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Shed of the Week: MG ZS180

Round two for the V6-powered MG suggests it could be well on its way to the Hall of Fame. If Shed had such a thing

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, August 3, 2018

It seems like only yesterday that we were musing on the puckish delights of an MG ZS180. In fact, it turns out to have been more than two years ago, when one PH poster talked about sailing his ZS180 past a depressed chap in a Porsche 911 Turbo at Knockhill and setting a lap that would have put him in second place for the touring cars.

In response, one PH wit ventured the opinion that he would have been depressed too if his 911 Turbo engine had just expired. Thing is though, yer man in the ZS was simply getting over-excited about his forbidden love. Few cars in modern motoring history have had such a gap between image and ability as these 2.5 V6-powered ‘granddad’ Rovers, or MGs if you must. For those in the know and who aren’t afraid of public mockery, the 180 is a real gem that will deliver bags of accessible pizzazz and performance for your pound.

Despite its front-wheel driviness, proper frolics are available, along with the bonus of being able to drive it in winter. Have a look on YouTube and you might be surprised at the number of trackdayers revelling in its balance and sweet-shifting tranny. You’ll also note the odd bod characterising it as a ridiculously cheap Integra Type R DC2.

That might be overstating it a bit, but there’s no doubting the integra-ty (sic) of the ZS chassis. Those Rover lads knew a thing or two about suspension tuning. Compared to the cooking ZS, the 180 had bigger brakes and lowered suspension with uprated springs, dampers and bushes. Regs-meeting 2.0-litre versions ran around in the Touring Car Championship for much of the 2000s.

Looking at our street car, today’s demanding whippersnappers will wonder why Rover (or Honda) only got 175hp from such a biggish six-cylinder engine, which also did service in the Freelander. They did crank it up to 190 or thereabouts in the bigger ZT, but rival sixes of the time weren’t far off Rover’s claimed output. BMW’s E46 325 had 190hp, thier 323 had 170hp, and the 2.4 V6 Audi offered just 167hp.

Filtering and chipping the MG adds another 10 per cent to its output, and at just 1285kg the alloy-engined ZS had a very useful trump card: lightness. This bantamweight status is a positive in both in handling and noise when you give it the beans, as long as you like a bit of noise with your beans. Decatted and with a decent zorst put on it, the whizzy KV6 motor will sound like this. Drive it like you mean it and your bank account will sound like this as your mpg will be in the 20s. You won’t be able to hear the goats though because you’ll be laughing too hard.

ZS production ran up to 2005. Our 2003 car does have the big back wing (a smaller one was a no-cost option) but it doesn’t have the last runout model’s ‘improvements’ like the bogus front wing vents. Many might prefer the cleaner look of this previous iteration. Shed certainly does. He’d prefer a cleaner look in Mrs Shed too, but for water conservation reasons the council has had to put a cease and desist order on her having more than one bath a month.

Talking of dirty water, you’ll often see a small quantity of that in a ZS boot, but you can quickly cheer yourself up by looking at the quality and lustre of the paintwork. This was very nice, especially in our Shed’s manly graphite shade.

What’s to worry about? Well, not that much. ZSs do seem to suffer from kerbing, and there’s a biggish chunk missing from one of the alloys (sadly, the one he’s photographed, gumph). The KV6s weren’t blighted by the K-fours’ head gasket failure issues, happily, but a rattle from the manifold area probably means that the butterfly valve bearings are on the way out.

The other main moan with these cars concerns the clutch slave cylinders which were made from an exotic mix of plastic, cardboard and pigs’ nostrils. They are rubbish, but the commonly carried out cylinder upgrade doesn’t just consign the original items to the dumpster of history but also brings a noticeable improvement to clutch feel. Our Shed has just had this work done, so hurrah for that.

The Shed’s three timing belts are six years old, though, which means they’re due for replacement now. Financially, that’s a shame, because this job could cost you up to £600 depending on who you use. However, if you’re an owners’ club member and avail yourself of the Discount MG Rover Spares offer, assuming it’s still available, you can cut that down considerably to something nearer to £350. That will include the belts, tensioners, guide, metal-vaned water pump, and the labour. Taking that into account, this clean-looking car’s asking price of £895 seems fair even before you start getting down to serious negotiation.  

Finally, we can’t quite see the details of our Shed’s centre console, but if it has the arcing seven-button-plus-quadrant ventilation array (below) you’ve got some top bragging rights there because the very same array can be found in, of all things, a Zonda. Just goes to show that badge snobbery is a two-edged sword.

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