Range anxiety seems to be one of the biggest hurdles facing fully electric car owners. We love a challenge so we arranged a weekend away to visit friends Rick and Helen, 170-miles away, in a ZS EV with a claimed 163-mile range.
With the MG delivered from MG UK, we were briefed about a few niggles with this pre-production ZS EV Exclusive. The SatNav didn’t work, pending a software update but, with several smartphones in the car, and the car’s ApplePlay built-in, this wasn’t a problem to us. Mark, the guy who delivered the MG, suggested using a smartphone app called Zap-Map, which became crucial to our week’s test. The ZS’s own system would normally locate a charging point for you but this is only as up-to-date as your map system.
We had been excited about the arrival of the car as we’ve been following the introduction and development of electric cars over the last few years. Would the ZS EV make us want one? So, as soon as we had the keys, we headed out for a spin to get a feel for the car. Our initial impressions were really good. There were a few things to get used to. We found the silence of the motor quite strange and, whilst driving round the side of a coach in a small village, a chap walked out from behind to our surprise. It took a moment to realise he couldn’t hear the EV and we needed to be more cautious. Lesson one learnt. Once you get use to the very slight noise from the motor you realise you can easily have a chat with rear occupants, or even clearly hear the very high-end sound system, which could be a revelation to some.
The EV comes with two charging cables, a 621962-2 (also known as a Type 2) and 13-amp plug type. As we don’t have an electric car already, the 3-pin 240v slow-charge cable was our only option. Having to attach the cable on a dark, wet evening expanded our education. Firstly, though the MG badge pulses white light when it charges, which is very cool, there is no light in the socket area to allow you to see where you are plugging into, so a head torch came in handy. Maybe future models will see this sorted, in line with other marques. It also highlighted that the attached plug covers need to be stored face down, so as not to fill with water. Importantly the cable locks in place when the car is locked, for security.
With the MG fully charged, and with plenty of cake, ale and friends Chris and Caz loaded, we set off from our Sussex base mid-afternoon on an extremely damp Friday in October. Heading round the M25, clockwise, and up the M1, our journey was expected to be just shy of 170 miles, and the MG reported it had a 164-mile range. A boost of power would be needed but how far would we get? We soon realised that the car’s claimed range, which can be easily seen at the touch of a button, does not take into account real-world driving conditions and is clearly more of a guesstimate.
We truly couldn’t have picked a more testing weekend, with the EV fighting its way round the M25 and taking three and a half hours to do 80 miles. Sounds stressful but Karen reported that driving the EV in such traffic was effortless as, firstly, it’s automatic and, secondly, the power delivery is smooth.
The KERS system, which turns the motor into a generator and provides energy recovery in what would be over-run on a petrol engine, has three settings: Option 1 feels very much like a petrol engine car and Option 2 more like a car with a hefty flywheel, but still very drivable (Jim’s preferred setting). To get the maximum effect, though, you can choose Option 3 but, as we were warned by Mark, it feels like you are hitting the brakes when you take your foot off the accelerator. We tested this before our journey and the brake lights do come on in this instance, which was reassuring. It takes a bit of getting used to as, from 70mph to 50mph, for things like road works, the deceleration is quite drastic, and a slight tickle of the throttle can help. On this pre-production ZS EV the default was 3 which Karen switched down to 1 to enable a pleasant stop/start experience in heavy, slow-moving traffic. The upper part of the M25 was so snagged up that we re-routed up the M40 to Warwick, which seemed wrong for our destination, but the EV happily cruised at 70mph, using the useful adaptive cruise control, towards Birmingham. Realistically, it only added 10 miles to our trip.
We started to experience ‘range anxiety’ in the car, with frequent requests for range updates from occupants in the back. With Karen happily piloting the EV I assessed the range, using Zap-Maps, and my phone’s built-in maps. It showed us that you have to be laid back and flexible with electric cars as the horrendous traffic and weather meant using air-con to demist, lights and wipers being essential. With its low-slung weight, the EV felt incredibly stable and planted in quite dreadful conditions.
There was no point in charging too soon so we sailed past Oxford Services, but we felt like we were playing chicken. To be safe, we put the ZS EV into Eco Drive mode, which is default when you get to a 40-mile range, with KERS 3 selected to get maximum regeneration when your foot comes off the accelerator. The experience felt strangely akin to driving a classic car with a bit of an issue, as you have to be mindful of how you drive to nurse it along. And also take water, food, sensible clothing (maybe a blanket and a hi-vis vest) just in case of zero charge. If the EV runs out of power you can only push it a short distance and when towed the driving wheels must be off the ground, to then get you to a charge point. In this case it was purely a case of preserving the range, which went down to around 50 miles as we started to see signs for Warwick Services. Although the issue was really only in our heads.
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