This unprepossessing estate car is the most disruptive car on the market right now. You probably haven’t even heard of it, or seen one on the road, but the MG5 electric station wagon with its new long-range bigger battery pack is the cheapest electric car, per mile, you can buy.
The driver experience is very pleasing. It has keyless entry, so you just stroll up to it, hop in, seat belt on, push the start button, twist the rotary automatic gear control and off you go, near silently
The manufacturer claims that you can get 250 miles out of it, and that’s a plausible figure. Depending on how you drive and the temperature outdoors (cold weather does battery electric cars no favours), you could get easily more than 320 miles on gentler, lower-speed journeys, and count on at least 150 miles if you’re really caning it.
In the “exclusive” level of trim I tried you’ll get all the automation and connectivity you’d expect from a new family car, and all for about £28,000, probably less if you go to a broker. Plus a seven-year manufacturer’s warranty. It compares well, in those terms, with, say, the Fiat New 500 electric I wrote about last week, though the bambino is obviously far cuter and more fashionable than this slightly old-fashioned estate car. I mean, who builds estate cars these days? As it happens, MG will also sell you an SUV version of the model, the HS, if you’d prefer to be on-trend, but that’ll be another story.
The reason why the MG is so accomplished and such excellent value is because it’s Chinese. The MG of today has little to do with the old British MG sports cars, besides the name, and the brand ended up being owned by Shanghai Automotive almost by accident after the decline and fall of MG Rover and the once world-leading Longbridge works in Birmingham. It’s the Chinese who, with the South Koreans, are the leaders in the new battery electric car technologies of the near future. Strategically, Beijing concluded long ago that they couldn’t catch up with the German and Japanese-based giants in traditional, internal combustion-engined vehicles, and sought to leapfrog them into electrification.
They’ve also learned some of the secrets of successful, efficient mass production from their many (compulsory) partnerships with western companies. Securing raw material supplies, such as lithium and cobalt, and investing huge sums in R&D followed, and any visitor to the Shanghai auto show will be astounded by the progress being made in terms of innovation and experimentation. The Chinese were once known for making comically awful knock-offs of anything from a Daewoo Maria to a Rolls-Royce Phantom. Now it is the west that looks to China for the auto industry’s future. I make no comment on the geopolitical ramifications of all that.
Price: £28,995 (as tested; range starts at £26,495 inc grant)
Engine capacity: Single electric motor, front drive powered by 57kWh battery
Power (bhp): 156
Top speed: 115mph
Fuel economy: 144mpg equiv
Range: 250 miles
CO2 emissions: 0
So this otherwise unremarkable compact estate car is an unlikely symbol of Chinese industrial supremacy. The driver experience is very pleasing. It has keyless entry, so you just stroll up to it (no need to blip a key fob), hop in, seat belt on, push the start button, twist the rotary automatic gear control and off you go, near silently. To get where you’re going you get an easy-to-use satnav and climate control system, adaptive cruise control, emergency automatic braking, lane assist and reversing camera. The faux electric leather seats are heated and comfy, and there’s space enough inside.
It’s also an extremely lively performer, and there’s so much power available from rest that the tyres sometimes scrabble to keep up. It feels light which is a change from the generally solid heavy Germanic feel we’ve got used to in our cars, but it’s no bad thing. The MG5 just seems like it’s been on a successful diet, and so it must have been in its development. Thus, it weighs in at 1.5 tonnes against the 1.8 tonnes of the similarly performing (and also brilliant) Kia e-Niro. The MG’s handling is good rather than outstanding, so you’d not wish to push it too far, but the relatively high ride height helps soak up the bumps on rural and urban routes alike. You can set the car to normal, economy or sport settings but they don’t seem to make much difference to its basic character.
The downsides are few. Technically it seems to be a bit slower to charge than some of its rivals partly due to the sheer size of the battery pack. If you’re the kind of person for whom the quality of plastics and flair in interior design is paramount you’d probably be happier in the very stylish VW id3, or the electric Volvo XC40 Recharge, but they’re rather more expensive and have a smaller range, of course. The anonymous MG5 isn’t going to impress anyone on its looks (though the front is quite nice and bold, inspired by contemporary VWs), or turn any heads, but it’s the most significant thing on wheels right now. We all know the biggest obstacle to getting an electric car is simply cost – the general £10,000 premium over a new petrol equivalent, which is expensive enough anyhow. Leasing plans ease and disguise the affordability differential, but the problem is still there. The MG5 suggests it might not be insuperable.
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