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View the cars in our FastSaloons' Fleet Search Visit our Forum   Contact Us MG ZT120 Road TestDate:08/12/2003   (Click Here for more details).OurRoadTests MG ZT120 Road Test

MG ZT120+

Test Date
28/11/2003 - 5/12/2003

Our Thoughts
MG Pushing the ZT envelope ? Or just MG pushing it's luck?

The ZT120 is the new starting point of the excellent ZT range. But has MG still got all the ingredients for a true fast MG saloon, or are they playing too much with their brand?
MG have a bit of dilemma. The MG ZT, being the MG’s rework of the Rover 75, sells more cars than it’s in-house peer and is helping to bring back to profit the MGR group. So, although the Rover 75 competes well in the mid-level company car price, they’re not that popular – the MG ZT is popular and well liked but doesn’t compete well in the mid-level company car price range. It seems like a no-brainer – create an MG ZT that IS well priced and that maintains the desirability and equipment levels of the MG ZT. So MG went dabbling in the MGR engine kit-bag and the simplest and probably obvious outcome was to pop the 1.8 litre K-series engine, which is already in the 75 range, into the MG ZT which its extra spec and sporting changes. Simple – expand the MG range downwards, drop the price, keep the spec levels high and you’re onto a winner – the MG ZT120. Maybe, maybe not. By road testing the ZT120 after already testing its greater endowed siblings, the ZT160 and ZT190, we at FastSaloons want to see if MG’s attempt at pushing the ZT envelope downwards really does work or not. (MG’s other attempt at the other end of the range in the ZT260 is the same idea, but we’ll deal with that later).

1st Impressions - Exterior Styling

Back when the launch of the Rover 75 a few years back – I remember the NEC Motor Show of that year – the Rover 75 and the Jaguar S-Type were the two big retro-styles that were paraded, and I always draw parallels between the two. Personally, I liked neither of them at the time, but I believe that MG has now transformed the 75 into a much more desirable car than what Jaguar have done with the S-Type. This may just be MG pandering more to my age group, but I’m not alone in thinking the ZT is a better looker than the 75.

Grills, wheels and little British flags - that's the MG
The aggressive touches of sporting intent give the laid back and fuddy design a sense of purpose. I like how the chrome has been dropped from the 75, the original chrome on a retro-style wouldn’t really work for most under 50 years. However, the ZT120 misses out on a few of the extra touches that the ZT190 has. One missing detail, in particular, is the exhaust housing of the ZT190/160 – there’s no twin pipes to show off after all, just a single tail pipe skulking in limited-output shame under the rear valance. Also different is the rear lip spoiler, shrinking in comparison to the larger and more dominant one bolted onto the rear of the ZT190/160.

The wheels too have been shrunk for this model. The good looking 18”ers are replaced by 17” Mirage alloys. You can get these as general aftermarket options from Team Dynamics, but on the ZT120 they are badged up MG. They look pretty good on the ZT, giving the car good stance. You can start to see gaps between the rubber and the arches, but they are still effective. I think they look a bit like the Jaguar S-Type Rs.

The Le Mans Green of the test car was I think a good choice of colour. Not everyone’s favourite around our house, but I thought it showed off the lines well, yet didn’t show the dirt that accumulated over the near constant rain of the test period.

Interior Styling

Initial impression of the inside of the cabin is very good. The choice of cabin plastics are very good – the main chunk seems to be fashioned in a similar plastic to the BMW 3 series. The way the whole console flows up and ever so slightly forward, then down towards the bonnet makes the console less dominant – and notably designed much better than the X-Type, for example. The Jaguar’s console is similar but seems much more in-your-face and block-like.

Looks good, but fit and finish could be better
First impressions are that it is well screwed together. However, there were some oddities in the test car. One in particular was that the front passenger airbag panel in the dash was far from a flush fit. The brilliantly over designed cup holder also proved to be confusing – the passenger side one would offer up a holder from the initially invisible panel immediately behind the gear lever, which remarkable damping. However, getting the same behaviour from the driver’s side was impossible – there was nothing to indicate what was wrong, it was either completely jammed or it could be the driver side was designed to be cup-holderless. The cowling on the top of the centre console I, for some reason, thought was designed to pull out and cover the stereo – not such purpose, its just for show.

The stereo, a standard fit Kenwood, was OK – the front panel would drop to expose the CD loading mechanism. However, the blue colours of the display were out of place for the interior ambience.

The ovals abound have often been noted, with the circle of the clock looking out of place. More noticeable to me was the fact you couldn’t see the entire clock because the raised edge of the clock obscured one side of the clock.

These small points aside, the overall interior was one of refined Britishness. The cloth and leather seats were great, even though they had red stitching which always reminds me of some German sports-car with baseball glove size stitches. This was executed far more neatly and the seats themselves were excellent – supportive and comfortable.

Ride, Handling & Steering

Looking for divine inspiration? Or engine asking for forgiveness?
So, there’s a good behind the wheel vibe going – how is the handling of the ZT120 going to match up? Well, apart from the limited poke (more, much more, on this later), the handling and ride were excellent. The ZT120 had a secure feeling on the road, it felt like it had a flat stance to it. The suspension setup is the same as the ones documented in the previous road-test of the ZT190 and it definitely benefits from all the nips and tweaks that MG have done. They’ve transformed what was a fine ride, into excellent handling worthy of the more spirited nature it was intended for.

I took the ZT120 over my favourite short piece of typical beat-up small road with ruts and repairs, pot-holes and cambers. This road is not about speed, it shows up imperfections and limitations in suspension. Only a well-sorted chassis can take care of all the bumps and changes in attitude whilst maintaining a positive and controllable shape. The MG performed admirably coping completely with what this small patch could throw at it.

I couldn’t say it was all perfect – the main issue I had was that it seemed to be a bit floaty over Motorway expansion joints and small crests. You could almost feel it at low speed over sleeping policeman, too.

But overall, the chassis was designed to be enjoyed. The ZT120 was best when you can carry a lot of speed into the corner – where momentum can be maintained, like on a sweeping A road curve for example.

There is a lot of web chatter as to whether you can have fun in the ZT120 – limited poke running on an excellent setup. This is a tricky one, especially given the nature of the engine. Overall, I’d have to say no – to fun. Yes, you can enjoy and appreciate the subtlety of the suspension – but you cannot raise an unsolicited smile.

Engine, Gearbox and Brakes

So, why no fun? Well it’s simple. Two factors – 118bhp and levels of NVH that are fine in the wife’s small Pug, but ridiculous in a MG saloon. NVH – Noise, Vibration, Harshness. Either this MG had dumped all of its sound deadening material on the M3 just before being delivered, or this 1.8 litre is a dog. ‘It can’t be that bad?’, I hear you cry. Ok, proof point needed. Take the 1.8 up above 6,000rpm and the dash physically rattles. NVH – all in one go. I read with interest a used buyers guide to the Rover 75 in a recent Autocar. ‘Some harshness from the 1.8 at high revs.’. High revs in this engine started above 3,000rpm. Everything below this seemed to be OK, press the throttle to the floor and grit your teeth – not through being forced into the back seat but from preparing yourself from this aural onslaught. You’ve got it by now, I think – I hated this horrible raucous engine.

Plenty of room in there, what about a 4.6 litre V8?
Performance, was at a par with what could be expected. 118bhp and 0-60 in 10.9 seconds is just not going to buff the sparkle on the handling and ride, and so it proved. Hence, you get the best out of the handling by ensuring you hit a bend you can carry the speed and momentum through it. B road blasts were just not on, you could not make quick squirts to help launch between corners – it was frankly ponderous at times. The brakes didn’t help in this environment. Initial travel would not produce the expected results and only with a good shove of the middle pedal, would you get some decent retardation. I don’t think the weight factor should apply, but that’s how it seemed with the braking performance – it felt like OK brakes trying to stop a heavy car.

The gearbox, though, was a partial saving grace. The feel of the gearchange was good, if slightly baulky through all changes. It had a seemingly short through – at first you would think about dropping a cog or two, maybe, to gain some impetus. When you do you realize why you shouldn’t, the 4 pot starts barking at you, in unison, to stop being so silly, it couldn’t make that overtaking manouveur anyway.


So, putting the barking aside, we move onto the facts and figures. Fact – MG want this model to crack the fleet managers and the company user chooser. Figures – low (ish) price, 184g/km CO2, 36.4 claimed combined mpg. Credible enough on paper, then. The price is competitive with respect to the equipment levels and general feelgood factor. From initial reports it appears the ZT260 will have similar interiors and general equipment levels, so that reflects better on the lower end models, and requires greater justification of the more powerful models.

Nice seats, bit cramped in back even for lit'luns
Interior space is limited in the back. It didn’t pass the 7 year-old test – rear seat test small-person indicating a cramped behind the driver position. Boot space was good, the slope of the rear end indicates there should be significant gold club space, and there is, but the boot does narrow pretty quickly.

Although not specific to the ZT120, the MG ZT has an extremely good rating on the recent Top Gear Motoring Survey, coming in at 13th. Slightly baffling might be the position of the Rover 75 – way down from this. So, why do the ZT models get reported separately from the 75? The ZT/75 combination is hardly limited to platform sharing after all. But, it has allowed ZT owners to state their overall positive owning experience. All of these reports are not based on ZT120 owners, as the ZT120 was released in the summer of this year. If the ZT120 hits the market like MG want it too, it will be interesting to see if these bring down the figures (performance is after all, a separate measure in the survey).


So, have MG kept the winning recipe by down-engine-sizing into major company car league? I think that they haven’t diluted the MG style, but they do run the risk of losing credibility as a performance mark. My expectations of the engine were not high to begin with, you can’t ask too much of an un-blown 1.8. However, the raucousness and harshness of the way it delivered its limited output meant that you would prefer to back off rather than push on. This is not the attitude expected of an MG, where pushing on should provide fun and enjoyment. The chassis undeniably wants to be pushed and is entirely capable of anything the 1.8 can throw at it. Which just makes the method of power delivery all the more disappointing. However, engine noise and performance aside, the 120 keeps the ZT family behind the wheel feelgood factor and remarkable ride and handling. There are sweeter 1.8s around but bring in the MG factor and it helps to justify any decision in favour of the ZT120.

Mark White
Press Release on The MG ZT120

Our Review of the MG ZT190

Our Review of the MG ZT 1.8t (160)

Typical ZT120 Advert

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