Driving the Chinese MG4: bang for your buck

You won’t be stared at for its modern but not unique looks when driving by, as this family hatchback – MG’s latest EV washing ashore in Europe – could be one in a thousand. Unless you chose that ‘Fizzy Orange’ color. Driving the basic version for the first time on Belgian roads, this MG4 proves to be a ‘no-nonsense’ electric car, undoubtedly the right bang for your buck.

With a starting price of €30 750 for the basic version, you might expect to find a stripped-off electric car, but nothing is further from the truth. With 125 kW (167 hp) of power, a 51 kWh battery allowing for a 350 km range, and almost all of the advanced driver aid systems standard, this might be the EV that breaks the glass ceiling for private owners.

 

While the name MG sounds familiar, referring to the ‘affordable’, once iconic British sports cars, SAIC Motor Corp., Ltd, which owns the brand name today, is the great unknown for most of us in Europe. It is currently the largest of the ‘Big Four’ state-owned car manufacturers in China, with a history tracing back to the early forties under Mao. Now it’s selling 5,37 million cars in 2021.

MG is only one of the numerous brands SAIC is selling: Feifan, IM, Maxus, Roewe (former Rover), Baojun or Wuling, and the cars it builds in China in joint ventures with Volkswagen (VW, Audi, Skoda) and GM (Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac).

MG ZS EV getting noticed

While it has been building several ICE cars under the MG brand, it’s only with the arrival of the MG ZS EV it got noticed on the Old Continent. Introduced in 2019, the ZS EV set out to disturb the world of electric cars in Europe by offering a comfortable range packaged in a popular SUV body style. And all that for around the same price (now €33 585) as other entry-level but smaller EVs.

As a result, the model quickly rose to the top of the sell charts, especially in the UK, Norway, and the Netherlands, and it became one of the best-selling EVs in Europe. So expect the MG4, the third EV model on sale here next to the MG ZS and Marvel R, to be well thought-out.

Minimalistic interior

And it doesn’t disappoint when getting behind the wheel. The interior is relatively frugal, almost minimalistic, with a small, 7-inch primary instrument display behind the wheel and above a ‘floating’ middle console a straightforward bigger one, 10,25-inch, for all comfort and entertainment functions. The simplistic composition reminds me of the Volkswagen ID.3, but in a more classic design.

 

The seats are well-supporting and comfortable, even in the back row, with ample space due to the ultra-thin ‘One Pack’ battery underneath, only 110 mm high, and a flat floor all the way. With the motor tucked away in the back, as it is based on the rear-wheel drive MSP platform. The latter doesn’t compromise the luggage capacity of the trunk, with 363 liters extendable to 1 177 l with the backrests down.

 

You will be looking in vain for a start button, as there is none intentionally to keep everything as simple as possible. The car is ready when you are; shift into drive and push the throttle.

Keeping up with a Ferrari

Like all electric cars, it has full torque available right away, but with an acceleration of 7,7 seconds from 0 to 100 km/hour, it is no racing car. But to be honest, it could keep up with my classic 40-year-old Ferrari 308 without blushing. And, of course, there is a choice between three drive modes (Comfort, Normal, and Sport) to match your expectations.

With a perfect 50/50 weight distribution and 167 horses available under your right foot, this family car is more agile than most housefathers will have experienced before, and handles very well. It uses a lot of familiar technology you’ll also find in European cars, like McPherson front axle and independent multilink suspension at the rear. A Continental 4-disk brake system and Bosch power steering sound familiar too.

Western tech and electronics

As a matter of fact, with more or less the same building quality as a Volkswagen and a lot of ‘Western’ tech and electronics, it will be hard to find any evidence this is a ‘Chinese’ car at all. Even in this basic version, modern ADAS (Advanced Driver Aid Systems) are standard.

You’ll get adaptive cruise control, Collision Warning (FCW), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Traffic Jam Assistance (TJA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA), all part of the MG Pilot package. It even includes road sign recognition and Intelligent Headlamp Control (IHC), which switches automatically when spotting an oncoming car.

Basic GPS navigation comes built-in, but in this basic version, we missed the possibility of better alternatives on the smartphone like TomTom or Wase through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Range anxiety

But if you’re willing and able to reach deeper into your pockets for the Luxury version, you can get it all. Including Blind Spot Detection (BSD), Lane Change Assist (LCA), or a guardian angel to watch traffic crossing behind the car, the so-called Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA). And a heat pump, which uses little energy to suck heat from the outside air even in winter, without compromising your battery range.

Both the Comfort (€34 285) and the Luxury version (€36 285) offer a more powerful motor (150 kW or 201 hp) and a bigger battery of 64 kWh, extending the range to 435 or 450 km. That’s a comfortable 100 km more to ease your range anxiety. But frankly, most of us, doing on average no more than 50 km a day, won’t need that desperately.

With the ability to charge at 6,6 kW AC at home, you’ll be able to replenish the 51 kWh battery in nine hours overnight or at a DC fast-charger (117 kW) from 10 to 80% in 37 minutes. Both step-up versions offer an upgraded 11 kW AC charger and 135 kW DC charging additionally. That’s, in theory, good for a 300 extra km range in 32 minutes.

Attracting private buyers

Conclusion: whatever budget you have available, you’ll get a lot of EV for your money. MG is targeting this five-door family hatchback, especially to private buyers who are frightened by the high initial investments electric cars still require, contrary to the company car paid for by the boss. And that’s until now, 70% of MG’s EV-buying clientele.

We tend to believe this low-budget strategy might benefit MG well.

 

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