Car Test   R0311
January 2003
  MG ZS+
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 120 4-door
At first glance it might appear to be a simple case of badge engineering, but the transformation from ageing Rover 45 to exciting MG ZS is a lot more than simply swapping metal monikers.
   Beneath the wire-meshed MG nose and bespoilered tail lies a lot of skilful engineering by Longbridge’s finest.
   You get your first hint of this on start-up. They say what looks right, is right. The same applies to sound. The engine fires up crisp and urgent, and that’s how it feels as you slot the lever into first and engage the firmly biting clutch.
   Of course, after the 2.5-litre V6 version, this 1.8 feels a bit tame. Nevertheless, it’s not only quick off the mark, but also entertainingly swift, thanks to snappy throttle response, the sportily ratioed gearbox and an untiring revvability – it will run to 7280 if you let it. Hard acceleration is accompanied by a lovely cammy, ‘double knocker’ soundtrack; the downside is that there’s a low-geared, busy drone at motorway speeds.
   The engine’s eagerness is complemented by lowered suspension, firmed up to the point where the words ‘bucking’ and ‘bronco’ spring to mind on bumpy back roads. It’s better on smoother surfaces, and anyway, press-on types will appreciate the car’s taut, all-of-a-piece feel and the quick steering that makes the ZS so alert and chuckable. Wet weather prevented our giving the brakes a full test track workout, but they feel great on the road.
   Much of the interior has a familiar Rover 45 appearance, feeling somewhat dated as a result. Indeed, some of the old Rover shortcomings live on: the sun visors aren’t shaped to fit round the mirror, the screenwashers cause side window streaking, and the passenger’s airbag looks like a stuck-on afterthought.
   In this case, though, silver-dialled instruments and shapely, body-hugging seats replace the originals – as does a gaudy looking Kenwood radio/CD player, worked by fiddly, minuscule buttons. The chunky, compact wheel adjusts only for tilt, but the seat’s generous height adjustment is a big help in giving a very comfortable driving position. With the smaller rear spoiler specified and the absence of (optional) rear head restraints, all-round vision is unhampered. That said, we still appreciated the £350-extra rear parking sensors.
   Fortunately the front seatbacks are hollowed out, otherwise the modest rear kneeroom would be even worse. Although head and foot room are adequate, there’s not a lot of space in the back, where the tall sit a bit too low for comfort.
   Although the wheelarches and lid hinges intrude on load space, the fully lined boot is still a useful size. Extra space opens up when the split/fold rear backrests are tipped forward to create a long but not quite flat load deck.
  considering size, price and rivals
Overtaking Ability
Fuel Economy
Security, theft of
theft from
  • washers wash before wipers wipe
  • generous seat height/lumbar adjustment for driver
  • choice of rear spoiler (high or low)
  • lower sills are plastic protected
  • spare wheel is £50 extra
  • ignition key reluctant to enter keyhole
  • seat handwheels slow and stiff
  • key fob/remote touches driver's right knee
There are few surprise and delight features in the ZS – in the usual sense, that is. In fact, some of the model’s shortcomings go way back to its origins, and passengers are by no means pampered. But tough – this is a driver’s car in which the fun is fast if not furious, thanks to a superbly engineered feel to both the lusty, rev-happy engine and the sportily sorted chassis. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

engine 1796cc, 4-cylinder, petrol; 117bhp at 5500rpm,
118 lb ft at 2750rpm; belt-driven double overhead camshafts, 16 valves
  transmission 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive; 21.7mph/1000rpm in 5th, 16.0 in 4th
suspension front: double wishbones, coil springs, dampers and anti-roll bar
rear: double wishbones with trailing arms, coil springs, dampers and anti-roll bar
  steering hydraulic power assistance; 2.7 turns lock-to-lock; 12.0m diameter turning circle between kerbs (16.1m for one turn of the wheel)
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear, with standard ABS and electronic brake force distribution   wheels/tyres 6.5in alloy with 205/50R16V tyres (Michelin Pilot Primacy on test car); temporary-use steel spare optional

size and type lower-medium (mid-priced) 4-door saloon and 5-door hatchback   trim levels ZS, ZS+
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/1.8 litre/117bhp, V6/2.5/177
diesel: 4/2.0/101
  drive front-wheel drive; 5-speed manual (Stepspeed CVT automatic with 6-speed sequential shift mode optional on ZS/ZS+ 120 only)

HOW THE ZS 120 COMPARES engine (cyl/cc/bhp) revs at 70mph (rpm) 30-70 through gears (sec) 30-70mph in 4th/5th gears (sec) fuel (mpg/CO2) brakes from 50mph (kg/m) maximum legroom - front (cm) typical leg/kneeroom - rear (cm) steering turns/circle (m) overall length (cm)
MG ZS+ 120 4/1796/117 3230 9.7 15.4/23.7 35/174 n/a 109 93/74 2.7/12.0 436
Alfa Romeo 156 1.6 TS 4/1598/120 3435 10.5 20.0/27.6 33/195 28/26 107 95/75 2.2/11.6 443
Ford Focus 1.8 5-door 4/1796/115 3150 9.9 18.4/25.6 35.5/181 32/23 107 100/71 2.9/10.6 415
Honda Civic 1.6 4/1590/110 3560 10.5 17.8/24.5 42.5/157 16/26.5 107 102/76 2.8/11.6 429
Skoda Octavia 1.8 T 4/1781/150 3040 8.5 14.4/19.7 35.5/190 27/24 112 97/69 3.1/10.5 451
Volvo S40 1.8 4/1834/125 2960 10.2 21.2/33.7 37/187 18/28 113 96/76 2.9/10.6 448

Well-related seat/wheel/pedals give an excellent driving position in hip-hugging seat. Silvered dials illegible with lights on at dusk and heater controls low. Firmly biting clutch and short, snappy gearshift.
Tautly sprung, lowered suspension gives ZS deft, roll-free cornering, with 'quick' rack for spot-on steering response. Grippy on the 50-Series Michelins, except on fast take-offs - no traction control!
Suspension is firm and bumpy on poorer surfaces but, elsewhere, the ride/handling compromise is just about right. Front seats fine if you're not too broad. Competent heating/air-con, but no flow to rear feet.

Crisp and punchy 1.8 K-Series engine loves to rev, but is equally happy to potter the lanes. Makes all the right noises on full song. Sporty gearbox adds to the fun, but top gear proves lowish for fast motorway work.
  acceleration in seconds through gears* 4th gear 5th gear
  20-40mph 3.0 7.7 11.7
  30-50mph 3.9 7.4 11.9
  40-60mph 4.7 7.5 11.7
  50-70mph 5.8 8.0 11.8
  30-70mph 9.7 15.4 23.7
  max speed in each gear (* using 6200rpm for best acceleration)
     gear      1st*      2nd*      3rd*      4th      5th
     speed (mph)      32      56      78      99      120 (5530rpm)

Pedal-to-the-metal motoring will cost you, but mpg in low 40s possible if you can restrain yourself - MGs 48mpg is optimistic, though. Easy-filling tank gives a 370-mile range. Flap opened only by internal trigger.
  type of use (air conditioning off) AA test (mpg) 
    urban (heavy traffic) 22
    rural (gentle driving) 43
    overall mpg 35
    realistic tank capacity/range (litres/miles) 48/370
    official mpg (urban/extra urban/combined) 29.2/48.3/38.9
    CO2 emissions 174g/km
    car tax band D

Great brakes, swervable chassis, but if it comes to the crunch, you'll bless two front and side airbags, five lap-and-diagonal belts (the front ones with pretensioners). Rear head-restraints are £75 extra, though.
  Wet weather precluded accurate brake tests, but there's sensible pedal progression and the promise of a best stop of about 1g (25.5m)
This model has not yet been
tested by EURO NCAP
pedal load     stopping distance
fade resistance/consistency    
Euro NCAP = European New Car Assessment Programme: independent crash safety tests evaluating protection for occupants and pedestrians in an offset frontal collision, side impacts and pedestrian strike conditions
click here for more NCAP details/test results etc.

Plenty of room up front, but rear knee/leg room mediocre. Not over-endowed with cubbies or cup holders, but rear backrests fold on to cushion to give a useful (but not flat) extension to quite spacious boot.
  in centimetres (4-door saloon)
  length 453
  width - including mirrors 192
    - mirrors folded 175
  height 138
  load sill height (inside/outside) 18/68
  turns lock-to-lock 2.7
  turning circle (metres) 12.0
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 94-109
    - headroom 90-99§
  rear - typical legroom 93
    - typical kneeroom 74
    - headroom 92
    - hiproom 129
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 98-178#
  load length to facia 267
  load width 86-136
  load height 49
§ no sunroof  # rear seat folded

Poor boot security from interior, but alarm and immobiliser standard. No deadlocks, but security shielding for steering column, doors, tailgate locks. Lockable glovebox. Group 12 insurance on this 120.
central locking  
remote control  
remote window closing  
alarm (perimeter + interior)  
self-locking (static + drive-off)   
two-stage unlocking   
attack-resistant glass   
lockable glovebox   
AA load area security rating
=standard    =option    =not available
NCSR - "theft of"
NCSR - "theft from"
NCSR = New Car Security Ratings: a 1 to 5 star system which rates anti-theft protection, both of the car itself and the theft of valuables from within the car
Visit for more details
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