You have probably all read over the past 18 months about the reborn MG brand full of hard-edged saloons, hatchbacks and estates aimed at thirty- and forty-somethings who can't be bothered with political correctness.
However, at the top end of the range in the Rover 75-based MG ZT there hasn't been very much to help reduce benefit-in-kind tax bills.
This autumn, Rover put the excellent 2.0-litre common rail diesel from the Rover 75 in the MG ZT. But with 114bhp and 192lb-ft of torque there seemed to be little to set the pulse racing, let alone keep up with the established guard of diesel upper-medium sports saloons.
Help has arrived in the form of an engine upgrade which increases power to 129bhp and torque to 221lb-ft – far more competitive against the standard-setters in the sector. With the same aggressive styling found on other MGs there is nothing obvious about its appearance to tell the latest diesel apart from the V6 and 1.8T versions.
The only differences are the word 'diesel' on the fuel gauge, the glow plug lamp that illuminates when turning the ignition on and the muted rattle from the four-cylinder diesel engine.
Actually, there was another difference in our test car – the fitting of an optional programmable fuel-burning interior heater. As it only runs on diesel, it only comes as an option on diesel MG Rover models.
But I believe it is £400 well spent – just £75 more than adding traction control, £225 less than xenon headlamps and £150 more than heated seats.
You don't need traction control, nor do you need xenon headlamps and with this heater, you wouldn't need heated front seats. You can either set a timer for it to come on perhaps 15 minutes before you leave for work, or if you forget, it works by remote control. The result is that a few minutes after you set it, you get to your defrosted car and sit in warm comfort.
The ZT interior is otherwise unchanged from the petrol models. Gone is the fireside glow of the Rover 75 instruments – instead you get metallic-effect dials and fascia. Quality is of the same high standard, however.
Despite its extra power over the standard diesel, a quick comparison with our running costs rivals shows why it perhaps does not feel as fast as you might expect.
The kerb weight of an Audi A4 1.9 TDI is 1,395kg, while an Alfa Romeo 156 2.4 JTD Veloce is a little lighter at 1,385kg. The Saab 9-3 2.2 TiD Vector tips the scales at a substantial 1,490kg, while the MG ZT CDTi 135 is a mind-boggling 1,620kg.
In relative terms it probably feels just about as fast in the mid-range as an A4 with its 210lb-ft of torque compared with the MG's 221 lb-ft, although it doesn't stand a chance against the Audi in the 0-62mph sprint.
Having said that, few cars feel as responsive as the ZT when it comes to putting the driver in touch with what's going on.
Turn-in is as sharp as you would want it without the car diving for the nearest hedge when you sneeze, and there is hardly any body roll unless you are really pushing hard. With quite a heavy front-end the ZT will have a tendency to understeer, but there is so much grip from the tyres that it would be foolhardy to try to find out where the limit is.
The thinking behind this MG is to offer a credible alternative that looks the part, drives well and gives drivers the option of low benefit-in-kind tax liability. And in that sense it's the MG ZT we've all been waiting for. MG ZT 2.0 CDTi+ 135
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,840
CO2 emissions (g/km): 163
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £130
Insurance group: 10
Combined mpg: 48.8
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,975/30%
Depreciation (21.45 pence per mile x 60,000): £12,870
Maintenance (2.75 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,650
Fuel (7.93 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,758
Wholelife cost (32.13 pence per mile x 60,000): £19,278
Typical contract hire rate: £409 per month
Three rivals to consider
TWO of our quartet break the £20,000 price barrier which might put them out of range for some whose choice is based on P11d price. Our test MG just comes in under £20,000 while the Alfa Romeo 156 in Veloce 2 trim looks good value on a spec-for-spec basis at £19,485. However, most fleets would arrange car choice on a wholelife cost basis and P11d would only come into play in terms of personal tax liability for the driver, where the balance could change.
Alfa Romeo £19,485
NONE of these cars appears particularly cheap to keep on the road over three years/ 60,000 miles, but the MG does reasonably well, unable to match the Saab's 2.41 pence per mile but comfortably ahead of the Audi's 2.91ppm and the Alfa's 3.25ppm. The Saab's lower cost in this area could be down to the 18,000-mile service intervals, although other factors such as the cost of minor bodywork repairs are also taken into account.
Alfa Romeo 3.25ppm
THERE seem to be two schools of thought on fuel costs. Saab and Alfa believe that a reasonable improvement over petrol models would be acceptable in a sports saloon, while the Audi and the MG offer fuel consumption in the region of 50mpg. It means the Saab and Alfa each cost 9.04ppm on fuel over three years/60,000 miles, while the MG is on a far more respectable 7.93ppm. The clear winner here, however, is the Audi on 7.68ppm.
Alfa Romeo 9.04ppm
THIS most cruel of running cost factors would seem to offer a lifeline to the MG and Alfa Romeo. We would not expect them to hold their value as well as the proven Audi A4 and the all-new Saab 9-3. However, their lower P11d price would mean the difference in retained value should be smaller. However, the MG turns out to be nearly two pence per mile more expensive than the Audi. The Saab comes second, just 0.45ppm more expensive than the Audi, while the Alfa Romeo brings up the rear on a distant 21.71ppm.
Alfa Romeo 21.71ppm
TOTTING up the totals we see a clear victory for the Audi in running costs thanks to its slow depreciation and frugal fuel consumption. The Saab's strong residual value performance and low SMR costs help offset the higher than average fuel costs. The MG is next, falling down on depreciation but scoring well on SMR and fuel costs, while the Alfa, good as it is to drive, comes last in each of our running cost categories with nearly four pence per mile separating it from the Audi.
Alfa Romeo 34.00ppm
Emissions and BIK tax rates
EMISSIONS reflect fuel consumption and the MG follows the Audi closely with the Saab and Alfa bringing up the rear. The MG's list price advantage over the A4 means that during 2002/03 its driver would be paying less tax than the Audi driver, but the balance would shift by 2004/05 so that they would be more or less even over three years. The Saab, with the highest emissions and second highest price, comes last.
Alfa Romeo 175g/km/20%
IT might have to give its best to the Audi A4 TDI in running costs, but the MG ZT CDTi is a convincing diesel sports saloon. We would probably have to pick the Audi as a winner in this contest because of its clear running costs performance and give it the Fleet News recommendation, but I have a soft spot for the ZT and it would be my own personal choice.