Misunderstood, underestimated and overpriced

It may have had some unpromising origins but the MG ZS 180, writes Sean O'Grady, is an entertaining machine
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The MG ZS 180 is, as George Bush might say, a misunderestimated car. Misunderstood, that is, because it is routinely referred to, even by those who know better, as a reheated 1989 Honda Domani. It is not. True, the ZS counts as its distant forebear a Honda, the 1994 Civic, the basis of the old Rover 400, but that was a rather different car to the Domani, which was not sold in Europe.

The MG ZS 180 is, as George Bush might say, a misunderestimated car. Misunderstood, that is, because it is routinely referred to, even by those who know better, as a reheated 1989 Honda Domani. It is not. True, the ZS counts as its distant forebear a Honda, the 1994 Civic, the basis of the old Rover 400, but that was a rather different car to the Domani, which was not sold in Europe.

Since then, MG Rover, under BMW's tutelage and then with its own (tiny) resources, has incrementally tweaked, facelifted and improved the Honda Civic/Rover 400/Rover 45/MG ZS to the extent that little of the Civic's DNA remains under the skin, while the Longbridge stylists have done much to disguise its origins.

Park a saloon ZS with bodykit and giant 17-inch turbo-style alloy wheels next to an old time Civic hatchback, as I did, and you don't straightaway think: "Oh, twins." Drive it from 0-60mph in 7.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 139mph and you would think: "Are they really related?"

For it is under the surface that the MG Rover team has done the most work and been severely underestimated. From its double-wishbone front suspension to its excellent K-series V6 engine (developing the 180bhp from which the ZS takes its badging) the car has a decent, if not class-leading, platform. The car feels immensely tractable. It doesn't seem quite as well-planted on the motorway as a (rear-wheel-drive) BMW 3-Series, nor as gadgety as an Audi, nor is the cabin as classy as an Alfa. (Although the MG does share its air-con controls with the Pagani Zonda.)

Even so, this is as entertaining a sports saloon as most could wish for, and makes a refreshing change from the now common German stuff. Fully loaded, the list price edges £20,000, which is too much. However, shop around and you should find your new ZS for rather less.

At any price, though, this MG is not to be misunderestimated.

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