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View the cars in our FastSaloons' Fleet Search Visit our Forum   Contact Us ZT190 Test ReportDate:07/04/2003   (Click Here for more details).OurRoadTests ZT190 Test Report  
MG ZT190
28th March - 4th April 2003.
7 days.
Roadtested by Neil.

The MS ZT was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in Febrauary 2001 and has been available from July 2001. Since then c. 7,000 have been made. The ZT is available as a 4-door saloon or 5-door estate. The ZT190 is the top of the range and costs £20,900 or £21,510 for the ZT+ 190*.
*The ZT190+ includes a number of ZT190 optional equipment (Air con, boot spoiler, rear electric windows).
The ZT heads up the new MG saloon range, and brings a new sporting aura to the upper-medium and compact executive car sectors.

The MG ZT has a strong visual impact with a purposeful stance and style. Aerodynamic features and various chasis dynamic elements have been developed to influence handling qualities to produce a real sport-driving characteristic.

A body coloured aerodynamic rear spoiler is available on the MG ZT models, which has been harmonised with the front bumper design to substantially reduce aerodynamic lift, benefiting straight-line stability, controlling high-speed lane change characteristics and increasing high-speed braking efficiency.

Rear bumpers incorporate a stainless steel heatshield, surrounding the twin stainless steel large-bore exhaust tailpipes tuned for low back pressure and to produce a characteristic sports sound.

The ZT190 has firm spring rates, stiff engine and subframe mounts, and a quick 16.4:1 steering rack for incisive turn in, which produce an excellent suspension behaviour and the damping characteristics prevent steering overshoot often associated with such responsive vehicles.

The control allows the MG ZT to run true over the most undulating of roads and it permits high performance on all roads without effort from the driver, yet it provides intimate involvement.

Chassis Dynamics
As with all the new MG saloons, the chassis tuning of the ZT range is at the heart of its driving appeal. Evolved from the superb R40/RD10 platform, the ZT is totally different in feel and character, whilst retaining all the fundamental engineering strengths of the design.

Strength is a key word here – with saloon and estate bodyshell torsional stiffness respectively of over 24,250Nm per degree and 20,000Nm per degree, providing an exceptionally rigid foundation for the all-independent suspension. This, combined with specially engineered chassis mountings, steering rack, springs and dampers, helps to give the ZT razor-sharp precision of steering and handling.

Immediately apparent from the outside is the low sports suspension set-up of the ZT. The front spring rate is 37 N/mm and the rear saloon spring rate is 58N/mm. Using the latest and most advanced Delphi ‘2005+’ damping technology, with two-stage ‘digressive’ valving, the damping characteristics have been optimised for control precision while retaining a good secondary ride quality.

The front anti-roll bar diameter is 25mm, and the rear one is 23mm, giving excellent roll-resistance torques. In addition the front dampers on ZT saloon models incorporate rebound springs, as used on all the estate car derivatives, further enhancing roll resistance. Solid subframe mounts, together with suspension pivot compliance bushes that have their lateral stiffness optimised to enhance steering response and all-round stability.

A specially engineered MG steering rack is integrated, with a gearing ratio of 16.4:1 to provide a fast response, and the power assistance valve is tuned to suit. Even the steering wheel has been tailored to suit sporting use, having a deep rim section without finger grips, based on current best ‘supercar’ practice.

With such a ‘well tied-down’, flat-riding chassis, the ZT is well able to exploit the grip potential of advanced modern wide low profile tyres. Hence, 18' diameter, 7.5' rim alloy wheels are specified, carrying 225/45R 18 Michelin Pilot Sport tyres. The ZT 190s use the ‘Straights’ multi-spoke design.

While considerable effort has been put into giving the ZT models the right kind of sporting MG acoustic effects, the potential road noise generation of the low profile tyres was not regarded as part of this. To tune out elements of this input from the rear wheels, radial absorbers are fitted to the hubs, operating on a similar mass/spring principle to that used for crankshaft torsional dampers.

Two versions of the all-alloy quad-cam KV6 engine are offered in the ZT range. For the ZT 190 2.5-litre models, several special features have been engineered to achieve the enhanced power output of 190Ps (187 bhp), and increased torque of 245Nm (181 lb ft), with reliability and durability. Beginning with the induction system, the air cleaner has an 80mm diameter intake duct in place of a 70mm duct, and a new intake diffuser. This provides a smoother airflow with less than half the usual pressure drop; it has also been tuned for a more sporting induction sound. Internal engine changes include a new inlet cam profile, advancing the inlet valve opening by 4°, and improved porting.

A further contribution to the performance boost comes from a new exhaust system, with 60mm diameter pipework in place of 57mm, new low-restriction metal-based starter and main catalysts and a modified rear silencer unit. This silencer has larger-bore internal pipes, twin straight tail pipes and a mechanical valve, which responds to exhaust pressure at around 4500rpm to by-pass the internal baffles.

While still meeting all legal requirements for drive-by noise, the ZT 190 and ZT+ 190 exhaust system has reduced back pressure and an attractive sporting tone. The 190Ps engine is matched with a lower-geared final drive of 4.4:1 to exploit its free-revving capabilities.

The 190Ps engine has specially designed MG throttle cams and engine ECU software to provide the right ‘sports car’ feeling of responsiveness to the accelerator pedal, with a deliberate reduction of the normal throttle on/off damping. Also common is an enhanced cooling system, with 20% greater cooling intake area, improved-flow radiator and top hose configurations and a new plate-type oil/water oil cooler replacing the oil/air heat exchanger. The Getrag 5-speed gearbox used for ZT 160 and ZT 190 models has been given distinctively precise MG operating characteristics, with improved detent springs and a shorter gear lever.

Braking Systems
The more powerful ZT 190 and ZT-T models have benefited from special engineering activity, developed to optimise the braking systems of these performance models. The ventilated front discs are 325mm diameter, with a width of 25mm and an optimised caliper configuration and well suited friction pads.

Both the 190Ps and 160Ps versions of the ZT and ZT-T feature 280mm rear ventilated brakes. In addition, the rear brake caliper has a 40mm diameter operating piston.

The standard fit Bosch 5.7 ABS anti-lock control system, including electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) has been re-tuned to suit the impressive braking hardware.

For each model, the MG braking specification provides responsive margins of fade resistance to cope with the most demanding driving styles and operating conditions.

First Impressions
The car delivered was 'Monogram Lagoon Supertallic' as with the ZS this would not be my first choice. However unlike the ZS I did like it, and whats more so did everyone I asked. The colour varies in different light levels varying from quite a dark green to light turquiose.

Finally, on a more practical note it also hides the dirt well.

The front of the car is brilliant. The effect has been to change the rather sombre Rover 75 into an aggressive and solid looking performance motor. Getting into the boot, requires either the key or the lever being pulled in the driver's footwell. This is really fustrating.
The optional rear spoiler is smaller than that on the ZS but is equally as effective looks wise. You can't see it in your rear view mirror which is a shame, but it works well with the rest of car. Closing the boot - there is no handle on the inside of the lid. This means you need to hold the exterior of the boot - which in turn means getting your hands dirty.
The interior works well and makes you feel special. The colour coded facia (Rhodium Silver 'technical' finish - to be precise) emphasises the sporty feel. The oval dials also look good - Although the speedometer and revometer were the wrong way round at least for me. (revs on the left). The Steering wheel adjustment lock - even when the wheel was locked it could be moved (although this may be a parcularity to the test car)
Exhaust Housing - suitably sporty look.

Seat back adjustment is awkward

High speed stability over larger bumps
Side Mirrors - great shape and really good view through them. Shape reminds me of the mirrors on the M5.
Like the bespoke-shaped rear number plate

First Drive - Friday
Short Drive c. 30 minutes on A-Roads. (dry)
The car was delivered c. 11am and I immediately took it out for a drive. I have admired the aggressive styling and always allow myself some longing gazes. However this was the first times I had been inside a ZT. The first thing to strike me was the high doors and dashboard. I admit to feeling slightly claustrophobic. I think some of this is down to the rake / degree of the windscreen which is quite steep. Theconverse of this feeling is that your feel secure and safe. This car was fitted with a sunroof and with it's blind open, I felt the car opened up again. The ZT was redesigned by Peter Stevens (he who designed the McLaren F1) which is some credentials.
The dash was finished with a gun metal grey (see official name above), which looks sporty and alters, what is basically the Rover 75 interior into something that befits the car. 'Oval' is the name of the game with almost all interior detailing from dials to air vents being oval. The controls are well positioned and feel natural enough.

Turning on the ignition produces a great engine note - better than the ZS180 and far more intoxicating. The gearbox seems to have a longer throw than in the ZS180, but the gears select well. The car accelerates smoothly and although not blisteringly quick the car does move well.

Steering is a little numb but works well, with the car griping well into and out of the corners. The car's chassis is firm but not at the expense of comfort.

One disappointment is the brakes which don't feel as good as I was expecting. This may be down to brake feel or just abuse of the test car. Again like most things once you get over the initial impressions you get used to them - and they cease to feel too bad.

Second Drive - Saturday
Night drive c. 30 minutes on mixture of roads. (dry)

I always enjoy the second drive - you get over the over-emphasis on taking in ever detail of the car and just drive it. In this case it was about 8 o'clock at night and on nice quiet roads. The car feels quicker than it's numbers suggest particularly higher up the speedo.

Third Drive - Sunday
Series of short drives c. 1 hour lots of dual carriageways. (dry)
As I had organised to take the Alpina to Bruntingthorpe, my wife and the kids needed to use the ZT190. So can the ZT190 be an effective family car as well as a fast saloon? Well the answer is yes. I was able to get all 3 child seats into the rear. I was also able to get our rather huge 'offroad' double pushchair and 2 bags into the ZT's boot. So both impressed and relived at this fact as it could have serious caused me grief if this hadn't been possible.

Fifth Drive - Tuesday

Motorway/A/B roads. c. 5 hours (dry)
Well here is a test c. 5 hours driving on a variety of roads and traffic conditions. I left the house later than I normally would and as such spent the first part of the journey in traffic. This was kind of fustrating as the roads are great and usually have very little traffic on them. The MG made light of the progress and when the roads did open up (M40) I was able to cruise along at motorway speeds with little fuss. In the event of needing additional oomph the car responded well - if deceptively.

An intersting characteristic showed up at higher speeds: the chassis did however not take too well to larger bumps and this seemed to unsettle the car - to be fair this was at higher than normal speeds.

The car has a good road presence and most slower cars moved aside without a need to slow up. Total journey time was 2hours 40 minutes.

The journey home wsa far more satisfying as there was less traffic and I was more in the mood. When I rejoined the M40 I did so 2 cars behind a black ZT190. I really think the ZT is a mean looking car especially in darker colours. Black been particularly effective. It seems the driver of the black car was in similar gear to me as we travelled up the motorway in the same ofrmation until I turned off, many junctions later.

At this junstion I came accross a ZT-T but confusingly/interestingly as this car passed in front of me I noted 4 exhausts - 2 on either side (ala M5). Was this a test car for the forthcoming V8 versions of the ZT ? or was it a fake exhaust. I have to say I think it was the later as apart from the exhaust there were no other distinguishing features. Very interesting.

The ZT gets to 100mph in 22seconds. Which is not that quick and I am convinced it is quicker. 60mph arrives in 7.7seconds and I agree with that timing. It will be interesting to see what the AP22 (from race-technology) makes of the acceleration times when I get chance to test it.

Sixth Drive - Wednesday

A/B roads. c. 1 hours (dry)

The main reason for this outing was to take some photos and test the performance. So a trip to some 'interesting' local sites. Most of the time I was sticking to B roads and this gave me the opporunity to further test the ride/handling on poor roads. The car works well and feels short footed.

Performance wise I have already mentioned that I agree with the 60mph in 7.7secs but think the car is faster to 100mph. Well I rigged up the AP22 and did five 0-100mph runs and took the average. The full result is shown below against the stats generated by TopGear magazine. The result suprised me (over a second slower to 60mph) - although I managed a 7.58 on one run. However the 100mph figure was pretty much on same on all five runs. Which holds up my feeling car was faster than published figures imply.

MphAP22 (secs)TopGear (secs)
My figures reflect a normal start - not dropping the clutch etc. (average of 5 runs).

In Addition I was able to match the 60-0 times (2.58secs) and Qtr mile (17secs/88mph).

Seventh Drive - Friday

A/B roads. c. 30 mins (dry)
Couldn't go too far as the car was being picked up and I wasn't sure what time. However I felt the need to have a farewell drive in the car - which in itself is a possible sign. I came to the conclusion that the noise the engine makes at high revs isn't my cup of tea. To me it sounds strained, compared to the low rev fruity noise the high revs sound hard work. This is something the car has in common with the Mondeo ST220. But ignoring this and just enjoying the car results in some real good fun driving.


I like the car and I love the looks. I think I want it with more power and rear wheel drive. Result! two new 260bhp/380bhp rear-wheel-drive versions are due later this year.

However, they will cost a lot more, and that is the point. The ZT190 is a value proposition, it offers space and practicality. It gives you an individual, cool, aggressive and English sports saloon. It is not that fast, but it is fast enough to keep you out of trouble and enough to put a smile on your face. It is a complete car and not just a big engine in a underdeveloped platform.

Compared to it's key rivals Mondeo ST220 (£21,754), Subaru Impreza WRX(£21,495), Vectra Gsi (£20,980) and Accord Type-S(£19,095). I have driven the first two and am due to drive the later two very soon. So I can comment on the ST220 and WRX - they are faster and more accomplished on the road. They are not as individual and both have less than inspiring interiors. What would I buy? I think that the MG has a good chance... - The ST220 is a better and faster driver's car but isn't that individual and only very subtlely different to the droves of other Mondeo's all over the UKs roads. - The WRX is a better, faster and more enjoyable but is more uncompromising - particularly the interior which is a lot lower standard.

To me MG has achieved what I believe it set out to do and that is to create a brand in a similar way to Lexus - not only does it conjure up a sporty image it also definitely seperates the cars from the lesser Rover syblings. You are driving an MG not a Rover. MG again means something - gone are the MG Metro and MG Maestros (thank god in my opinion). Regards the comparison with the Gsi and Type-S - I will let you know soon.

Should you buy one ? if this is your price range - I think you should seriously consider it.

Thanks to MG Rover for the loan of the car.

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