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2004 MG ZT V8

2004-08-11 10:07

John Oxley

We were at Zwartkops Raceway just outside Pretoria to try out the latest MG ZT range of sporting sedans.

They were all there for us to drive and to see - so let's tell you more about the cars before I get to the bit you really want to read - how the V8 drives.

First the looks.

The current cars, the ZT160 and ZT 190, have a new grille, new taillights and chrome edging to the rear bumper. But there's something new lurking behind the potted palms - that ZT260 V8. Unlike the other ZT models it has rear-wheel drive, allowing full-on power into corners without having to worry about dreaded understeer.

And it has lots of power coming from the drivetrain, arranged in a classic configuration - 4.6-litre Mustang derived engine, an inline 5-speed gearbox, and a strong independent suspension with multilinks to hold the power onto the road, assisted by a Dana Hydra-Trac limited slip differential.


The suspension up front is little changed, with MacPherson struts with gas filled sports dampers and rear facing "L" shaped lower arms, mounted on a peripheral subframe, plus an anti roll bar.

The wheels are 18 inch on new 10-blade alloy rims, shod with 225/45 R18 tyres - but you'll have to do without a spare. Instead the boot sports the battery, shifted out of the engine compartment to make way for that big double camshaft engine, plus an "instant mobility system" - a "tyre in a bottle". Plus an electric tyre pump.

There are new brakes, too - massive ventilated stoppers back and front, 332 mm and 325 mm respectively.

But to look at it, the new MG V8 is not a lot different from its front-wheel drive siblings.

The same new face, sportier, stronger, more business-like. The grille has lost the "soft" look of wire mesh, and in its place are two bars arranged in a cross.

Then there are new-shaped headlights with clear polycarbonate covers and projector-style lights, and under the colour-coded bumpers a new lower grille.

Things have changed a bit inside, too, with metallic-look trim, a new V8 badge on the fascia, and a radio/CD with the changer sitting alongside the battery in the boot.

Interior trim

Interior trim sees alcantara on the ZT160 and ZT190, with Oxford leather on the ZT260.

There are also body-hugging sports seats and a clear fascia layout, while instrument graphics are now backlit and illuminated in blue.

It's also easier to get into the back thanks to better foot and knee clearance from reprofiled seat cushions and squabs - this one is comfortable in the back for a couple of big men, three at a pinch.

A leather and alloy gearknob, centre armrest with central storage, pollen filter and automatic air conditioning are standard across the range. Plus all the expected luxuries such as aircon, elelctric windows and mirrors, and a superb anti-theft system.

We've seen the ZT160 and ZT 190 before, but to precis, the ZT160 has a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that allows great balance and which compensates for altitude power loss.

It produces 118 kW, and impresses with its superb balance.

The ZT190 has a 2.5-litre V6 engine producing a smooth and powerful 140 kW, and is more suited to fast cruising than the nimbler and lighter ZT160 - but still impressed when we drove it on the tight and twisty "ride and handling circuit" - also known as the kart track!

But it's the ZT260 that was sitting under the spotlight, waiting for me to take it away and test its limits. This one produces 190 kW in normal ex-UK trim, but marketing manager Albert Venter hinted that final SA-spec models might have a lot more - as much as 220 kW and more than 440 Nm of torque.

On the performance front MG-Rover claims a sea level 0-100 km/h time of 8.5 seconds for the 160, with a top speed of 220 km/h. This changes to 7.7 seconds and 245 km/h for the 190, while the ZT V8 is expected to sprint from rest to 100 km/h in just 6.2 seconds, and on to a top speed electronically limited to 260 km/h.


Venter also revealed that the UK XPower concept would be imported into South Africa, allowing owners to specify a whole lot of sporting accessories as well as engine power improvements.

This could mean the little ZR 120 hatch could have power pushed from 88 to 110 kW; the ZR 160 from 118 to 126 kW; and the TF 160 from 118 to 126 kW.

And the V8? Well, how's about a stomping 240 kW! Awesome.

On the track

The V8 sits very solidly on the Zwartkops tarmac, its engine burbling gently as it waits for me to open the solid-feeling door and slide inside.

There's a feeling of luxury inside the car, but I would have preferred to have seen real metals on the dashboard instead of the "Technical Grey" plastic.

The instruments are placed right in front of the driver, and all are edged in black, including the analogue clock in the centre of the dash.

The steering wheel feels solid and businesslike, trimmed with leather, as is the gearknob for the 5-speed manual gearbox.

Getting comfortable is easy, with electric controls for the seats, and the steering wheel is tilt adjustable, while the seats lower and lift to ensure you feel just right behind the wheel.

The first lap was a "warmup", as much to get the feel of the circuit as the car, but already you get the feeling of pent-up power as the fat tyres bite into the tarmac.

And then it's time to let rip. The car accelerates very strongly - that big V8 pulls from way down the rev range, and surges to the 6 000 red line with ease. I brake hard for a hairpin, and I'm happy to learn that the brakes are well up to it. Next time I'll hit them harder, right into the ABS zone?

Through the long bottom sweep I keep the power on all the way, and the car grips unbelievably. There's some body roll but no propensity for the tail to hop out - traction control would stop that, anyhow.

And then it's brake hard and accellerate up the hill before jumping onto the brakes for a sharp 90 right, then a lshortsweep, tight right, then fast left, before braking hard yet again.

The MG feels solid and dependable. I'd like more power - I'd GET more power at the coast - but I'm not disappointed.

If there's any complaint, it's that the V8 sound maybe would impinge just a LITTLE too much on a long trip. But I'll have to do one to find that out.


MG is considered a premium product by the importers, Pearl Automotive, which is a division of the Imperial Group.

And this is reflected by pricing.

The MG ZT160 comes in at R270 000.

The MG ZT190 is R320 000

The MG ZT 260 costs R475 000.

That's a lot of money in a very competitive market.

The cars come with a three-year/100 000 km warranty including 1 year AA roadside assistance and a three-year/60 000 km maintenance plan

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