An introduction to the MG ZS
Originally written by Adam Sloman in April 2008:
When Rover launched the 400 in 1995 it was largely met with apathy, following the successful 200/400 range, big things were expected and it is fair to say that unlike its new 200 sibling, the 400 was something of a disappointment.
The 400 lacked the individuality of the 200, and in many buyers eyes, it was simple a badge engineered Honda Civic. In terms of raw sales the 400 was somewhat of a failure.
The first steps towards the car we know and love came in 1999, with the 400’s first major face-lift, when the 400 became the 45. BMWs control of Rover Group saw the range face lifted, with the car now sharing the ‘family look’ introduced by the new and critically acclaimed Rover 75. Despite the improvements made to the car, it continued to be the forgotten child of the range, with the 25 covering the much of its market with its five-door variant. When BMW decided to kill off ‘The English Patient’ in 2000 the newly formed MG Rover Group had a tough job on its hands to improve stagnant sales of an ignored car.
An MG is Born!
With the companies leadership now back in Birmingham, and not Munich, the company were free to develop the sport side of the company, and in August 2000, the MG ZS, along with the ZR and ZT, was unveiled to the public.
Many were sceptical of the new ‘Z’ range at launch, another bunch of badly badge-engineered cars. Peter Stevens had been drafted in to improve the somewhat staid style of the Rover range, and give them the new MG attitude. With the new meshed grille, and restyled front bumper, combined with the aggressive front and rear spoilers available, this went someway to changing the image of the car as a Sunday driver, pipe and slippers, ‘old mans’ car.
The looks, however, would be for nothing if the car did not impress when driven, and the credit for this massively improved drive lies with Rob Oldaker. Despite the relatively short development time, the original Honda underpinnings provided a good basis for the MG, and the ZS was without a doubt the driver’s car of the range.
Offered in 1.8 litre, 120 bhp and, finally, the 2.5 litre V6 ZS 180, the car received largely positive reviews, even Jeremy Clarkson, notorious for his negative reviews of British metal, had good things to say, it seemed that finally that MG Rover had finally delivered the car they should have launched way back in 1995.
MG X-Power and on the track success.
With the launch of the Zeds, MG Rover knew that success in motorsport would lead to increased sales, and show their new wares to their key audience, namely blokes!
The X-Power brand was born, with the intention of creating a strong name for the MG marque in the motorsport world, in the same way as BMW have their ‘M’ Sport or Mercedes Benz has AMG.
The ZR went rallying, while the ZS, in saloon form, was chosen to compete in the British Touring Car Championship.
Prepared by West Surrey Racing (WSR) and launched in 2001, despite joining the season late, it was an instant success and gained its first podium finish the same year, with Anthony Reid winning at Brands Hatch. 2002 saw two more ZS’ join the BTCC with competition in the Independent Cup, under the Team Atomic Kitten banner. 2003 saw a three car entry for the BTCC, with Colin Turkington (having driven the Atomic car the previous year) joining Anthony Reid and Warren Hughes. As of 2008, the MG ZS is still competing as a privateer, for team Kartworld, giving it one of the longest competition life spans in BTCC racing today.
The Mark Two
With a replacement for the ZS becoming more of an issue, MG Rover launched the mark two in 2004, with revised styling echoing the recently launch X Power SV, the ZS was finally receiving the plaudits it so richly deserved, with Evo Magazine awarding the 180 saloon an impressive four star rating, saying “What really makes the ZS stand out is its V6 engine in a class of four-pot rivals. The 2.5-litre KV6 is exceptionally smooth and has real verve in the higher rev ranges. The ZS’s comparatively low weight also means that it doesn’t feel too bogged down in the lower arc of the rev counter (a problem in the heavier ZT). And with revs it really does fly, seeming to come alive at 4000rpm. There’s real joy to be had extending it to its 6750rpm limit.”
It seemed that finally, things were going MG-R’s way, with the code-named RDx60 nearing completion; MG now had the products worthy of the name. It was not to be however, with ever increasing debts, and slow sales from an apathetic public, MG Rover called in the administrators in April 2005, and the ZS, along with the last mass production British car manufacturer, died.
NAC, SAIC and the future
In the months leading up to the collapse at Longbridge, the management of MG Rover tried, unsuccessfully to enter into a joint venture agreement with a number of high profile Chinese car manufacturers, specifically China Brilliance Auto and the Shanghai Automotive group, SAIC. Sadly for all involved with Longbridge production, no deal was ever done, and it was left to the administrators to sell off the assets remaining from the group. Nanjing Automotive, (NAC) secured the rights to the MG marque, as well as the 25/ZR and 75/ZT, while SAIC secured the rights to build their own variant of the 75, and developed their own ‘Roewe’ premium car brand. With rumours circulating that the Chinese would seek to buy the rights to restart production of the ZS.
These rumours gained some credence when NAC displayed a ZS, albeit badged an MG 5, at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2007. It became apparent soon after however, that Honda had retained all rights over the Domani and Civic upon which the ZS was based, and had no intention of allowing the Chinese to produce the car. In December 2007, NAC themselves were swallowed up by SAIC, and it now appears the Chinese have big hopes for the future of the MG marque, with the ZS’ successor, based on the replacement MG Rover were developing at the time of the company’s collapse, now renamed the Roewe 550, due for launch soon, with a sporting, MG variant planned for launch soon after.
Carrying all the DNA of the MG Rover group, with final design work being completed in Leamington Spa, hopes are high that this new saloon will see production alongside the new TF at Longbridge sometime in the near future. If Rob Oldaker’s magic can be worked on the new car then we may have the successor the ZS deserves.