MG4 Mulan could be Europe’s first truly affordable mainstream electric vehicle

We’ve been waiting a while for electric vehicles to reach price parity with fossil-fuel cars. Right now, electric vehicles are still a bit more expensive, leading to claims that they are just toys for the wealthy that signal virtue, not the next generation of personal transportation. But a batch of new cars was loaded onto the boat on Thursday from China, bound for Europe, which could be a game-changer. It’s called the MG4 (but Mulan in China), and it could be the next big step in EV affordability.

A few years ago, it looked like Tesla was going to conquer the affordable part of the EV market the same way it drove mass adoption in other electrification segments. But the long-awaited $25,000 Tesla seems to have been “put on the back burner” for now. Instead, it was obvious that China would likely be the country that would drive down the cost of electrification. The question was which brand would lead the charge. The answer seems to be MG.

UK readers will be familiar with the MG brand. It is one of the oldest in UK motoring history, dating back to the 1920s. Outside the UK, MG is famous for its attractive quintessentially British 1960s convertible sports cars and 1970. But it has also been the badge of a wider range of vehicles over the past hundred years. Its less glorious era was probably just before the current generation, when it was part of the British conglomerate Leyland and then the then failed MG Rover. Most MG cars of this period were relatively innocuous family vehicles, not the flamboyant sports variety.

When MG Rover collapsed in 2005, China’s Nanjing Automotive acquired the company’s factory and brand, then was itself acquired by SAIC Motor in 2007. MG continued to assemble cars in the UK United, but in 2016 even that ceased, and now all vehicles under the MG brand are fashionable in China. But that doesn’t mean they’re trivial. MG still hasn’t returned to producing sleek droptops, but is taking an optimistic stance towards electric vehicles and clearly sees them as a way to re-establish the brand as a global leader.

The MG ZS EV was one of the first competitively priced electric vehicles that was still a real car, not a limited two-seater city, and the Long Range version combined that with a very usable battery size. The MG5 EV was one of the first electric station wagons/station wagons on the market (and far more affordable than the Porsche Taycan Sport or Cross Turismo). There is also a long range version of this now.

The car Europe has been waiting for, however, is neither an SUV like the MG ZS EV nor a family station wagon/estate like the MG5 EV. Although SUVs are top sellers in both Europe and the United States, compacts are people’s cars and more appropriate for the cramped European urban environment. The family saloon is the standard benchmark in Europe – the Ford Fiesta and Focus, Vauxhall/Opel Corsa, VW Polo or Golf and Toyota Yaris. These cars have room for five occupants (although you don’t want to be in the middle back seat as an adult), they can run errands, and you can lower the back seats to pick up supplies from the local hardware store. They are the affordable and flexible family workhorse.

This is the format of the MG4 which is currently making its way to Europe. Not all specifications for the MG4 have been released, but the car will come with either a 51 kWh or 64 kWh battery, enough for a range of 350 km (219 miles) or 450 km (281 miles) respectively. The engines will be 125 kW (168 hp) and 150 kW (201 hp) respectively. This will give the car a 0-62mph sprint in under 8 seconds. So it will have class range and performance. Luggage capacity details have not been released, but it is a hatchback, so it will have the flexibility required here.

None of these specs separates the MG4 from the Volkswagen ID.3 or the Cupra Born yet. The key differentiation with the MG4 will be the price. One of the things MG is famous for is how cheap their cars are, while offering generous warranties and acceptable quality. Some expect the MG4 to start at £25,000 ($30,000). That would be a feat, as the cheapest Renault Zoe is now £32,000 ($38,500) and the Nissan Leaf starts at £29,000 ($35,000). The entry-level Volkswagen ID.3 is now £36,195 ($43,500). If the rumors turn out to be true, the MG4 could be an absolute bargain.

Making the MG4 even more interesting is the fact that it is MG’s first car on its modular upgradable platform. This will support batteries up to 150kWh, which would give the cars at least 500 miles of range, maybe even 600 miles. It won’t be the MG4, but shows the scope of MG’s ambition in other vehicle formats.

MG’s electric cars aren’t perfect. Their infotainment, while improved in the latest models, still feels rudimentary compared to the best in the business. Connected features are limited. But the market has been calling for more affordable electric vehicles, so the revolution may filter further down the income bracket. The MG4 will be another important step in this direction.

Mary I. Bruner