BY ANDY ENRIGHT
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that many in the motoring industry greeted the MG ZT range with huge scepticism. Turn a Rover 75 that 'wheeled Werther's Original' into something that would do credit to the MG badge? Do us a favour! Knives were sharpened in advance; hatchet jobs were planned describing how MG Rover were milking the last vestiges of credibility from the MG marque. Journalists drove the car. Big helpings of humble pie were subsequently eaten. The MG ZT is a class act, there's a bulletproof aura to it whichever model you choose. With used examples now starting to appear in steady numbers it's possible to buy into this hefty hunk of Britishness at bargain prices. Here's how.
Models Covered: Four-door saloon ZT, Five-door estate ZT-T (1.8, 2.5 V6, 2.0 diesel [120, 160, 180 Sports Auto, 190, 260, CDTi, CDTi135])
That the MG ZT was hatched from the tweedy Rover 75 is improbable in itself. That it turned out to be a car that looked the part wearing alloy wheels and spoilers is even less likely but strange times breed strange cars. When BMW pulled the plug on Rover, the management in charge had to revitalise the marque and bring in much needed cashflow quickly and it turns out they made some wise choices. Employing Peter Stevens to style the ZT's aggressive spoilers was one good move as was sparking public interest with plans for outrageous rear wheel drive powerhouses. The range kicked off in June 2001 with one engine in two distinct states of tune, 160 and 190bhp. This 2.5-litre V6 was a good base to proceed from, offering a buttery smooth power delivery that MG could graft some proper sporting induction and exhaust sounds onto. The ZT-T Tourer model and 114bhp CDTi diesel version followed shortly afterwards. A ZT180 Sports Auto version appeared in summer 2002 with a more powerful CDTi 135 version appearing the subsequent autumn. At the same time, MG Rover axed the ZT160 in favour of a turbocharged 1.8-litre model, also with 160bhp but boasting better emissions and performance figures. Summer 2003 saw the launch of the fleet-friendly ZT120 entry-level model. The first of the rear-wheel-drive V8 ZTs arrived at the tail end of 2003 sporting a 4.6-litre Ford Mustang engine. In early 2004 a facelift radically, and somewhat controversially, changed the look of the car. A new grille derived from the SV coupe and reshaped headlights were the most prominent. features. By 2005, it was all over for the ZT and MG Rover as a volume car producer.
What You Get
MG Rover started at a considerable disadvantage in not having a clean sheet of paper to work from. They had the Rover 75 as a basis and had to make a decent fist of it. It was a bit like being presented with Kenneth Clarke and being expected to train him into an Olympian pole-vaulter. You'd be facing a heavy uphill task. Therefore it came as something of a surprise to witness the automotive equivalent of big Ken sailing over the six-metre bar. Headline grabbing flagship models may build the brand, but it's the cars with broader appeal that put the money in the bank, and the ZT CDTi, ZT CDTi135, ZT 120, ZT 160, 180 Sports Auto and 190 models that form the most relevant parts of the ZT range have had to earn their keep against some formidable and well-established opposition. The ZT190 certainly looks aggressive enough, with the squinting front lamps, deep spoilers and full dechroming treatment ridding the MG ZT of the geriatric appearance of the Rover 75. The entire front grille and air dam construction had to be completely redesigned when MG Rover's stylists realised that the indicators of the Rover 75 were already at the legal minimum height, and that the essential process of lowering the car would render the indicators illegal. The interior has been thoroughly divested of any timber, and there is some exquisite detailing, not least of which the beautiful leather/alcantara seats and steering wheel combination. Compared to the MG, the interiors of many rival sporting brands are token efforts, ruthlessly excised overheads from the big budgets that have been lavished on the drivetrains and suspension set-ups. The ZT+ models hammer home the point still further with additional air conditioning, rear electric windows, a CD autochanger and a rear spoiler included in their prices.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The MG ZT has proved to be a reliable offering, despite being driven by some quite demanding customers. Because of the sporting nature of the car, check the tyres for wear as keen driving will quickly scrub the shoulders off the front pair, especially with V6 versions. One thing to check is that the specification sheet matches the date of first registration. There are continued rumours of large numbers of MG ZTs that were pre-registered to artificially inflate sales figures. These cars may have been standing in a field or car park for weeks on end, so check for water ingress, signs of surface corrosion on suspension parts.
(approx. based on 2002 ZT1.8T) Nothing too scary here. For most parts the prices are quite reasonable and worth the money. Expect to pay around £230 for a full clutch assembly, around £90 for a headlamp and about £195 for an alternator. Brake pads should cost about £55 for the front and £50 for the rear, whilst a starter motor is around £185.
On the Road
Despite its many other talents, the 2.5-litre V6 is perhaps the only impediment between a good car and a great one. Despite the soundtrack it's not a particularly sporting engine. The car's all-up weight of 1550kg is enough to blunt acceleration, although the ZT190 cracks 60mph in 7.8 seconds before running out of gear ratios at 141mph. Opt for the ZT160 and you can expect to dispatch 60mph in 8.7 seconds en route to 131mph. Bigger brakes have been fitted to cope with the enhanced velocities and more aggressive driving styles the ZT will be exposed to, and the suspension has come in for a massive overhaul. An estate variant, the ZT-T is also available should you need to exact revenge on the family pooch. A firm ride is served up courtesy of the low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, but when the full extent of the modifications become apparent, it's a wonder that passenger's don't emerge with shattered teeth, blurred vision and internal bleeding. The rubber mounts have been removed from the front and rear subframes and replaced with mounts made of a slightly less yielding material - solid aluminium. The front and rear anti-roll bars have been hugely reinforced and the meatier suspension arms now look like the propshaft of HMS Ark Royal. Whilst the MGF Trophy kept chiropractors up and down the country in clover, it comes as quite a surprise to learn that MG Rover have indeed managed to endow the MG ZT with an amazing degree of ride suppleness, although they've been working hard at methods to reduce the amount of tyre noise transmitted to the cabin. Although neither the ZTCDTi, CDTi135, ZT120, ZT160, 180 nor the 190 variant are devastatingly quick, they more than make up any lack of outright speed in their sheer fluidity. They always feel big and heavy, but they've got just enough baby Bentley in the genes to differentiate themselves from the 3-Series/C-class/A4 mainstream and position themselves as something a little different.
There's a lot to be said for buying a used MG ZT. With a range of decent engines and a classic look, it offers durability, practicality and a modicum of excitement. It's a feel good car that's available at realistic prices. It's well worth a look if you fancy something a little different to the compact executive mainstream.