More good news for MG
On the road for the first time, the MG Rover ZT385 is going to be put through its paces at a secret test track in Oxfordshire. Officially revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, this is the first time the car has hit the open road. And as we look on, the ignition key turns, sending the 380bhp V8 engine shuddering into life.
Due to go on sale early next year, the ZT385 is a road-going development of the ZT XPower 500 Extreme. Set to rival the likes of BMW's M3 and the Audi RS4, MG's super saloon is expected to cost under £40,000 – making it one of the most affordable cars in its class, not to mention one of the quickest. Capable of sprinting from 0-60mph in less than five seconds, it will hit a top speed of 175mph. But all go and no show is no way to reach the top in the competitive supercar market, something that MG's engineers clearly understand.
Although detailing of this ZT has been toned down from that of the wild XPower 500 concept, it is beautifully finished, and the metallic blue paintwork has an unusual green tinge that catches and intensifies the winter sunlight. Massive 18-inch wheels fill the gently flared arches, and at the rear there's a discreet spoiler mounted on the boot. Xenon headlamps and metal heat shields around the twin exhaust pipes complete the package. When you grab the chrome door handles, the ZT instantly exudes a quality that easily matches its German rivals.
Slide into the supportive leather sports seats and you are surrounded by an interior that has a bespoke feel, and manages to blend style with purpose. Thick seat bolsters ensure you won't be sliding anywhere when the car is cornered hard. Although much of the cabin shares its look with that of the recently launched V6-engined MG ZT, there are a few key differences. First, and most spectacular, is the recalibration of the speedometer, which now registers up to 190mph.
Stare down the line of the bonnet and you'll just be able to make out the tops of two vents, which are designed to help extract heat from the tightly packed engine bay. On this cold morning, it doesn't take long for the air to start shimmering above them, increasing your respect of the MG's potential. With the 4.6-litre V8 engine powering the rear wheels, the ZT is clearly not a car for the unwary. However, the speed at which the MG changes direction – and the balance it seems to display through corners – suggests it will satisfy even the most demanding drivers.
A glance at the suspension specification reveals why. Honed with the help of motorsport expert Prodrive, the front strut suspension uses a similar layout to the acclaimed ZT190 Saloon and Estate. Based on a robust sub-frame, the Bilstein dampers, uprated springs and anti-roll bars ensure excellent stability, while large alloy four-pot brakes that harness the 330mm ventilated discs are designed to give awesome stopping power. The rear multi-link suspension set-up is equally impressive, and includes a Hydratrak limited-slip differential. Front and rear suspension are tuned to provide precise feel for the driver.
Even after our short time with the car, it is obvious that the ZT has the potential to thrill. Its road presence is matched by performance, but this has not been achieved by sacrificing quality. The ZT385 is a car worthy of the famous octagonal MG badge. Clearly the magic that made the company one of the world's most influential sports car builders is back.