Rover 45

The 45’s predecessor, 400-series, was the last joint-venture between Rover and Honda. Basically, 400 was a repackaged and re-engined Honda Domani, that is, sister car of Civic. The same relationship also applies to the new 45, which is more or less a facelift to the 400. 

The 400 didn’t sold well, even in home market UK. The biggest mistake was generally regarded as wrong market positioning. The British management over-estimated the perceived value of Rover brand and tried to position the Golf-size Rover against Mondeo-size rivals. Despite of luxurious wood-and-leather trim, the uphill battle was proved to be a failure. Now the new 45 is positioned back to the class it should have been, targeting right the family hatches including Golf, Focus and Astra.  

What did Rover’s engineers did to improve the car ? 

  • Engine: the all-aluminium K-series four-pots remain unchanged except minor tuning. Rover 75’s 150hp 2-litre KV6 is adopted in place of the T-series 2-litre.
  • Styling: to provide family resemblance with 75, the front end is completely restyled - big grilles and 4 circular headlamps are used. The bonnet is raised to make room for the V6.
  • Interior: 75-style seats are used. Trimming is revised. Instrument panel remains unchanged. 
  • Chassis: Steering assistance has been revised to give more feel. Suspensions setting becomes tauter and enhance handling. 
The outcome is a car more satisfying to drive, but not to the extent that matches Focus or Astra. The stiffened suspensions result in a good body control at corners. High speed damping is also improved, although with some trade-off in low speed ride. The steering has more feel, with less kickback while turn-in is sharper. This means the 45 is sportier to drive than Golf. 

As before, the K-series engines are eager and quite smooth, if boomy. Best selling 1.6-litre unit pump out 109 horsepower yet it is quite frugal. Best of all, 45 retains the superb 5-speed manual from 400, which is crisp and smooth to shift. Gear ratios are also well chosen to provide lively performance.  

The problem is the packaging. There’s sufficient cabin space just marginally smaller than Focus (as 2620 mm wheelbase is generous for the class), but the dashboard remains plain and boring. Fit and finish, or plastic quality are well beaten by its main rivals bar Astra.  

The above report was last updated on 15 Mar 2000. All Rights Reserved.

MG ZS 180

Among all the MG Z-cars, the Rover-45-based ZS 180 received the most performance upgrade. While the ZR and ZT breath from engine capacities no greater than their Rover roots, the ZS gets the 2.5 KV6 originally reserved for the bigger Rover 75. Mildly tuned to 177hp, it is already 27hp more than the existing 2.0 KV6. We don't know the exact kerb weight, but obviously it will tip the scale at the low-1300kg, that is, around 150kg lighter than the 190hp ZT. No wonder it feels much quicker. We are talking of 0-60 in 7.3 seconds. 

The ZS 180 might not challenge the likes of Honda Civic Type R or the forthcoming Ford Focus RS, or the flyweight Renault Sport Clio 2.0, but the V6 engine has smoothness and beautiful vocal that the aforementioned 4-potters cannot compare with. As always, the KV6 is lightweight and free-revving, so it adds to driving fun without deteriorating handling. Moreover, throttle response is sharpened by revising ECU. Similarly, the close-ratio 5-speed gearbox couples perfectly with the engine and provides short-throw gearshift to satisfy keen drivers. 

On the contrary to many expectation, the chassis upgrade has transformed the car dramatically. Although the basis is still the previous generation (1995) Civic, MG has revised the geometry of double wishbones suspensions to increase front castor, hence more self-centering and feedback to steering. Then there is lower ride height, uprated springs and dampers, thicker anti-roll bar, reduced power steering assistance, larger brakes, 17-inch wheels and wider tyres .... all the usual modifications, plus a quicker steering rack to sharpen steering response. As a result, the ZS is surprisingly involving to drive while it rides far more supple than the smaller ZR. It's not the most grippy or the most stable, but all good ingredients work in harmony to deliver the greatest possible fun from the old chassis. A great modification ! 

What a pity, not even Peter Steven's new nose-job and wing-job can hide its age, so is the mildly-decorated interior. It's good to drive, but not too satisfying to own. 

The above report was last updated on 1 Aug 2001. All Rights Reserved.


Rover 45 1.6iL 5dr
MG ZS 180
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Size L / W / H / WB mm
4363 / 1695 / 1395 / 2620
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
V6, dohc, 4v/cyl.
1589 c.c.
2497 c.c.
109 hp
177 hp
102 lbft
177 lbft
All: double wishbones
All: double wishbones
185/55 R15
205/45 ZR17
1250 kg
Top speed
114 mph*
135 mph (est)
0-60 mph
10.3 sec*
7.3 sec (claimed)
0-100 mph
35.2 sec*
* Tested by Autocar

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