Unfortunately, this road test is nothing to do with the ZT 260. Instead, I have been driving another new addition to the MG line-up: the ZT 120.
Situated at the opposite end of the spectrum to the V8-engined monster, the ZT 120 is MG's new entry-level model, with a 118bhp 1.8-litre K-series engine and styling touches found on the more powerful versions.
So instead of telling you about lurid powerslides and that majestic V8 rumble, I will be talking about cost-efficiency, low company car tax and an affordable price tag.
And while this may not sound very exciting in the grand motoring scheme of things, for company car drivers it should be interesting because of one factor alone – price.
The ZT 120 might not set the Tarmac alight with its power but for £15,995 on-the-road it brings this class of car into the reach of company car drivers who want a sporty badge and styling but haven't got the necessary company car allowance to fund it.
I must confess I wasn't particularly looking forward to my week in the MG as its specification didn't sound too appealing. With only 118bhp it doesn't really fit in with MG's sporting bias but after my time with the car I have changed my opinion.
Granted it's not quick, but it is exceptional value for money, with a lengthy list of standard equipment and sports styling touches found on more powerful ZTs, such as alloy wheels, mesh grille and bodykit. Inside, the 120 is much the same as the rest of the ZT range, although the garish seat fabrics on this entry-level model seem a little out of place and are not up to MG's usual standards.
Visually there is not much to differentiate this lower-powered model, but on the move the differences are more noticeable.
Firstly, the 1.8-litre engine doesn't really appreciate being worked past 5,000rpm, which is unfortunate as peak power is delivered at 5,500rpm.
When the rev counter passes this mark the dashboard of our test car started to rattle quite badly and the gearstick throbbed away in my hand. But changing up a gear at just under 5,000rpm solves this problem, although it means foregoing the last few horsepower available.
Ride and handling are also in a different league to the other ZTs. With its taller tyres the ZT 120 has a bias towards comfort compared to the hard-riding ZT 190, which is fine for motorway driving but not so good when the road gets twisty.
Where a ZT 190 holds the road firmly the 120 quickly ventures into chronic understeer, which makes enthusiastic back road driving more difficult. However, not all drivers want this kind of experience and I'm sure the majority of ZT 120s will spend their lives happily cruising up and down motorways in a fair degree of comfort.
While the ZT 260 might be grabbing the headlines for MG at the moment, the arrival of a bargain priced ZT also deserves a mention. With company car drivers wanting something different from the standard repmobile, the ZT 120 deserves to make front page news too.
MG ZT 120
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £15,825
CO2 emissions (g/km): 184
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 20%
Graduated VED rate: £145
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 36.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,150/33%
Depreciation (16.47 pence per mile x 60,000): £9,882
Maintenance (2.70 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,620
Fuel (10.48 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,288
Wholelife cost (29.65 pence per mile x 60,000): £17,790
Typical contract hire rate: £367
Three rivals to consider
WITH prices hovering at the top end of the lower-medium sector, these upper-medium models are all great value for money. All four cars offer a lengthy list of equipment as standard, as well as sporty touches including bodystyling, alloy wheels and more jazzy interior trim. Leading the way on front-end price is the Citroen C5 VTR which is £325 less than the top-spec Alfa Romeo 156 in Lusso guise. Vauxhall's Vectra SXi and MG's ZT 120 are also competitively priced.
Alfa Romeo £15,655
WHETHER its reputation for building unreliable cars is true or not, the Alfa suffers in terms of servicing, maintenance and repair costs. At 3.04 pence per mile, it is well adrift of the Vauxhall. The Vectra wins this section on 2.20ppm, followed by the MG on 2.70ppm. The Citroen is third on 2.83ppm. However, SMR costs are the lowest factor in the wholelife costs equation and victory here will not have too much of an impact on the final result.
Alfa Romeo 3.04ppm
THE Vectra is the most fuel-efficient car of our test quartet, returning 37.2mpg on the combined cycle. This translates into a cost of 10.26ppm. Close behind in second is the Citroen, which returns 36.7mpg for a cost of 10.40ppm. The MG is third on 10.48ppm, returning 36.4mpg while the Alfa Romeo is fourth on 11.09ppm, recording 34.4mpg. All four are closely matched in this sector and all offer a similar amount of power, ranging from 117bhp in the C5 to 120bhp in the 156.
Alfa Romeo 11.09ppm
WITH the highest residual value prediction from CAP, the MG takes a clear victory on depreciation costs. The ZT 120 is estimated to retain 33% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles, resulting in a cost of 16.47ppm. The Alfa is in second spot, nearly a penny per mile away from the MG, on 17.34ppm, with CAP estimating it will retain 30%. The Vectra is in third on 27% (about the industry norm for volume upper-medium cars) while the Citroen finishes last, with CAP estimating it to retain just 25% of cost new.
Alfa Romeo 17.34ppm
AS the only car to dip below the 30ppm threshold, the MG wins this contest, despite having the highest front-end price. The only sector the ZT wins is depreciation, where its strong RV prediction overcomes any other factors, demonstrating the vital importance of depreciation. The Vauxhall puts in a strong performance to finish second, winning the SMR and fuel costs sections, while the Citroen and Alfa lag behind, penalised for their performance in the depreciation section.
Alfa Romeo 31.47ppm
Emissions and BIK tax rates
Despite having marginally higher CO2 emissions than the Citroen and Vauxhall, the MG falls into the lowest benefit-in-kind tax band of these cars. For a 22% tax-payer the ZT will cost £58 a month in company car tax, the same as for the Vauxhall Vectra, compared with £56 for the Citroen. The Alfa Romeo will cost £66 a month. However, the difference between first and last here is £10 a month – hardly enough to deter someone from the Alfa Romeo if that's the car they want.
Alfa Romeo 195g/km/23%
THE MG ZT 120 wins this test through a combination of competitive pricing, a high level of standard equipment and sports styling. Factor in a wholelife cost victory and low company car tax and the win is complete. However, all four cars in this test offer a cost-effective, sporty choice for drivers and fleets with one eye on their finances. None of these cars offers scorching performance but their sports styling additions at least make them look the part.
At a glance