Poor reputations and rigid preconceptions do so much to kill sales. You may be thinking, for instance, that the titivated MG ZS you see here is little more than a forlorn final attempt to wring sales out of a car so far past its sell-by date that its radio should be broadcasting the Noel Edmonds Breakfast Show.
You may also be thinking that because it comes from MG Rover, whose reputation among much of the discerning car-buying population is barely better than Mr Byrite’s, that this car cannot possibly be any good.
But you’d be wrong. We’ve said before, of course, that the MG ZS version of the Rover 45, which started life as the 400 in 1995, is a surprisingly effective piece of kit, with abilities far beyond those that any MG Rover-hater could bear to credit it with.
In fact, of all the original MG Z cars, this was always the best balanced, with the wieldiest, most forgiving handling of the trio. And all this with the weight of a 175bhp V6 in the nose. It can also be had with assorted petrol four cylinders, and a diesel. That, though, was back in 2001.
Since then, the ZS has sold moderately well, but nowhere near as successfully as the cheaper ZR, which for a while was Britain’s favourite hot hatch. This facelift, however, deserves to attract fresh buyers. Certainly it collects the occasional stare, and that must in large part be down to those startling (and functional) air vents in the front wings, which ought to appear preposterous but somehow work.
Resculpted bumpers and a new body kit – standard on the V6, optional for the rest – integrate tidily to lend the car just the right amount of muscle, while the new bootlid makes the rear end surprisingly modern. This is a facelift that works.
But it’s rather less effective inside. There wasn’t enough development money for a soft-surfaced fascia, so you get a hard-feel, but decently textured, new upper dash whose Audi TT influences are obvious, if somewhat undermined by the crude breakout for the passenger airbag.
Still, the silvered airvent bezels look good, and the faux- textured aluminum of the centre console and the gearlever surround is just about acceptable. But the automatic air conditioning display, standard on the ZS 180, is just plain weird. It’s eccentrically asymmetric, featuring a line of buttons that trace a faintly descending arc from right to left beneath the LCD readout. It all works well, though.
The ancient Honda Civic column stalks remain, and now have slightly roughened texture that looks marginally less cheap, but if you were hoping for steering-wheel mounted stereo controls, or even a trip computer, forget it – in some areas, the ZS is resolutely old-tech.
And so, in a way, are its dynamic manners – but in an entirely positive sense. This is a car untroubled by electric power steering, dynamic stability control, an electronic throttle or even traction control, though it does, of course, have anti-lock brakes.
On top of that it has such finely judged damping, such precise steering, such well-judged brakes – and a power delivery untouched by trick engine management algorithms – that you can just grab it by the scruff, drive it hard and have yourself a whole lot of fun.