Had the pleasure of driving a couple of MG ZSes over the weekend. It was nice to be re-acquainted actually. The 45-based car has had something of a rough ride recently, both in terms of press coverage, and sales, which have been almost negligible of late. But is this justified? After all, most of the magazines were raving about the car a couple of years ago, praising its balance, poise and performance.
Well, I certainly didn’t think so. Both cars were taut, fun and drove beautifully, and although the interior design was a little old, and some of the ergonomics were suspect, it didn’t really detract from the enjoyment of the drive. Isn’t that what a performance hatchback is all about, after all? Look at all of the past masters:
VW Golf GTi Mk1: atrocious brakes, LHD wipers, coal bunker interior.
Peugeot 205GTI: Airfix build quality, noisier than a tin trum dropped down a flight of stairs.
VW Golf GTi 16V Mk2: the best of all, but vastly overpriced when new and still plainer than a plain thing inside.
MINI Cooper S: Current favourite, but cramped to the extreme with a engine that sounds like a cement mixer.
Each one of these was the clear leader of their day, and yet, each one suffered fundamental flaws. And that’s the thing: one and all were driver’s cars through-and-through. That they were based on practical hatchbacks, any offered side benefits were incidental. And isn’t that how it should be? Certainly, MG’s previous attempt at a GTi class car, the Maestro EFi was a very good car, indeed. If anything, its tally of negatives was far shorter than those racked up by the Peugeot- and VW-badged opposition. What let it down in many buyers’ eyes was style (and, perhaps, image).
Why do I mention these factors in connection with the ZS? Well, just like VW and Peugeot, MG has produced a flawed car. A yukky interior and questionable external style wrap a driver’s delight. Drive a ZS180 along any twisty, imperfect UK B-road, and you will soon come to the conclusion that it is a nigh-on-perfect driver’s tool. The steering is communicative in a way that most rivals (barring Ford with the Focus) seem to have forgotten. The ride is firm, but never jars, thanks to considered damping. The gear change is beautifully weighted. And straightline performance is excellent. Add to these positives, a melodious soundtrack, and you know where I am coming from.
However, like the MG Maestro before it, the ZS seems to being held back by its exterior style, which according to many people I have canvassed, is too old and stodgy. I have to say that although it has been around a while, the recently facelifted model looks extremely striking, and it would be a brave person who called it “stodgy” with that body kit on it…
Will the new one sell any better? It deserves to on ability alone. Ally that to a style, which looks terrific head-on, it might just do the business, but I think the odds might well be against it. Which is a shame, because the ZS is one of an increasingly rare breed of car that has that well-engineered feel of a car un-polluted by driving aids. It delivers the goods without Silicon Valley’s help. A dying breed indeed.
Buy one now before it’s too late, or be de-sensitised for good…
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.