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MG ZR ZS ZT Technical - Auto Express Z Cars review

MG Z-Car Range
Life can be confusing at the best of times. The
Internet is supposed to have changed our lives, but
all it's done is add to the clutter. Pete Sampras was
odds-on to win Wimbledon, but his fearsome serve
was nowhere to be seen and he exited early. And
someone else always wins the lottery, even though
you leave the newsagents 10 lighter every
Saturday. Now MG is muddling matters further,
launching an entirely new model range with
arguably the most confusing names ever stuck on a
bootlid. Welcome to the Z-Cars, or more
specifically, say hello to the ZR, ZS and ZT.

But before our first drive of the tearaway trio which
will decide the future for MG, it may help if we
explain the names. In plain English, the ZR is
based on the Rover 25, the ZS uses the Rover 45's
body and the flagship ZT picks up where the
acclaimed Rover 75 left off.

First up is the 25-based ZR, which offers the choice
of a 105bhp 1.4-litre engine, a 120bhp 1.8 with or
without Stepspeed transmission, a 120bhp 2.0
turbodiesel and the 158bhp 1.8 VVC unit.

We grabbed the keys to the hottest of the lot - a
real challenger to Renaultsport's storming Clio 172
or Peugeot's sublime 206 GTi. MG will have to go
some to better them. A hot hatch's appeal lies
partly in street cred, and here the ZR 160 gets off to
a shaky start.

MG simply can't cut it in the desirability stakes.
The bodykit gives the ZR a suitably dynamic perch,
but look closer and the fit and finish is frankly
unacceptable. Other marques wouldn't have
released a test car in this state.

Slip inside and the change from Rover to MG is
hardly a revolutionary one. Keeping the cost to a
minimum was evidently the name of the game, so
all you'll find are new sports seats, black-on-white
dials, a smattering of alloy-effect silver trim and a
whopping great MG badge set in the steering wheel.
Arguably the main fault lies with the dated interior
design, rather than the spruce-up itself.

But if this doesn't get you going, then the changes
to the running gear will. MG's engineering team, led
by Product Development Director Rob Oldaker, has
lifted the 1.8-litre 158bhp VVC K-Series engine from
the MGF Trophy. All of which adds up to a hot
hatch that is capable of sprinting from 0-60mph in
7.4 seconds, reaching 131mph and returning
37.6mpg in the combined fuel cycle.

And it is quick. No doubt about that. Well up there
with some of the fastest cars in this segment. But
the trouble is, with its peak torque of 174Nm
developed at 4,700rpm, getting to all this
performance calls for masses of revs, which in turn
leads to the kind of ear- splitting noise that will have
you begging for mercy. The short gearing doesn't
help matters on motorways, either. This is certainly
one way of delivering the 'outrageous factor' that MG
talks about. If you can put up with the din and fancy
finding out how the front-wheel-drive chassis will
respond to its uprated dampers, steering, wheels,
tyres and brakes, then a good B-road will soon
reveal all the answers.

The ZR turns in to bends with real enthusiasm,
hungry for each corner. But a fair degree of body roll
and a rather leaden feel from the suspension means
that the car doesn't glide through corners with the
taut, fluid poise of its aforementioned competitors.

Load up the suspension really hard and the body
roll induces a fairly early loss of grip, but the
chassis is thankfully responsive to throttle
adjustments, to help to tighten the car's line when
the tyres let go. In spite of the body roll, however,
the MG ZR's suspension still crashes
uncomfortably over ruts and ridges, knocking it off
its course. But the uprated all-disc braking set-up
compensates, providing reassuring stopping power
time and time again.

If the thrashy and coarse nature of the ZR isn't to
your tastes, then there is an alternative in the form
of the 45-based ZS 180. We sampled the car in
saloon form, but a five-door hatchback is also up for
grabs. Packed beneath its pumped-up snout is a
tweaked version of the silky-smooth 2.5-litre KV6
engine, which - thanks to a revised ECU chip and
performance exhaust - turns out 175bhp at
6,500rpm and 240Nm of torque at 4,000rpm.

Compared to the rowdy ZR, the ZS positively purrs
along, with a soft-edged thrum which turns to a
deeper snarl as you squeeze the throttle right into
the carpet. Tightly spaced gear ratios and a strong
slug of torque mean performance arrives in effortless
fashion and, compared to rival machinery such as
SEAT's Leon 20 VT or VW's Bora 1.8 T Sport, the
ZS makes for a very intriguing proposition. Rarely
these days will you find a car with such a unique

The best bit is its split personality, which allows for
refined and comfortable cruising, plus sporty, vocal,
back-road bruising when the mood takes you. With
your foot to the floor, this MG will power from
0-60mph in only 7.3 seconds, top out at 139mph
and return 29.7mpg in daily use.

Throw it around a bit and the uprated suspension,
17-inch alloy wheels and impressive brakes
combine to reasonable effect to make the ZS an
enjoyable driver's car. With more suppleness to its
ride quality than the smaller ZR, it tracks more
faithfully over rough surfaces, yet it still suffers from
a touch too much body roll.

Thanks to its massive rear wing, there's no missing
the ZS as it passes by, but the interior is decidedly
more restrained. As with the ZR, the ZS suffers
simply by virtue of being such an old product.
Compared to its rivals - Honda Civic, Peugeot 307,
VW Golf, Ford Focus etc - it lacks space, design
flair and high-quality build.

If you want to enjoy every single moment of your
MG experience, then there really is only one option:
the Rover 75-based ZT. We make no apologies for
the fact that this is the most expensive of the Z-Car
family, because the fact is that when you line its
price up against rival vehicles, it represents
remarkable value for money.

Being the most youthful model from the Rover
line-up, transforming the already acclaimed 75 into
an MG was always going to be something to
savour. Our ZT 190 boasted the quad-cam' KV6
engine modified to deliver 187bhp at 6,500rpm and
245Nm at 4,000rpm, which together with a set of
five closely spaced gear ratios gets the 1.5-tonne
saloon moving along pretty swiftly. It can dispatch
the 0-60mph dash in 7.8 seconds, hit 141mph and
still return 28.7mpg. What's more, of the three
MGs, this is by far and away the most refined, yet
at the same time it doesn't give up its sporting
edge, with a smooth growl from the V6 always
filtering back into the cabin. The engine has been
tuned for a linear and smooth power delivery
throughout the rev range, making it less peaky than
in some other rivals.

And the dynamics from the ZT's front-wheel-drive
chassis are simply astounding. MG's engineering
team has certainly scored a direct hit here, with
superb turn-in to bends, uncanny traction, masses
of grip and some of the most impressive damper
and body control we have come across in this
sector. In short, it's a thoroughly enjoyable machine
which shows an insatiable enthusiasm for the back
roads, and could easily cope with an increase in
power - the rear-wheel-drive V8 models should keep
it satisfied.

Perhaps the only comparative disappointment is the
steering, which could be more informative

at times. Otherwise, this is a pedigree performer,
which also happens to slow equally as well as it

Backing up this on-the-road ability is a wonderful
cabin ambience. The 75's interior was excellent,
and MG has simply removed the 'twee' element.
Graphite trim, sports dials with aluminium centres
for the needles, chunky sports seats and superb
build makes this a far better place to be compared
to a Jaguar X-Type.

A few questions will undoubtedly remain on buyers'
lips - minor matters, such as whether the firm will
be around in five years' time. Unfortunately we can't
answer that. We do know, however, that the ZT is a
worthy contender, proving that MG has what it
takes to deliver class-leading products.

It isn't until you get to the top of the new MG tree
that you really start to feel the winds of change
sweeping through. Here, the Rover 75-based ZT
displays the kind of tasteful decor and dynamic
attributes which will leave most comparable rivals
trailing. The changes have transformed an already
acclaimed car into the sort of aspirational machine
which deserves to poach a good few Alfa, Audi,
BMW and Jaguar buyers.

However, it's not all good news. The other two
flagship models are reasonable efforts, but can't
disguise their aged origins. We look forward to
testing the other derivatives in the future to find out
how well they fare, and also to getting behind the
wheel of the ZT-T Tourer version.

At a glance

* New three-model MG Z-Car range is on sale now

* Choose from 25-based ZR, 45-based ZS and
75-based ZT

* ZT-T due in September, featuring saloon's

* Rear-wheel-drive V8 ZT is due to arrive in spring

Typical AutoExpress - missing the whole point of the cars and picking away at minor details which would never be mentioned if the products were German.

Autocar's reviews were all extremely favourable and quite fair in their criticism. AutoExpress irritate me with their prejudice.
John Hackett

The tragic flaw is that they are not available in the US where I want one. Just one is all it would take. I'll move the lawn furniture and mower and bikes. It wouldn't be any trouble really .

Are you listening MGR ?????

Thanks for that Dot, save me bothering to buy Auto Express for their Z car appraisals ....

Got Autocar today - with one exception, I dont regularly buy car mags lately but @ 2.10, not a bad value "one off" by modern magazine price standards. Had a quick read through their appraisals and looks like Autocar view the ZR from a different angle - entry level MG performance at reasonable prices. Obviously aimed at the younger buyer with a spec/price range to suit most so expected to succeed in that area. They also have equal enthusiasm for the ZS and ZT cars too! There is a report on driving the ZT Xpower 500 too which they appeared to enjoy from just about every aspect. Altogether a refreshing change with some nice pictures too! Will read again and take more time when I get the opportunity.

John McFeely
John McFeely

..... just re-read my last effort - far too many toos!:)

John McFeely

Having experienced the same cars at the same time as Auto distress I must have missed the spaceship that transported them to a paralel but mirror universe. That is the only way I can see how they concluded the way they have!!

Roger Parker

Are we reading the same article?

I thought they actually gave quite a fair assessment. The 25 and 45 based MGs are in my mind stop-gap models, good but flawed. The 75 based ZT is reviewed favourably because it is a very modern and thoroughly engineered car. It is very pretty too.

Autocar were indeed considerably more upbeat about the other two models than Autodistress. The editorial to the magazine stated that MG-R had achieved a 3 out of 3 bulls-eye with the new products. Yes the ZR and ZS are hindered by being based on older car designs, but the reaction to the ZS 180 was gushing tempered with genuine surprise. For many, this will be the pick of the bunch for affordability, practicality and sheering chassis ability.

Seems to me that the ZR is being well recieved, but the reaction is more 'luke warm' than from the enthusiasm generated by the other two rivals. It's the car that perhaps required the least work to jolly up for the 'yoof' market- and perhaps recieved the least letting engineers have more time to concentrate upon the potentially more troublesome R45 candidate... What ever, these are fantastic new cars- and I hope that they do well.

BTW I chuckled out loud when I saw the picture of the ZT X500 downshifting from 6th to 5th... about a foot of flame can be seen eminating from both tail pipes... WOW!!!! Cooool!!! LOL
Rob Bell

[Free Plug Warning]
A few pictures from the Autocar review can be seen on
[/Free Plug Warning]

Legal issues withstanding! ;)

Steve Childs

This is the picture I mentioned:


Nice one Steve ;o)
Rob Bell

Rob, how could I not have that one on the site :D

Now, if only they would do a similar feature on the MGF Xpower :)

Steve Childs

"But the trouble is, with its peak torque of 174Nm
developed at 4,700rpm, getting to all this
performance calls for masses of revs ..."

Funny how others raved over the Honda that has to be revved to 6000 ...

Paul Hunt

Got depressed reading the start of this thread.
Hope this cheers you up as it did me:

Angry readers say German cars are not so reliable after all

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa)

July 11, 2001

Stuttgart (dpa) - Germany's premier car marques come off badly in a survey carried out by the country's leading auto, motor und sport magazine, which puts a dent in the image of Porsche, BMW and Mercedes as paragons of German motoring efficiency.

The magazine asked readers to report the problems they have experienced with German cars and 90 per cent of the several hundred readers letters they got back said owners believed the quality of German cars was declining, despite makers claiming the opposite.

The survey showed that car buyers tend to be irked by the same set of problems. These included warranty periods of just 12 months and a lack of generosity in dealing with major problems that arise shortly after the guarantee has expired. The poor quality of some components and difficulties in obtaining spare parts were also mentioned.

Joachim Jenderny from Bochum, who owns a BMW 540i estate, said the Bavarian maker seemed disinterested when the engine failed after only 18,500 kilometres. "You get the impression that because of the good sales figures and high share price they're not bothered anymore about pleasing the customer."

Porsche can hardly produce enough of its sportscars to cover demand but its seems not every customer is satisfied. Wolfgang Mueller from Munich had harsh words for last year's 911 model: "some of the materials used are cheap, the windscreen wipers don't work properly and the Tiptronic electronic gearshift knob is faulty." Mueller was also fed up with a unreliable navigation device which he called "shameful". The man should know - he has been a Porsche customer for the past 33 years.

Wolfgang Oelschlaeger from Minden said the 911 he bought in May of this year had been plagued with irritating noises such as a passenger seat which just won't stop squeaking. "You can't drive the car without earmuffs," he wrote.

Audi came in for criticism too. Walter Sachs of Munich reported that his A4 2.0 Multitronic needed a new gearbox after 3,500 km, a hairline crack was later found in the computer master chip that controls all the electronics and at 10,500 km the interior was drenched with condensation from the air conditioning. "The A4 is an expensive banger in a permanently critical condition," wrote Sachs.

The brickbats rained down on Mercedes too. A host of electronic failures, faulty sunroofs, defective automatic gearboxes and even rust on the window surrounds of an E-class luxury limousine. Bernd Bloom of Kiel said his S 500 was "the worst car I've had in 40 years."

Copyright 2001 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

John Dalton

I wouldn't read too much into the opinions of Autodistress- they seem to be in the pockets of the German auto industry. Worse still, they use a considerable number of articles from their German sister magazine, usually without due credit to the original authors. IMO the magazine isn't worth the paper its printed on, and even worse, it isn't even printed on soft perforated absorbant paper...
Rob Bell


The reason all these fine German cars are failing is because they subcontracted the assembly work to Longbridge. Everybody involved is sworn to secrecy.

I thought I better let you all know this aweful thruth before Dirk appears to glot about it....



Just jumped in from the MGM mob. AutoExcuse was it's usual tripe where British Cars are involved which is why I gave up buying it about three copies in to its run! Autocar was far more balanced in it's outlook, especially where the 'competition' was compared.
Anyway, Top Gear next week, so we'll see what drivel they can come out with this time (although they have been fairly supportive of Rover so far). And did you know MGZ's have been on display in the USA at an MG meeting? I didn't, but does this bode well for our transAtlantic cousins?
Comment noted on BBC2 last night; BMW 3 series third highest production run of all cars in Germany last year behind the VW Golf and Opel Astra; as they said, Pile 'em high and sell 'em dear. Just proves they're the German Cortina, really!

I hope you've all got your Z-cars test-drive invite for next weekend, then you can make your own minds up.
Paul Hunt


do not forget to watch Top Gear next thurs. BBC2 at 8.30 pm. they are doing a review of the full range too.
ian holiday


This thread was discussed between 11/07/2001 and 04/06/2002

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