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MG ZT 160 1.8T

Broadcast dates : 6th June 2004/10th June 2004

The MG ZT series is based on the Rover 75 sedan. This close association between MG and Rover began a few years ago as a British consortium, Phoenix, bought up the Rover Company from BMW and also acquired the MG brand, which until that time had been represented solely by the excellent MGF sports car.

Since then MG Rover has been producing restyled and faster variants of the Rover sedan range and creating a whole new line of MGs.

This is not unique in MG's history, which goes back all the way to 1924 when it began trading as an abbreviation for "Morris Garages."

There were sedan variants in the 1930s of the famous sporting marque and in the 1950s and 1960s cars like the MG Magnette and MG 1100 were sort of souped-up versions of more mundane British family cars.

The MG ZT uses the Rover 75 bodyshell and mechanicals, but almost every aspect of the car has been given a thorough make-over, to ensure that the MG has a markedly different character and feel to the Rover 75

The ZT is available with two engines, a 2,5-litre V6 and a turbocharged 1,8-litre four cylinder, the subject of this week's road impressions.

The turbocharged four-cylinder is perhaps better suited to the MG stable as it is rather a rorty engine, and not as refined as some on the market.

This is especially so in the MG ZT 160, where it has been tuned to produce a hundred and eighteen kilowatts, eight kilowatts more than the Rover version.

In fact the "160" segment of the MG's nameplate refers to the car's power output. The figure stands one hundred and sixty horsepower, which is the equivalent of the metric measurement of a hundred and eighteen kilowatts.

The exterior changes to the ZT make for a very good-looking car. The use of woven steel mesh for the grille and bumper-mounted air intake gives the car a very sporty, aggressive looks.

Chrome trim has been done away with and there are racy add-ons such as spoilers and the very tasty multi-spoked alloy wheels and low profile tyres.

The suspension on the MG ZT has been stiffened up with re-calibrated springs, dampers and anti-roll bars front and rear to give the car minimal body roll.

This is one sweet-handling sports sedan, especially as it also employs a special MG steering rack to sharpen up response through the steering wheel.

The steering is more direct than it is on the Rover 75 equivalent, with almost half a turn less from lock-to-lock.

It is heartening that the MG division has gone to such trouble to give the car a really different character. This is not your typical example of badge-engineering, merely trading on the MG heritage via the easiest route.

The interior is also markedly different.

The steering wheel, dashboard, gear lever, seats and door panels are all MG specific and the seats are cloth-covered sporty items with serious lateral support.

On the safety front, six airbags are fitted, as is remote central locking. The doors lock automatically on pull away, a nice feature for certain crime-ridden areas of South Africa.

On the performance front, the manufacturers claim a 0-100 km/h time of nine, comma zero seconds, and a top speed of two hundred and fifteen kilometres per hour.

Overall fuel consumption is claimed at eleven comma zero litres per hundred kilometres, and the car is available only with a five-speed manual gearbox, driving the front wheels.

In recent times MG Rover has adjusted its pricing on these cars to realign prices with the stronger rand. The MG ZT 160 sells for two hundred and sixty five thousand rand, some eleven thousand rand more than the Rover 75 1,8T which is very similar mechanically.

It is perhaps still a bit over-priced, as some aspects of the car are a little dated, such as the rather un-refined Rover K series four cylinder engine, used as the basis for the powerplant.

Similar offerings from BMW, Audi, Volvo and Mercedes offer either more identifiable prestige, similar or better performance, and in some cases better re-sale value.

But the MG exudes a charm that is all its own, decidedly British. If that is your bag, you will probably be smitten by the MG.

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