The cars we loved.
Many of us remember MG (if we remember them at all) for their popular MG Midget and MGB sports cars of the 70’s and 80’s. It’s been decades since the last new Morris’ Garages (MG) car was sold in America, so it’s understandable if we Yanks forget that the company still existed as we knew it many years beyond its exodus from our fair shores. In Europe and in the United Kingdom in particular, MG continued to produce a line of cars that progressively struggled to find their place in the market place. On rare occasions, the company would have a segment leader (in sales) and the MGZR line of cars was one such hit.
Vaguely related to the MGB in appearance, the MGZR was a line of small supermini (subcompact) three and five door hatchbacks based on the Rover 25. Essentially they were sport tuned, ground effect wearing variants with plenty of sporting appeal and some genuinely high bang for the buck performance. Part of the car’s appeal was its low price. Fueled by heavy incentives like free insurance and discounts that amounted to a VAT (Value Added Tax) free purchase, the MGZR became popular with the younger crowd with bigger performance aspirations than their budgets could typically accommodate.
It also helped that the MGZR came in four major trim levels starting with the ZR105 with a 1.4 L 102hp four , ZR120 and 160 both with a 1.8 making 115hp and 157hp respectively. The ZR160 featured variable valve timing and could reach 60mph in 7.4 seconds on up to a top speed of 131mph. The final trim level featured a diesel powered 2.0 called the ZRTD 115. It was the most fuel efficient, but had performance somewhere above the ZR105 and below the 120. With over 10 colors and wheel sizes ranging from 15 to 17’ there was a variation for almost every budget. All the variations meant that there was a version of the ZR for every budget. All ZR cars featured a fully independent suspension, ABS and anti-roll bars. Later cars would get an advanced breaking system called EBD (electronic brake force distribution) that applied breaking tasks evenly amongst all wheels by limiting front break bias typical in some cars.
Generally the ZR cars got fair to good reviews. Performance wise they were somewhere in the high middle. With the highly competive supermini field in Europe including the Renault Clio, Ford Fiesta and VW Polo among others, the ZR cars felt somewhat dated and less refined. The European automotive press, especially in England were not always so full of praise. Quality control issues (typical of cars coming out of the Longbridge Birmingham plant) plagued many cars. Compaired to the alternative, the ZR was not the first choice when quality and resale value were important factors. The
original design from 2001 with it’s four enclosed round headlights was similar to Acura’s treatment of the North American Integra circa 1991. Inside a tight, but well design dash kept all controls within easy reach of the driver.
In 2004 a major reskin updated the ZR to more modern (if not conventional) styling trends like enclosed lense covered headlights and more rounded edges. Inside the changes may have been more dramatic, especially with the dash. The new design was reminiscent of the 3rd generation Mitsubishi Eclipse with its console design with circular air vents with chrome accents. Ironically, just as new variants like a van was introduced, quality improved and refinemts were made to handling, MG struggled and eventually was bought out by an Asian conglomerate in 2005. By 2007 Narjing Automotive wiped clean the old MG line of cars and started over with new models with no equilivant to the MGZR in its new lineup. The MGZR was effectively the last of the popular MG cars. Despite its acceptable performance and initial value, its problems, like many other late era English sourced MGs may have been part of the reason for its eventual demise. Its not unreasonable to assume that the entire English automotive industry has been the victim of its own early success. As changes in technology progressed making more efficent production and quality control possible English firms like MG appeared indifferent to some of the changes. When they did react, it was often too late and the result was financial duress and eventual sale to outside interests (Asian). The MGZR was not a great car, but it was a good one and a excellent performance value in 160 trim. Who knows, the fact that it was one of the last ‘true’ MGs should be enough to insure some level of collectability in the future, thats if its owners can resist driving these fun cars into the ground.