BY STEVE WALKER
When you look at where the MG ZT-T came from, it's amazing that it turned out the way it did. The Rover 75 Tourer is just about as 'pipe and slippers' as modern cars get and yet the taught, aggressive MG shares so much with it. A Rover 75 owner swapping his leisurely Sunday drive in the country for a brisk jaunt in an MG ZT-T would probably be left feeling stunned - as if he'd just smoked his slippers. This effect is tribute to the MG Rover engineers' skill in transforming the classy but lethargic Rover into a performance estate with real menace and an MG badge. With a ZT-T you are getting a car that's a good 80% Rover 75 Tourer but the 20% injection of MG makes all the difference to the package. The Rover is no bad car, well built and with a refined style of its own, but it's never going to be the keen driver's choice. The ZT-T has the sensible practicality of its stablemate but includes that untamed X-factor to make family outings, shopping trips or even visits to the dump that little bit more of an adventure. Used models are about in good numbers now, changing hands at attractive prices, so here's a rundown of what you need to know to get your hands on a good one.
Models Covered: Five-door estate ZT-T (1.8, 2.5 V6, 4.6 V8 petrol, 2.0 diesel [120, 160, 180 Sports Auto, 190, 260, CDTi, CDTi135])
The Rover 75 ambled sedately onto the streets in 1999 but it took the manufacturer a good two years to establish that they wanted to turn it into raw-edged performance car, resurrecting the hallowed MG marque in the process. It was a job the MG Rover designers and engineers must have been dreading. The 75 hardly lends itself to the old alloys and spoiler treatment that's meted out to so many mainstream cars to produce a hot performance derivative but the end result looked very tidy indeed. Peter Stevens was the man in charge of sculpting the spoilers and the fruits of his labour went on sale in mid-2001 in the shape of the ZT. The ZT-T estate version followed hot on the heels of the saloon and, if anything, this was even easier on the eye. From Launch the ZT-T shared all of the ZT's engine options and that meant 160 and 190bhp versions of the smooth 2.5-litre V6, which was rendered more sensual by a sports exhaust emitting a low rumbling note under acceleration. As for trim levels, the standard and up-spec '+' designations were as far as it went. Further additions to the ZT-T line-up included the 180 Sports Auto automatic version in early 2002 along with the arrival of the 114 and 135bhp CDTI diesels a few months later. Around this time the V6 engine in the ZT-T160 model was swapped for a turbocharged 1.8 with the same output but improved performance, fuel consumption and emissions. From then the range remained unchanged until the summer of 2003 when an entry level ZT-T120 model was launched to help court economy-conscious fleet buyers. From day one the MG marketing strategy for the ZT and ZT-T range was a clever one. They repeatedly whetted the public's appetite with leaked news and occasional tantalising glimpses of V8 powered rear-wheel drive versions of the cars. Big horsepower ratings were banded about along with distinctly rapid 0-60mph times and, of course, the extra publicity generated reflected positively on less mind-boggling models that were actually on sale. Something had to give though and the tail end of 2003 saw the arrival of the rear-wheel drive ZT-T260 with its Ford Mustang V8. MG Rover were as good as their word. 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. 2005 saw the end of the ZTT and of MG Rover.
What You Get
In terms of image, the Rover 75 Tourer and the MG ZT-T are diametrically opposed. Where the former is all string-backed driving gloves, golf clubs and pension funds, the latter is a little more mid-life crisis. The 75 offers an interior that sports more wood than an episode of the Antiques Roadshow and on the outside it's designers missed no opportunity to coat any price of trim that wasn't stuck down with chrome. The MG ZT-T takes a different tack with leather and high quality plastics creating a more contemporary effect. The leather and alcantara mix seats are something to behold and to sit in, beautifully sculpted to provide the support you'd want in a car designed to go round corners quickly. The layout of instruments and switches is uncomplicated making the functions you want easy to find, while all the moving parts have a chunky robustness about them. Accommodation inside the ZT-T is a little snug compared to conventional estate cars but this could actually be one of its best features. The low ceiling and seating position create a very 'sportscar' effect, allowing driver and car to feel more connected than in any other medium range estate that springs to mind. There's a real performance car edge to the ZT-T even if some of the lesser engines offered in the range don't really have the performance to back it up. In the end, however, any estate must stand or fall by what you can get in the back and the ZT-T must be no exception. There's 1,222 litres of load capacity with the rear bench folded down which isn't enormous and the load length of 2,060mm might see some longer items left on the driveway. With the seats up, rear legroom is passable but nothing to write home about. Folding the rear seating provision up and down is no problem at all and the catches seem strong enough to stay the course. Nice touches include the warning triangle mounted on the tailgate for easy access and the illuminated spare wheel compartment accessed through a gas-strutted hatch in the load bay floor. The visual simplicity of the MG ZT-T facia belies the amount of equipment you actually get in the car. The standard entry level trim level includes all the basics you'd expect from a car in this class while the '+' derivatives go all out by adding air-conditioning, a CD autochanger and a rear spoiler.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
As a used buy, the MG ZT-T makes some considerable sense. The solidity of the car is the thing that sticks with you after even the briefest encounter with one and that bodes well for the future. This is a sporty car though, so check the tyres and brakes for wear (especially on V6 models) while steering clear of sellers who you suspect may be harbouring a desire to be the next Nigel Mansell. Another 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 ZT-T 1.8T) 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
The MG ZT-T is a very solidly built, substantial car and that means it's relatively heavy. The V6 engine adds yet more weight, pushing the total mass up to a significant 1,550kg. This takes the edge off acceleration but the ZT-T190 still reaches 60mph in 7.8 seconds while the 160bhp V6 version takes 8.7 seconds to do the same. The newer 1.8-litre turbo ZT-T160 cars have less weight in the nose and can do the sprint in 8.5s. The lesser petrol models and the CDTi diesels cant live up to the ZT-T's sporting pretensions with 0-60mph taking well over 10s but the fuel economy and insurance ratings on these models will be more in keeping with what many people want from an estate. Whichever MG ZT-T you choose, a firm ride is served up by the low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport tyres and the toughened suspension. Big anti-roll bars are employed front and rear to aid cornering dynamics and the effect is a big car that feels lively, fluid and focused when driven quickly. With the exception of the specialist rear-wheel-drive V8 models, none of the ZT-Ts are devastatingly quick but they are accomplished driver's cars and that's really saying something when you consider that we're talking about a medium range estate here.
The performance estate is the perfect antidote to the quandaries of family life as experienced by the keen motorist. You want something that's fun to pedal about in but it has to display the practical qualities to cope with the demands a modern family places on its vehicles. The MG ZT-T fulfils this role with some aplomb. It's something a bit different, an alternative to the mainstream every day choices in the medium range or compact executive sectors and the inherent build quality of the car means it's a sound choice on the used market.