MG sends a best-of-British V8 to the land of Holden and Ford bent eights
27 July 2004
By BRUCE NEWTON
AUSTRALIA is possibly the worst place in the world for British sports brand MG to grandly launch its new ZT260 sports sedan and expect a rapturous response.
Almost anywhere else an aggressively styled V8, rear-wheel drive sedan with real sports credentials that produces 191kW and 410Nm would be eagerly anticipated.
Here, the V8 sports sedan benchmark has moved on, a long way on. These days the bog-stocker Holden Commodore SS or Ford Falcon XR8 are miles ahead in terms of power and torque.
And when you consider that the MG is $89,990, placing it at the top end of the Holden Special Vehicles and Ford Performance Vehicles priceband with around 100kW less, the comparison becomes even more one-sided.
You’d really want to buy the MG if you were after something different - and that is the argument local distributor MG Rover Australia presents.
Sure, it says, HSV and FPV are logical rivals, but the first line of opposition will come from Europeans like BMW, Audi and Jaguar.
Whatever the line-up of potential competition, MGRA is realistic enough to know the ZT260 is very much a car with niche opportunities, forecasting 30-40 sales per year.
Nevertheless, it’s good for the struggling British company’s image for the car to be here - or anywhere for that matter. It’s a metaphorical middle digit at those who constantly question its future, a testament to its engineering strength and a preparedness to take a gamble in search of some sales.
The good folk at MG Rover Group started mulling over a V8 MG not long after BMW cut it loose in 2000. Back in those days the MG range consisted solely of the MGF roadster.
First up came the normally-aspirated ZT range, using the excellent Rover 75 as a base, with more aggressive styling, sports suspension and a slightly uprated version of the 2.5-litre KV6.
But that was only the starting point. While ZT was praised for its chassis and its looks, it was a general shrug of the shoulders when it came to the engine bay, where the KV6 was little changed and certainly not fiery enough to really impress.
The first hint of the extent of MG’s thought processes came with the supercharged V8 ZT XPower 500 concept at the Frankfurt motor show in 2001, a project developed with Prodrive.
With good response to that, the decision was made to go V8 using the 4.6-litre SOHC two-valve unit out of the Ford Mustang for the job. MG decided not to go quad-cam for the simple reason that it wouldn’t fit in the engine bay.
And that was far from the only obstacle MG’s engineering team struck. That’s because once the V8 decision was embraced it had to develop a rear-wheel drive version of the ZT/75 with its engine mounted longitudinally, when the architecture had only been designed for transverse front-wheel drive applications.
That meant fundamental modifications to the front and rear of the floorpan as well as enlarging the transmission tunnel to accommodate the propeller shaft.
Then there was a whole new rear multi-link rear suspension required, because the BMW-sourced Z-axle could not be adapted to fit a differential or driveshafts to the rear wheels.
The MacPherson strut front suspension, by contrast, remained fundamentally unchanged. The suspension tuning is unique though, including Bilstein dampers.
The weight distribution is around 50/50, a feature aided by moving the battery from the front of the car to the boot. Additional handling aid comes through a Dana Hydratrak limited-slip differential and switchable traction control.
MG’s engineers did not leave the engine alone either. They developed new intake, exhaust and emissions control systems, while the exhaust system is twinned for most of the length of the car and finished off by new quad-tailpipes. The unique engine management system has been jointly developed with Roush Industries.
The end result is peak power at 5000rpm and torque at 4000rpm, a claimed 0-100km/h dash of 6.3 seconds, a top speed of 250km/h and a fuel economy average of 13.3L/100km.
For the moment only a Tremec five-speed manual gearbox is available, but a four-speed auto option should be on the market well before Christmas.
Completing the mechanical package are AP brakes with 325mm ventilated discs and sliding-pin callipers up front and 332mm ventilated discs and opposed-piston alloy callipers at the rear.
Overlaying the engineering is a styling that links very much back to the front-wheel drive ZTs including the new family grille with larger MG logo. For the V8 there are unique 18-inch alloys mated to 225/45 R18 tyres, Xenon headlights and those quad pipes.
In terms of standard equipment the 260 has a sunroof, reverse parking sensors, auto-dimming interior mirror, power wash for the headlights and Alcantara/leather seats.
That’s on top of a list that goes across the range, including a CD stacker, MP3-compatible sound system, power-adjust front seats, dual-zone automatic air-conditioning, trip computer, ABS (with EBD) and front, side and side curtain airbags.