Rover 75

Rover 75 is the company's first new model developed under the influence of BMW. When Rover is announcing substantial loss, inevitably its employee expect the new 75 to be the Saviour. Unluckily, base on the road test impression, it is not likely to do so. 

The 75 is intended to succeed both the Honda-derived 600 and 800 Series. Remember the 800 ? It was launched in 1987 based on the contemporary Honda Legend. The 600 appears in 1993 as a sister car of Accord. As BMW bought Rover in 1994, tie between the latter and Honda was axed, leaving Rover to develop its own car. Component sharing between Rover and its new owner was never extensive, even in the 75 we can only see the rear suspensions, a diesel engine and numerous equipment. Platform sharing is even impossible, as BMW is always rear-wheel-drive while Rover decided to remain FWD. In the era of cost-sharing, this is not a wise decision. No wonder BMW's CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder pay the price - he was sacked in January 99 because of his inability to stop Rover from heavy loss. 

For a modern car, 75's packaging is an appealing flaw. When it is supposed to take up the job of the 800 Series, it does not provide more room than the outgoing 600. Sure, it has the dimensions and weight ought to be a roomy sedan - its 2745mm wheelbase exceeds the European Accord and Lexus IS200 by 75mm, or surpasses its cousin BMW 3 Series by 20mm. Its length, at 4745mm, even overwhelms the 3 Series by 274mm and Accord by 150mm, a large portion of which is spent on the overhangs. The extra dimensions translate to an astonishing 1515 kg kerb weight for the 2.5 litres V6 version, heavier than the V6-powered Alfa 156 by a massive 140kg or the 328i by 75kg ! Nevertheless, the front-wheel-drive Rover, equipped with a rear suspension similar to the 3-Series's Z-axle, provides no more cabin space than the rear-wheel-drive BMW. What a nonsense ! 

Under the bonnet there could be either a 120hp 1.8 litres K-Series inline four, a familiar 2.5 litres KV6 with 175hp or its new 2-litres, 150hp sister. To cope with the heavy chassis, the largest engine may be the best choice. The KV6 used here gains 2 more horsepower from 825's unit, it also has heavier flywheel to negate the rev-happy manner it used to have. This makes a more grown up, refined motor, still smooth and quiet. Pushing the 1515kg, don't expect 0-60mph could come close to 8 sec even with the help of manual shifter. Top speed, at 134mph, is also disappointed for a car possessing Cd 0.30 and 175hp. 

The lack of driver appeal also appears in handling - soft suspensions leads to excessive body roll, steering feels artificial. Like others ordinary FF cars, mild understeer occurs when the car is reaching its cornering limit.  

In contrast, ride is super smooth, especially bump absorption at low speed is virtually unmatchable. Both the front MacPherson strut and the rear Z-axle are mounted on subframes, in addition to the rigid chassis, no wonder it rides so good. Moreover, the heavy kerb weight also reduces the unsprung weight in percentage. 

Obviously Rover deliberately build the car more refined than the 3-Series so to avoid direct competition. What a pity they forgot the BMW had already sacrificed some driver appeal to achieve higher refinement. This make the Rover 75 too refined, just like the Japanese luxury we used to know. 

However, at least the Rover has a distinctive, graceful interior to avoid confusion with Japanese cars. The twin dial dashboard is a result of retro design. Wood and leather surround the whole cabin. The LCD TV screen integrated with satellite navigation comes from BMW.... in addition to the chromed windows frames, belt lines, door handles etc., it makes you feel like driving a Royal limousine. 

Of course, the Royal experience won't be cheap, even it does not offer more real comfort, real practicality and real driving excitement. 

The above report was last updated on 22 Feb 99. All Rights Reserved.

MG ZT 190

MG must thanks to BMW, not just for its generous selling the company for £10, offering £400 million pocket money and gifting it tens of thousands of unsold cars, MG should thanks BMW for developing the 75 so good, allowing them to make this MG ZT so good. The 75 always has a very stiff chassis and a sophisticated rear suspensions adapted from BMW’s Z-axle, both elements are crucial to driver appeal. Why the car doesn’t turn out to be a driver’s car is because BMW deliberately tuned it to bias towards comfort in order to prevent direct competition with its own 3-series. Therefore the 75 has very soft suspensions setup and soft bushings that isolate the suspension subframes from the monocoque. No wonder it offers first-class ride comfort. 

As the good ingredients are there, MG need just minimalist work to restore its driver appeal. It discarded the rubber bushings and attached the subframes to chassis directly via metal joints. Then stiffened the springs by an average 70%, front anti-roll bar by 17% and the rear one by a massive 167%. These changes should tighten suspension geometry, reducing camber variation and minimizing body movement. The steering department also received some modifications, including a higher-geared rack now takes 2.9 turns from lock to lock, and then revised valving in hydraulic pump to reduce assistance and improve feel. Wheels become aggressive 18-in alloy with 15 spokes, wearing 225/45 tyres. Brakes are upgraded as well. The front discs now become 325mm in diameter. 

New body work include an aggressive mesh grille / air intake / bumper, the usual side skirts and a rear spoiler, all designed by the famous Peter Stevens. Although the nose look too complicated and the rear spoiler is not coherent with the dropping boot, the changes do inject a powerful statement necessary to establish a dynamic image.  

Inside, the beautiful dashboard has tasteful plastic trim replacing wood. Sports seats, new gearshift knob and a MG-logo-steering wheel complete the mild modification list. For a cabin so stylish and so well built, least changes is the most preferable. 

Despite of the aggressive look, power plant has just received mild tuning. The aluminium 2.5-litre KV6 is tuned to 190 horsepower, up from the standard 175, thanks to higher flow intake and exhaust systems and more aggressive cam profile. As before, the KV6 is rev-happy towards its 7000rpm cut-out, but it does not have the punch and flexibility of BMW’s 2.5-litre straight six. Lack of variable valve timing and variable intake may be the reasons. MG claims it reaches 60mph from rest in 7.8 seconds, which is not far away from 325i, but that undoubtedly requires busy gearshift. No problem, the close-ratio 5-speed manual is good to shift. Nevertheless, it is quite disappointing that the hot MG ranks just middle among compact executive saloons in terms of performance, let alone sports saloons. 

Perhaps we ought not to be misled by its appearance. The MG ZT is priced a bit cheaper than the 325i, so it is actually a driver exec. rather than a real sports sedan. In terms of handling, it rivals near the BMW, C-class and our new handling champion Jaguar X-Type - none of them are front-wheel-drive. The stiffened suspensions and tightened steering have really transformed the 75. It turns in sharply to bends, with awesome body control from the stiffer suspensions but it still rides well enough to match the X-Type. 225 tyres provides massive grip through corners while strong brakes do their job effortlessly. There is something missing though - a communicative steering. Although it is already improved from the 75, the steering still feel a bit artificial. However, the ZT is throttle adjustable, with lift-off oversteer in extremis. At the limit, it remains composed. 

Accompany with sporty growl from the V6, ZT190 is a very exciting car to drive on back roads. 

The above report was last updated on 25 July 2001. All Rights Reserved.

MG ZT 260

By any standard, the conversion from ZT190 to ZT260 is brave and radical. The differences between them is far more than the 70 extra horsepower suggested. To get the extra power, MG sourced a 4.6-litre V8 from the American Ford Mustang (like many British sports car specialists are doing). The sohc, 2-valve-per-cylinder engine pumps out 260hp and as much as 302lbft of torque like the stock Mustang GT. It lifts the performance of the ZT a lot - 155mph flat out, 0-60mph takes 6.2 sec. Accompany with that is a typical rumble-bumble engine note and a big-car-feel torque delivery.  

Surprisingly, the V8 fits well into the engine compartment of the compact Rover 75 chassis. MG also bought it together with the Mustang’s 5-speed manual gearbox and Hydratrak limited-slip differential. However, to fit the transmission system into the chassis is more difficult, basically because Rover 75 is front-drive while the Mustang engine and transmission is designed to be longitudinal mounted and driving the rear wheels. MG’s engineers had to widen the transmission tunnel (in the expense of the driver’s foot rest) to house the transmission. Then they installed a new 5-link rear suspension which is mounted on a steel sub-frame together with rear differential and drive shaft. I suspect many bits of the rear suspensions come from Mustang Cobra as their layout are similar, but unfortunately MG Rover declined to confirm (unsurprisingly).  

So, this is the first rear-drive Rover sedan for 20 years ! also the first V8-powered Rover sedan for the same period. But unlike the last Rover 3500, it is a compact car, in the same size of BMW 3-series and offers little room inside. Its identity is not clear - Rover wants to target it at BMW 330i, even set its price right at the same level, but its American V8 and limited production scale of 1,000 units a year make it more like a tuner’s car than a proper performance executive compact. Anyway, we welcome the addition of such a special car in a market dominated by similar machines. 

How does it drive? the MG ZT260 is fast and smooth on highway, if a little noisy. Carrying 1680kg and wearing the same tires as the lesser ZT190, it is obviously not designed to be a hardcore sports sedan. But it is more fun to drive than 330i and rivals. It has meaty steering, fine damping, strong brakes and a real rear-drive characteristic. You can access mild oversteer by applying throttle, yet the oversteer is smooth and easy to correct. The down side? clonky gearshift, cramped cabin, outdated exterior styling and thirsty. 

MG ZT260 may be an image booster to the declining Rover 75 series but it can hardly return much profit. The 75 is 5 years old now. Its future seems not very promising. 

The above report was last updated on 29 Nov 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Rover 75 2.5V6
MG ZT190
MG ZT260
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Rwd
L / W / H / WB (mm)
4745 / 1780 / 1427 / 2745
4740 / 1780 / 1410 / 2745
V6, dohc, 4v/cyl.
V6, dohc, 4v/cyl.
V8, sohc, 2v/cyl.
2497 cc
2497 cc
4601 cc
175 hp
190 hp
260 hp
177 lbft
181 lbft
302 lbft
Suspension (F/R)
strut / multi-link
strut / multi-link
strut / multi-link
Tyres (F/R)
All: 205/65 R15
All: 225/45 ZR18
All: 225/45 ZR18
1515 kg
1550 kg
1680 kg
Top speed
134 mph*
140 mph*
155 mph (limited)
0-60 mph
8.4 sec*
8.5 sec*
6.2 sec (c)
0-100 mph
23.0 sec*
22.0 sec*
Figures tested by: * Autocar

Copyright© 1997-2005 by Mark Wan
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