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Mini MG makeover unmasked

MG surgery: A new nose and interior freshen up a seven-year-old design.

The MG ZR160 as well as a hot XPOWER derivative may arrive as soon as next year

24 May 2004

MG ROVER’S recently revealed facelift of its MG ZR light car is under serious consideration for an Australian release soon.

An example of a current model MG ZR is presently under assessment.

But the Rover-badged ‘25’ version of the British-built front-wheel drive ZR hatchback definitely is not in the running for a local launch.

A decision will be made soon, as importer Motor Group Australia is presently ascertaining dealership and customer reaction. Plus, the ZR has yet to complete Australian Design Rule certification.

If it does get the green light, we may see the smallest MG here very late this year or in early 2005.

In top-line ZR160 variant only (producing about 118kW), the Holden Barina-sized three-door would be priced around $35,000 and compete head on with the Renaultsport Clio 182, Peugeot 206 GTI 180 and the as-yet-unconfirmed-for-Australia Ford Fiesta ST.

49 center image Dual airbags, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, air-conditioning, keyless entry, power windows, alloy wheels and a CD player would all be part of the ZR’s standard specification.

If the public warms to the ZR160 then a five-door ZR120 with a CVT automatic transmission may follow later on.

According to Motor Group Australia national marketing manager Ross Meyer, the sole ZR160 has already received quite a favourable local reaction from both the market and dealers alike.

"It has the rawness that comes from the lightness of a car not laden with the weighty luxury features of its French rivals," Mr Meyer said.

"The power-to-weight ratio is very good, helped by short gearing as well as tight suspension and braking to maximise its appeal as a true MG." A future MG ZR derivative by in-house tuning arm XPOWER may also surface. Mr Meyer hinted that if such a model did materialise, Australia would definitely be in the running for it.

A 150kW (or thereabouts) XPOWER ZR SV would be crucial to the credibility of the MG, since the Imperial 200bhp (149kW) power and psychological barrier is likely to be breached by future variants of the new generation Clio due by year’s end in Europe, upcoming 206 GTI progenies and the imminent Fiesta RS.

The 2004 ZR marks the third makeover the Rover 25 has received since the series started as the Rover 200 in the UK in early 1996.

It features a revised nose with new twin headlights behind a clear lens, while a revised bumper design, tailgate, alloy wheels and badging complete the exterior changes.

Modifications have occurred to the suspension, steering and braking, while the cabin has been revamped with a new dashboard, console, trim and pedal layout, finally banishing the ZR/25’s 1990s Honda Civic interior origins.

MG Rover’s Honda connection was forged in the late 1970s when the now defunct Triumph car marque began manufacturing Civic derivatives known as the Acclaim in Britain. Most famously, the union led to the Honda Legend-based Rover 800 from 1986 to 1998.

In the late 1980s the EF Civic/Honda Concerto-derived Rover 200 series was released to a warm reception across Europe. It morphed into the larger Rover 400 (now Rover 45) from 1995.

A significantly modified and updated version of that platform also underpinned the second generation 200 from 1996.

It was initially developed as a replacement for the ancient 1980-1999 Austin/Rover Metro/100, which can trace its roots directly to the original 1959 BMC AD015 Mini 850.

The R3-series 200, as it is known internally, was facelifted and rechristened 25 in late 1999 by BMW (owner of the Rover Group from 1994 to 2000).

The firm is now under the control of a British consortium known as the Phoenix Group.

Since Phoenix resurrected the MG badge for its Rover-based cars during 2001 (resulting in the 45-based ZS and 75-derived ZT as well as the ZR), the smallest MG has become the biggest selling model in its crowded segment in the UK.

A decision about the ZR is likely by the end of next month.

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