MG Rover SA has laid down a spirited challenge to the performance-orientated light car brigade in South Africa by introducing five derivatives of the ZR hot hatch range.MG Rover SA has laid down a spirited challenge to the performance-orientated light car brigade in South Africa by introducing five derivatives of the ZR hot hatch range to the market.


CARtoday.com reported earlier this month that the sleek yet muscular V8-powered MG ZT260 would go on sale at MG Rover dealerships early in the New Year. But to whet the appetites of MG Rover enthusiasts before then, the manufacturer has launched the sporty hatchback ZR range based on the Rover 25.


Three engines will be available in a total of five derivatives, namely the ZR 120 with three or five doors, a ZR 160 also with three or five doors and a Turbo-diesel with five doors. The petrol engines use the 1,8 litre K series engine while the TD is a two-litre L series. The manufacturer claims the 120ZR will accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 8,6 seconds and reach a top speed of 192 km/h (ZR 160: 7,4 seconds, 210 km/h and ZR 2.0TD: 9,1 seconds and 187 km/h).


Looks wise, the car is a stunner, as could be evidenced by the trip through rush hour traffic on the way back to the Johannesburg International. So many heads turned to have a look that the PR representative, Yvette Harmse, wished that she could hand out business cards. Enhancing the sporty looks are 16-inch alloys on the 120 and TD with 17 inchers on the 160.


Interior space is quite satisfactory, better than some of the opposition, with form hugging seats (the front of which are height adjustable but one still sits fairly high) and a decent boot. The facia is of good quality material, while instrumentation is also neat with white background, black lettering and orange needles. Initial criticisms are a clutch foot rest set at an awkward angle, brakes which need more shove than most and lack of any satellite controls on the steering wheel.


The suspension seems very well set up and handled bumps and corning well. An after-market radio CD player is locally fitted and is of better quality than some, with reasonably large buttons and a rotary volume control. Although we did not get an opportunity to drive the 120, the pick of the bunch may just turn out to be the TD due to the feeling that its smooth engine and mid range grunt make up for the turbo-lag.


The five-door ZR 120 will compete against the Audi A3 1.8, Alfa Romeo 147 1,6i, Renault Clio 1,6, Peugeot 307 1,6, Toyota Runx 160 and the Volkswagen Golf 2,0l. The R175 000 three-door hatch will square up against the three-door derivatives of the Alfa 147 and the Renault Clio 1,6.


The ZR 2,0TD will be positioned against the Citroen Xsara 2,0 Hdi, Peugeot 307 2,0 Hdi and the Volkswagen Golf 1,9 TDi. Meanwhile, the ZR 160 three-door and five-door are expected to do battle against the the Audi A3 1,8T, Alfa Romeo 147 2,0, Renault Clio 2,0 16V Sport and the Volkswagen GTI, a spokesman for MG Rover SA said.