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View the cars in our FastSaloons' Fleet Search Visit our Forum   Contact Us ZS180 Test ReportDate:11/03/2003   (Click Here for more details).OurRoadTests ZS180 Test Report  
MG ZS180
28th February - 7th March 2003.
7 days.
Roadtested by Neil.

The MS ZS was launch at the Geneva Motor Show in Febrauary 2001 and has been available from July 2001. Since then c. 8,000 have been made. The ZS is available as a 4-door saloon or 5-door hatchback. The ZS180 is the top of the range and costs £15,745 (15,925 OTR) for the 5-door and £16,560 (16,740 OTR) for the 4-door.
One of the starting points for the ZS chassis was, in fact, a sprint/hillclimb car built and driven jointly by Longbridge chassis engineers and engineering apprentices. It convincingly demonstrated the latent sporting potential of the platform, which has double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension, both excellent designs and ideally suited to the careful tuning process that led to the ZS specifications.

Sports springs are combined with a low suspension set-up and new dampers, to provide very firm control of low speed suspension travel (such as roll movement) yet relatively gentle damping at higher velocity inputs (such as road bumps).

DimensionRover 45 (mm)MG ZS (mm)Difference (mm)
length (4dr)4517453215
length (5dr)4362437715
front overhang85086515
rear overhang (4dr)10471047-
rear overhang (5dr)892892-
ground clearance8928926
turning circle10.3m11.2m.9m

The front suspension has been stiffened and a 20mm diameter anti-roll bar has been added at the rear.

Integrated with the suspension changes are new high-grip wheel and tyre combinations. Standard on the ZS 180, are 17' diameter, 7' rim multi-spoke ‘Straights’ alloy wheels with 205/45 R17 tyres.

A more responsive steering rack, with 16.4:1 gearing in place of 18.2:1 and re-tuned power assistance valving contributes further to the sporting precision of the ZS chassis.

Designed from the outset as one of the world’s lightest and most compact high performance production V6 engines, the quad-cam, all aluminium 2.5 litre KV6 was a natural choice for the ZS 180. This version of the KV6 develops 177Ps (175 bhp) and 240Nm (177lb ft) of torque and has a special MG calibration for the engine management ECU plus a new throttle actuation cam to give crisp responses to the accelerator pedal. The exhaust system has been tuned to give a classy sporting note while complying with legal noise standards. Power is transmitted by the proven 5-speed manual gearbox with performance-optimised gear ratios, and a positive action sports gearshift with a shorter throw and firmer linkage bushes.

Special engineering activity has targeted brake performance with a front disc diameter of 282mm, and the rear disc diameter of 260mm, with matching larger calipers all round and optimised ABS tune. All ZS models feature the latest ABS specification that includes electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) for maximum braking efficiency under all front/rear load distribution conditions.

ZS has the characteristic MG saloon front end treatment, with a body-colour MG grille surround, and bright mesh stoneguards for the grille apertures and the lower air intake. Orange lenses are used for the front indicator lights, and the ZS 180 version features fog lamps as standard.

The bib spoiler on ZS 180 models incorporates an air splitter fitted at the front, with matching side skirt mouldings, while a high plane-type rear boot spoiler completes a carefully balanced, wind-tunnel-developed aerodynamic package, though a more discreet version is available.

The bumper inserts, side rubbing strips and door handles are all finished in body colour. Jewelled MG badges appear at front and rear, while the rear identification consists of a ‘ZS’ badge (plus ‘180’ on the ZS 180) with a Union and chequered flag emblem.

A twin-wall bright exhaust tailpipe finisher is housed snugly within an inset stainless heatshield in the rear bumper moulding. Sitting low on its big, wheelarch-filling wheels, the ZS looks every inch the fun sports saloon, set off by the distinctive MG paint colour range. For the MG ZS, the colours are Solar Red, Trophy Yellow, Le Mans Green, Trophy Blue, Anthracite and Platinum Silver.
Feature inserts on the ZS fascia, console and door casings are in a special ‘Dark Rhodium’ ‘Technical’ finish, with a matching metallic sheen finished instrument dials with orange needles and illumination. The sports style steering wheel has a new deep rim profile, and a jewelled MG badge set centrally in a machined aluminium bezel. Distinguishing features of the ZS 180 include a leather steering wheel rim covering, perforated on the grip sections, and an alloy/leather gear knob.

First Impressions
I'll have to start with the Colour - 'Monogram Saffron Supertallic' is not subtle and it wouldn't be my first choice however you do get used to it. In my opinion the car suits more somber colours - to down play the looks. Blue looks particularly good or black.
Rear Spoiler - Bigger than I was expecting and great shape. Interior Switchgear - MG have done a good job of disguising the age of the 45 - and have breathed new life into the car - however there is no denying the age of the buttons in the car.
It looks great through the rear view mirror which serves to remind you to have fun.

The 5-door has a different spoiler to that on the 4-door, it is more sculpted and flowing.

The 4-door spoiler is more square and 'evo' looking.
The Steering wheel logo - just looks cheap and its right there in your face.
Exhaust Housing - suitably sporty look.

Legroom for tall drivers

Side Mirrors - great shape and really good view through them. Shape reminds me of the mirrors on the M5.
First Drive - Friday
Short Drive c. 30 minutes on A-Roads. (dry)
Initial reaction is that the car feels fast - the engine is not that apparent noise-wise. But the power delivery is linear. Next to hit me is the roadholding which feels good, this is backed up by the first fast corner where the car drives through it flat and confidently. The ride is quite firm - something you'd have to bear in mind if you were buying this car. But MG have done a pretty good job turning the Rover 45 into what is a very credible sports saloon. I have a feeling I am going to enjoy the next 7 days.

The gearbox is quite tight, should I say precise, the throw is short, Making the whole gear action satisfying. Steering feels a little numb but the car response quickly and positively. Brakes wise the feel is also a bit soft - however again the result is very good. Grip feels good.

Second Drive - Saturday
Longer drive c. 1 1/2 hours on mixture of roads. (dry / wet)
Visit Clumber Park to do some photos of the car - good selection of A and B roads on the journey there and back. The ZS is a deceptive car, most of us at hadn't really given the car much thought. However I am sure this is a real contender now. In fact when we discussed the car we realised that this was the star car in the MG line up. It has almost as much power as the larger (and heavier) ZT and as a result is actually quicker.

The car is comfortable to drive and can mix low rev (utilising torque) and high rev styles of driving. The car is comfortable overtaking and has enough power to ensure the 'time exposed to danger' is kept to a minimum. The steering also feels fun as it reacts quickly to your input and makes the overtaking manoeuvre quite addictive. The rev limiter sits just below 7,000rpm and matches your expectation of where you should change gear.

The rear spoiler does obstruct the rear view but not by much and as I have mentioned before adds to the enjoyment factor. In addition this car features parking distance control and so parking is simplified and rear visibility is less of an issue.

I found the driving position was a little limited especially in leg room travel. I am 6'1 and therefore have reasonably long legs - in an ideal world the drivers seat would have moved further back. However, as there needs to be some leg room behind the drivers seat even at its maximum this is not possible. I also found that my right wrist started to ache after just over an hour of driving. This I put down again to the driving position as the angle of my arm wasn't quite right. However adjusting the steering wheel down, not my initial choice, sorted out this and I didn't suffered this again.

Third Drive - Sunday
Series of short drives c. 1 hour lots of dual carriageways. (dry)
I am really starting to the like the car I find it a lot of fun to drive. The handling is really good - the steering is direct and the the roadholding and traction almost unstickable (in the dry). For a front wheel drive car there is hardly any understeer.

At speed the car is quite noisy - mainly due to tyre roar and air noise. The engine noise is relegated to third. This is kind of to be expected given the size of car but compared to some of its rivals points again to the cars age. One consolation is that you feel like you are saving some weight from the lack of sound insulation - which in turn helps the cars performance.

Forth Drive - Monday
Night drive c. 30mins on A/B roads. (dry)
I was interested in what the car was like driving at night. The dash lights up in a enticing manner - the silver dials are lit by a red/orange light. The cars headlights work well and lit up the road well especially on full beam. On unlit B roads this makes the car easy to drive fast night.

Fifth Drive - Thursday

A/B roads. c. 1.5hours (dry)
A number of short journeys between Monday and Thursday - nothing new to report. Today I decided to take the car on some of my favorite roads a little further a field. I also took along the Racing Technology AP22 to get some performance indications as there is also some private roads that I am able to use.

I am still suprised by the car - it does feel a little special - which is what you want from a FastSaloon. The chassis is the main reason for this. When pushed the wheels will spin even in the dry. This can be drilled out with less throttle and invariably results in a better launch. The car does have element of torque steer, as all front wheel drives do, but this again is only when you push really hard and generally accompanies the gear changes as the car sprints in the next gear.

I was able to do a couple of tests using the AP22 and was able to match the 0-100 time of Evo Magazine:

MphAP22 (secs)Evo (secs)
My figures reflect a normal start - not dropping the clutch etc.

I was also able to get close to the Evo time for the quarter mile:

DistanceSecsMphEvo (Secs)Evo (Mph)
60 ft3.0128.9mph
330 ft7.2656.9mph
1/8 Mile10.7971.3mph
1/4 Mile16.2890.1mph15.891mph


The ZS180 is a well priced, fun and a practical car. There is no disputing the age of the car it starts life as, but the numerous changes that MG make do transform the car. The numb feel of the steering and brakes are overcome as you get used the effectiveness of both. The chassis is noticeable almost immediately and doesn't let you down.

Looks wise the car is obviously a 45 underneath but there are enough styling changes to make the car feel special (if perhaps not in Supertallic Saffron). I also think it would be fun suprising other cars on the road by the deceptable performance.

When looking for the ZS180's (£16,740 (4dr)/£15,925 (5dr)) immediate rivals there are relatively few - I can really only think of two Saloons - the Skoda Octavia RS (£15,100) and VW Bora 180 Sport (£18105) / V5 (£17605). Of these only the Skoda is promoting the same image.

Magazines also struggle to compare the ZS with other saloons and therefore compare it with Hothatches.

Autoexpress compared the ZS180 against a Focus ST170 (£16,495), Astra Sri turbo (£15,595) and Honda Civic Type-R (£15,995). In this group review the Honda won and the MG came second.

Evo compared the ZS180 against the Honda too, Golf V5 (£16,835) and Clio 172 (£14,595). The MG came third behind the Honda and Clio.

I have only driven the Honda Type-R and to me it is a completely different car - its all revs whereas the MG has a more toquey / flexible engine. Therefore to get the most out of the Honda you need to ring its neck, the MG can be hustled along without revving it to bits. So in essence they achive the same result by different methods and as a result are aimed at different people.

Would I buy one ? ....I certainly think a second hand ZS would make a welcome stable-mate for the Alpina.

Thanks to MG Rover for the loan of the car.

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