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.
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.
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.