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What Car? says

2 out of 5 stars

For The ZR is cheap and has keen yet frugal petrol engines, which make it entertaining

Against The looks are too brash for some, the diesels are rowdy and build quality is poor

Verdict Fun, low-cost hot hatch, but unrefined and looking very dated now

Go for… 120 1.8 16v 5dr

Avoid… 2.0 turbodiesels

MG Rover ZR Hatchback
  • 1. The petrol engines can suffer head gasket failure if the coolant runs too low - look for oil leaks between the head and block of the engine
  • 2. Take the car for an extended test run to make sure it isn’t prone to overheating
  • 3. The ZR's looks make it popular among less experienced, hot hatch wannabes, which can end in tears. Look for signs of crash damage
  • 4. The car should track straight and the steering should be accurate. If not, walk away as the suspension might be damaged or worn
  • 5. Electrical problems are the biggest cause of complaint among owners, so give all the kit a thorough once over
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MG Rover ZR Hatchback full review with expert trade views

The ZR is a Rover 25 retuned and restyled to turn Rover’s old boy into a bad boy. But, even though the 25 was an ageing design long before the surgery, the chassis engineers did a great job of turning it into an something much more entertaining to drive.

They made the handling sharper without massacring the ride, and the ZR160 version is a swift, entertaining hot hatch. However, the ZR isn’t as refined as the 25 - it has a firmer ride, the suspension is noisier and the engines get loud when stretched.

You’ll either love or hate the car's looks. Either way, you probably won’t like the awkward driving position and old-style cabin.

Still, there’s decent space in the front and rear, as well as a useful boot. Getting to and from the rear seats in the three-door isn't easy, though.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

A cheap used buy, but needs to be! 105 1.4 best all-rounder.

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

Don’t bother with the 2.0 turbodiesel engines. They’re reasonably strong, but unrefined, unenjoyable and unsuited to the car.

Of the petrols, the ZR105 is a good, low-cost warm hatch and its 1.4 petrol engine is willing enough. For drivers who want a little more go, there's the ZR160. Its 158bhp 1.8 petrol is hot-hatch swift - 0-60mph in 7.4sec - but the insurance costs are prohibitive.

This leaves our favourite, the 118bhp 1.8 ZR120. It’s nippy enough (0-60mph in 8.6sec), but it is stacks cheaper to insure and gentle on fuel.

We’d take the five-door over the three-door, and, for a more modern (or less dated) look, a car made after the face-lift in late 2003. Basic spec is modest. Plusher ‘+’ trim is worth the extra, but even then, safety kit is minimal.

You’ll find ZRs at all outlets, but beware trashed ones in the classifieds.

Trade view

James Ruppert

ZR+ spec with 2.0 TD (115), face-lift 04 is also good value

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The ZR is an affordable set of wheels to buy and run. Provided, that is, you steer clear of the ZR160.

The ZR160 adds true hot hatch ability to go with those looks, but it’s the priciest ZR and you’ll have to stump up the cash for group 16 insurance. By comparison, our favourite model, the ZR120, falls into group 10, while the smaller-engined ZR105 and 2.0 turbodiesels are in group 8.

All models are easy-going at the pumps, though. The diesels are best, of course (reckon on just over 50mpg in normal driving), but the petrols are very fuel-efficient, too. Even the hot ZR160 should give you high-30s when you aren’t caning it, while the ZR120 and ZR105 can get up to around the 40mpg mark.

Servicing costs are likely to be slightly higher than average, depending on where you get the work done, but nothing to scare your bank manager.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

A cheap used buy, but needs to be! 105 1.4 best all-rounder.

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

The petrol engines can suffer head gasket problems if the coolant runs too low, so look for signs of oil leaks between the head and block of the engine, check the inside of the oil filler and take the car for an extended test run to make sure it isn’t prone to overheating.

Watch out for crash damage. The ZR’s flash-for-not-much-cash looks make it popular among less experienced, hot hatch wannabes, which can end in tears.

Likewise, the suspension needs close attention - the car should track straight, the steering should be accurate and it should turn in and feel well planted in corners. If it doesn’t, walk away. If the cause isn’t crash damage, it could be worn front suspension, which isn’t uncommon.

Build quality can be patchy, but electrical problems are the biggest cause of complaint among owners, so give all the electrical kit a thorough once over.

Trade view

James Ruppert

ZR+ spec with 2.0 TD (115), face-lift 04 is also good value

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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