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MG ZS 2005 review: road test

The ZS 180 is the second of the MG-tweaked Rovers to reach Australia. This sedan comes off the donor Rover 45 and will soon be joined by the baby ZR (Rover 25) hot hatch.

As befits a mid-sized sedan of breeding, the ZS has no look-at-me body bits. There is no prominent spoiler, no giant air dam, no outrageously flared arches and a distinct lack of eye-grabbing decals.

Yet, it attracted a surprising amount of interest and comment during the road test. The styling was widely praised and the $39,990 price tag considered most realistic.

The 2.5-litre quad cam V6 in the ZS, the same engine used in the considerably beefier ZT and Rover 75, is understandably less dozy in the smaller car.

It is still no class leader and the issue of poor power/torque matching at lower revs remains, however the engine's need to be driven hard is well suited to the ZS ethos.

Above 3000rpm the little six starts to settle into its work, from 4000 to 5500rpm it is in its element with little extra benefit from spinning out to the 6500-plus redline. Keeping the engine happy often necessitates chasing between third and fourth gear but the effort is rewarded. Fifth gear is purely for cruising with even moderate hills posing difficulties at suburban speeds.

Clutch take-up in the test car was at the very bottom of the pedal's travel – nice for quick shifting but you need to be firm on the pedal to ensure a fold of carpet underfoot doesn't interfere.

MG claims a combined cycle fuel economy of 9.5L/100km for the ZS. We averaged 10.2 but the ZS does demand enthusiastic driving – not a fuel economy touchstone.

Dynamically, the ZS is a pin-up boy for front drivers. With the exception of the low-speed turning circle – atrocious – the chassis performs a treat. Ride is a good compromise between comfort and stability with the low-set suspension doing a generally sterling job over Sydney's testing road surfaces.

The double wishbone McPherson front and independent multi-link rear – roll bars at both ends – are fairly standard fare but do work well.

Turn-in is good without being exceptional but there is a comforting stability to the front geometry under load.

There is a degree of understeer at the extreme but overall the ZS performs admirably. The interior fitment of the ZS is not particularly eye-catching but it is clean and neat.

There is comfortable room for four adults – a fifth makes the rear a squeeze for short travel only. Luggage space is excellent and with the capacity to fold the rear seats flat it increases to a huge 930 litres.

The sports-style seats are comfortable with good bolstering and most of the instrumentation is easily to hand.

The locally fitted Eurovox radio has good quality sound with a CD slot hidden behind the drop-down face of the unit. In the test car the unit had the annoying habit of not retaining a sound level but rather returning to a pre-set soft level whenever the engine was turned off.

There was also some difficulty in turning off the airconditioning to run fan-only airflow.

A Motor Group Australia spokesman, importer of Rover and MG, says while the unit lacks an on/off button selecting the economy setting actually turns the compressor off.

Quirky, indeed.

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Range and Specs

180 2.5L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,410 – 5,280 2005 MG ZS 2005 180 Pricing and Specs
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