV Excite includes a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, a 360-degree camera, and wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; a digital instrument cluster, although the speed and power usage gauges are simple seven-segment displays; automatic climate control with rear air vents; and driver assistance tech including adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keep assist with departure warning, and automatic headlights. However, the lane departure warning system wasn’t ideal as it seems to have a mind of its own – often suggesting you’re over a white line when sat dead in the middle of your lane.

Unfortunately, a few items you would want are still limited to the top-spec model, with automatic wipers, a six-speaker stereo (versus the mere four speakers in the base model), a wireless phone charger, and most crucially blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert all limited to the Essence model – in addition to the aforementioned heated seats and sunroof.

What is a big positive in the facelifted ZS EV is the new infotainment system that MG is using. While the older system – I previously tested it in the HS – was hopelessly laggy and took the tech equivalent of a week to load the sat nav system, this new system is far more responsive and less dated visually. It’s still not quite as responsive as what you’d find in, say, a Hyundai, but it’s a massive improvement compared to what was in its place prior. The 360-degree camera with a 3D view is also a major help when parking, and something that should be standard on more cars.

It must be said that there are still some reminders throughout this cabin that this is the cheapest EV your money can buy right now. Most frustrating for me in the driver’s seat was the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment, with only height adjustment on offer. There’s also no rear centre armrest, no seat-back pockets, no power-folding wing mirrors, no auto-dimming interior mirror, and no lumbar adjustment for the front seats which begin to feel quite firm in that lower back area on a longer drive.

There were also some build quality inconsistencies I noticed, chiefly, a rattle which developed in the driver’s side of the dashboard when driving on coarse chip country roads, which I could identify by pressing down on the dashboard in a particular spot. The laminate on one of the rear windows also appeared to be poorly applied with some noticeable bubbling within it, and while road noise is well managed, there is noticeable wind noise around the windows at higher speeds. The materials also aren’t as nice as you’ll find in the larger HS, but even with these issues in mind, the overall build quality is better than some may expect.

READ MORE: Australia’s cheapest plug-in hybrid is also offered by MG

Under the bonnet of the ZS EV, you’ll find there’s no frunk but there is a clearly exposed electric motor, which produces 130kW and 280Nm and drives the front wheels exclusively through a single-speed transmission, making it good for 0-100km/h in 8.2 seconds. Power is derived from a 50.3kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which affords it a claimed range of up to 320km.

Certainly, the low-down torque of the electric motor can be felt, with the ZS EV feeling spritely in city traffic which is exactly where you want that power from it. At higher speeds, it begins to taper off much like in any other similarly-powered EV, but there’s no denying that it remains at all times incredibly smooth – again, in much the same way you’d expect. It’s no rocket in terms of outright pace, but it’s certainly more than acceptable.

The ride quality suits a car like the ZS EV as well, with it handling bumps with good confidence and remaining quite composed in the corners as well, with the low-down weight of the battery helping it stay flatter than you might expect. Naturally, there’s some understeer to be found at the limit – and a hint of torque steer on the exit from tighter corners given the low-end torque – but it’s better managed than in some other small SUVs.

I do wish it had the newer Michelin Primacy 4 tyres on it rather than the older Primacy 3 as I feel they would help give it a bit of extra confidence in the corners rather than these somewhat squealy ones, but the current rubber is still fairly solid otherwise. I also wish its brakes were a bit more powerful as well, as it’s quite prone to brake fade when you’re on a twisty road – granted, this is something most buyers are unlikely to experience as the ZS EV isn’t exactly positioned as some sort of corner-carver.

The regenerative braking is something that would ordinarily help this, but in the ZS EV it’s not particularly strong even in its highest setting, nor does it feel to be linked to the brake pedal; in most EVs, the brake pedal would have some control over both the disc brakes and regen, but that can lead to an artificial brake pedal feel which this does at least lack.

My greatest complaint would be the steering feel, though, as it’s simply far too heavy. A speed-sensitive system, it does deliberately add weight the more you turn at higher speeds, but the level of resistance felt through the tiller is much too high and artificial. Turn-in itself is at least impressive, but I just wish it had the intuitive feel through the wheel to match. On the whole, though, the MG ZS EV is fairly impressive to drive, with it certainly feeling best suited to city driving as you’d expect from an SUV of this size.

MG claims the ZS EV can cover as much as 320km per charge from its 50.3kWh battery. Over the course of my extensive 1470km of testing in a mix of all conditions, I averaged 16.1kWh/100km which equates to 312km per charge. That’s impressively close to MG’s claims, especially considering I kept it in Normal mode most of the time rather than in the more efficient Eco mode, and although it’s certainly enough range to go for a few days at a time without charging when sticking to the suburbs, it’s perhaps not quite enough for those looking to go on longer road trips.

Like all MG models sold in Australia, the ZS EV is also covered by a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty. The battery warranty is also an identical seven years with no mileage cap, which is a year shorter but offers more mileage allowance than the eight-year/160,000km battery warranty most manufacturers provide. For the ZS EV, servicing is only required every 24 months/20,000km.

How much does Australia’s cheapest EV cost?

Pricing has been a slightly curious issue for the ZS EV. The MSRP – the price including GST but excluding on-road costs – is listed at $43,990 for the base Excite tested here and $47,990 for the Essence, with metallic paint the only available option at $700. However, while the ZS EV Excite was originally offered on a nation-wide cost of $44,990 drive-away in the latter part of 2022, that deal has now been scrapped in favour of a state-by-state pricing structure due to the differences in EV rebates and subsidies across Australia.

Regarding the change in pricing structure, an MG Motor Australia spokesperson told Drive Section that, “As a result of the on-road costs and policies for EVs varying significantly across all Australian States and Territories, MG’s standard national drive-away price, used for the launch of the very popular ZS EV range, has changed. The ZS EV is still the most affordable EV on the market with drive-away prices that are aligned to each State and Territory’s regulatory charges.”

To assist customers in understanding this new structure, there is a pricing calculator on the MG website that breaks down the cost for each Australian State and Territory. These new prices do work out to be more expensive than the original drive-away deal, with it ranging between $46,195 in the Northern Territory to $49,130 in Western Australia.

Comparing it with rivals using the MSRP, the ZS EV Excite comes in at $4021 cheaper than its next closest rival, the BYD Atto 3 Standard Range, although the top-spec Essence is more comparable in terms of specification and only a mere $21 cheaper at that point. It must be said that the Atto 3 offers a higher-quality interior, more power, and more range at 345km (WLTP) in Standard Range guise, but the MG does feel far more conventional which will appeal more to some buyers. However, other small electric SUVs it’s comparable with sit much higher in the $60k price bracket, including the Hyundai Kona Electric, Mazda MX-30, and Kia Niro EV.

So, what’s the verdict?

With its low price point, conventional feel, and smooth, fuel-free power delivery, there’s undoubtedly a lot to like about the 2023 MG ZS EV Excite, and it’s impressively low price point in combination with that will no doubt see plenty of these finding homes in a country that’s hungrier for EVs – or at least less keen on petrol power – than ever.

However, build quality inconsistencies, missing safety tech and other safety systems that didn’t work as expected, and lacklustre steering feel and brakes can’t go overlooked. The package offered by its closest rival, the BYD Atto 3, is also so solid it’s a very tempting extra spend.

Regardless, cheap EVs are precisely what the Australian market is calling out for right now, so MG’s latest offering is sure to garner a lot of attention, and although it might still have some room for improvement, it still costs four-grand less than the next cheapest EV, and its the price point that will keep customers happy.

2023 MG ZS EV Excite List Price: $43,990 | As Tested: $44,690
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Tech & Features - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Smooth and efficient power delivery, accurate range claim, range stylish facelifted looks, unlimited-mileage battery warranty, it’s $4k cheaper than the next cheapest EV
Cons: Lane departure system has a mind of its own, heavy steering feel, inconsistent build quality, no blind-spot monitoring on base model, no steering wheel reach adjustment

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by MG Motor Australia for three weeks with a full charge upon delivery.

Patrick Jackson
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