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I have a slight fixation with Rover and MG cars. Maybe because I recognise them as the last great British car manufacturer, but also because I seem to always buy them. If you have read my previous review of my old car, the Rover 416Si, I did forewarn that it may be replaced very soon, well now it has been. I saw a 2002 MG ZS going at a bargain price and just had to get it. This was a car that I test drove back in 2003, and decided then that I wanted one, but couldn't afford it. I have had this car now for over 2 months, and after having a small amount of work done on it and driven it daily, I'm ready to give my opinions of the MG ZS, Mark 1.
--The Last Great Cars that Rover Made...--
Most people know that Rover vehicles are no longer built, due to the company being liquidated in 2005. Originally the company was founded as British Leyland in 1975 (becoming infamous for it's vans and lorries), and became Rover in 1986. Along with the MG branding, it was then sold to BMW in 1994, who in turn after separating the Land Rover and Mini brands, sold the remaining assets to the Phoenix Consortium in 2000. The company was renamed MG Rover Group up until 2005, where it sadly was liquidated and all remaining assets were sold to the Nanjing Automobile Group. In 2008, the Rover brand was sold to Tata Motors. Attempts were made to resurrect the brand, but to no avail. The MG brand however still lives on under Chinese ownership and are still in production at Rover's old Headquarters at Longbridge, Birmingham.
The Z series, comprising of the ZR, ZS, ZT and ZT-T, were actually in a pre-development stage when BMW took to company over, and only became fully produced during the Phoenix Consortium's reign. The first cars in planning stages only were based of the old Rover 200 and 400, and with BMW facelifting these cars to produce the 25, 45 and 75 models, the Z series cars were all based of these designs. The Rover 25 became the MG ZR, the 75 the MG ZT and the estate version ZT-T, and the 45 became the MG ZS. The production lasted 4 years for the mark 1, and another year for the mark 2's. The ZS was the one of the most popular 'drivers' cars, while the ZR became the best seller of the four. Although the cars outwardly looked very similar to their Rover counterparts, they had many body trim changes, inside and out, but most of the difference was the engineering. 60% of the mechanics of the car is re-engineered to give a much more sporty feel. This was the final act that Rover did that became popular with the public, and many of the Z series are loved and treasured by their owners.
--A Brief History of MG--
MG started life back in Oxford, England in 1924 by Cecil Kimber. He was working as the manager of William Morris Garages and found that there was niche market for existing cars that were a little sportier and faster than the standard cars, but at the same time not costing that much beyond the budget of a normal working man. MG Cars was the company that emerged, Kimber having honouring the garage and his employer, William Morris, whom he worked for. He created the first MG (Morris Garages) vehicle, the 14/28 Super Sports, followed by the T series and Y series. Later on the MGB was created and has become a British icon in the car industry. Originally built from 1962, the MGB continued in production all the way to 1980, with many changes to the original Mark 1 design, mostly down to US legislation, as many of the cars were exported across the Atlantic. After this a facelifted version known as the MGC was produced, and Prince William currently owns a 1969 model, which his father, HRH Prince Charles originally bought. Both cars were produced in various styles, hardtops, softops, convertable and roadster, using various seat configurations.
The first mass produced MG to be released after the demise of the MGB/MGC was the MGF and soon after the MG TF, the name honouring a previous MG model. These were almost modern versions of MG's past roadsters and apart from a hiatus in production in 2005 due to the liquidation of MG Rover, it is still made today as the MG TF, the new Chinese owners having resumed production of the car in 2007. Due to a fault with the K-Series engine (more about this later), which it also shared with the Z-series, the power plant has now been replaced by the newer N-series engines, which is used in the currently produced MG's. More MG cars are too be released, with a re-invention of the ZR and ZT, known as the MG3 and MG7. The ZS has already been replaced by the MG6.
--Looks and Quality--
Being based off the bodyshell of the Rover 45 and the previous Rover 400 and Honda Civic, outwardly you would imagine that the ZS appears quite conservative. However, the additions in body styling, colour choices and slight adjustments with the ride height and interior, the ZS certainly stands out far more than it's sister car the Rover 45. It does look a mean car from the front, with a diagonal mesh in the grill and bumper. The bumper and wings are flared a little, along with the rear wings and wheel arches. The wheels themselves are wide, low profile tyres that sit closer to the body. The rear has a pronounced and rather large, purely cosmetic spoiler, (this is a front wheel drive car!) which gives the back end a real presence. On the inside, the seats are half leather and the fabric coloured with the body. The trim is a metallic grey with a light grey coloured headlining. With tinted windows, colour coded trim and handles and neat alloys, the whole effect is very sporty and does set it apart from the cars that share it's primary body. Depending on the specicifcation of ZS, details vary. I have a 120 5-door hatchback, which is the standard trim, but the 120+ and 180 have additional trim, different leather seats, foglights etc...etc...
Now, MG Rover during the time this car was built had a unproven reputation for poor build quality. I have to admit, it is nowhere near perfect, with door seals which can leak, unexplainable electrical faults and some plastics which are of a budget quality. That said, it has been put together rather well, and only if you start messing about with things like the air vent and such then these problems become apparent. Security on the ZS is of high quality though, with a Thatcham 2 (electrical and motion sensors) system installed and a very well protected ignition barrel. The metal used is also quite good, and there is always a satisfying and reassuring 'clunk' to the doors and bonnet, but some exterior panels like the wings and rear pillers can be dented easily, but this is no different to many other cars out there. Another small negative is the paint and body safeguards. Although the paint has been applied to a high standard, colour matching is a total pig! Particularly on the Metallic and (to my dismay) Yellow colours, getting a match for repairs is very difficult, and like most cars, the paint on the plastics (bumpers, trim etc...) can fade quicker than the rest of the car.
This is where the ZS is VERY different from it's Rover counterpart. nearly 60% of the 'works' of the car have been re-engineered and the difference is staggering. I have the 1.8i K-series engine, and it can really pack quite a punch with the ZS alterations to the wheels, suspension, wishbones, gearing, brakes, exhaust and transmission. The highest spec engine available is a powerful V6 2.5, which can deliver a brilliant 175bhp. My ZS, can give 118 bhp, and can still do this even now after 75,000 miles on the clock. The all-disc brakes perform well, although the handbrake can be not a strong as the older drum brakes the Rover 400/45 had. The exhaust is larger, slightly noisier and performs great, and also looks great from the back of the car. The acceleration is very impressive, as is the surprising amount of torque that the petrol 1.8 gives. You can easily make 60 mph in under 9 seconds, and overtake in forth gear, the combination of power and grip working very well indeed. This is helped also by the gear selections. The changes can be made quickly, with no clutch slip, and there is very little travel in the gear-stick itself, a massive improvement over the already comfortable gears of the Rover 400/45.
This is not a car designed for a comfort ride though, but that's the point. The ride is quite firm but not headache churning, and the engine noise can permeate through the car as high speeds. For me, this is wonderful however. Compared to the Rover 400/45, it feels more like a rally car than a family hatchback. There is very little understeer/oversteer and bodyroll on the corners and the car really sticks to the road magnificently. The MG changes to the chassis have made a car which is firm, but malleable, and makes driving the car a enjoyable experience. A real drivers car.
--Features and Faults--
Feature wise my version of the ZS is a little threadbare. Most of the car is the standard MG 120 spec, with the little addition of the optional electric sunroof. This works well however, even though some can leak after a time. Mine doesn't thankfully. The 120+ version gives you Air-con, electric windows and fog lights. The larger engined 180 and 120+ diesel versions boast a different body-kit trim, including a front splitter. During the production of the ZS mark 1 (2000 to 2004), alternate rear spoilers and alloy wheels were used, and the extras changed again with the 4-door saloon models. I always preferred the overall look and feel of the hatchback, something seemed a little odd about the rear-end of the saloon. Whist mine is a manual gearbox, the automatic version came with a rather unique 'cold mode', which heated the gearbox oil in cold conditions. Other optional extras available were steering column mounted ICE controls, cruise control, heated seats and electric seats.
Seeing as I have a bias love of this car, talking about the negatives is difficult, but there are some series, but not unsolvable, issues that need to be addressed if you wish to own or do own a ZS. As previously mentioned, the Rover K-series engine the ZS utilizes has some well- known design faults, which unfortunately gained it a reputation of unreliability. This is not the case, if these problems are address and the engine is maintained. The primary problem is known as the Head Gasket Failure (HGF). This is not due to a poor head gasket, it is caused by the cooling system of the engine. The water pump can wear out quickly, and when it fails, the pressure on the head gasket causes it to fail also. You must not let the water pump fail, so by replacing the water pump and head gasket at regular intervals prevents any damage to the engine. I have had this happen to my previous Rover 400, and do not wish to let this happen again, hence the parts have already been changed. Another small problem is the exhaust systems inlet manifold, which can 'gunk up', especially on the diesel models. Regular servicing and cleaning prevents any problems with this. Like any car in my book, looking after the engine should be top priority, and this is more so with the ZS.
Another thing to take note of is finding spare parts for this vehicle. Production, of course as now ended, but there are a multitude of suppliers for Rover and MG parts out there, they seem to have a rather well represented fan-base! Some links are provided below for your help, but by searching Ebay and Gumtree, this will normally come up trumps.
Well, what am I going to say? I love this car, despite it's occasional suspect build quality and engine faults. I think it looks beautiful, sporty but not chavvy or one of those 'boy-racer' type cars. It really has a individually of it's own, and for my liking does not look like a Rover in drag! It drives like a car should drive, be a pleasure, a challenge sometimes whilst not gliding across the road aimlessly. This is one of the examples of a car when if you put more effort in the rewards are much more. It's just a shame the Z-series never continued on after only 5 years of production, as they had a lot more to give to the car enthusiast. Taking into account its foibles, I would recommend this car to anybody who wants a driving experience, a car to look after and something that stands for the great and now lost British car industry.
MG - They will live forever....
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Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
Also posted on Ciao.co.uk