First Drive

MG 5 Exclusive 2020 UK review

While it occupies an as-yet unexplored niche, the 5 is unable to fall back on the one-time novelty of an electric powertrain to cultivate appeal across its target market. To be as successful as its zero-emission ZS stablemate, the 5 should offer usability and performance benefits that justify its similar price tag, while tempting budget- and eco-conscious private buyers away from smaller and cheaper EVs like the Renault Zoe and now endangered Volkswagen Up.

Its success in this respect is threatened on first glance by its rather inelegant styling, with kinked lower window line, lofty ride height and small 16in alloys creating an awkward stance, and chrome exterior embellishments erring on the sides of both excessive and unnecessary.

Things don’t get off to a great start inside, either, where lacklustre fit and finish combines with scratchy plastics and overly firm seats to create an environment that you might be glad to escape every 200-or-so miles when the time comes to charge the battery. The cluttered, ponderous and unintuitive infotainment interface doesn’t help, but happily MG has seen fit not to implement the ZS EV’s maddening array of warning bongs and beeps on start-up. 

Once underway, the advantages brought by the 154bhp electric powertrain quickly override any initial frustration. Around town, being first away from the lights and zipping assuredly around cyclists makes for a relaxed driving experience. The 5’s thick sidewalls and raised suspension go some way to compensating for the heft of its under-floor battery, meaning it doesn’t thump uncomfortably over potholes and speed bumps.

The steering feels strangely weighty in low-speed maneuvers but this is largely alleviated by the car’s tight turning circle, which, together with decent all-round visibility and a standard-fitment reversing camera, make the 5 easier to live with in the city than its size might suggest. 

An excitingly labelled ‘KERS’ toggle switch lets you vary the intensity of regenerative deceleration, which in its most extreme setting makes pre-emptive stoplight coasting rather uncomfortable, but has a tangible impact on remaining range and essentially allows for one-pedal operation. With Eco Mode activated as well, the 5 stands a good chance of achieving its maximum rated range on a warm day.

On more open stretches of road, the low centre of gravity means corners can be taken fast and relatively flat, but be under no illusion that this is any more engaging to pilot than the loftier ZS EV. Cornering roll is vastly reduced compared to its stablemate, but there’s an inherited numbness to the steering that puts paid to any spur-of-the-moment B-road antics, and limits the appeal of Sport Mode to the grin-inducing acceleration granted by its sharpened throttle response. But MG, if you hadn’t noticed, hasn’t been a performance brand for 15 years, so it doesn’t do well to dwell on the 5’s dynamic shortcomings – as long as they aren’t carried over to the firm’s long-awaited electric sports car due next year. 

More inexcusable are the limitations of the 5’s traction control system, which are as prevalent here as they are in the ZS EV. Even on dry roads, anything more than moderate throttle input off the line or out of slow bends elicits a chirp from the front wheels. Should you see fit to deactivate the traction control completely, it’s possible to spin the driven wheels for several seconds from launch, and the resulting torque steer can be somewhat unnerving. Really, buyers of a 154bhp family estate shouldn’t need to be well-versed in the art of controlling a vehicle at its limit. 

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