THE origins of squeezing big engines into small and compact bodies, and generally playing around with powertrains with the simple aim of going faster, lie within the American hot-rod scene. Not always sophisticated, the engineering was nevertheless effective, resulting in something that was light and powerful, built for speed. In the early days, the Brits generally took a slightly different approach, transforming mundane family saloons into sportscars without necessarily making them much quicker, relying on light, open twoseater bodywork to improve crosscountry performance. At least they looked fast. That is how MG started back in the early-1920s, with Cecil Kimber producing more dashing Morrises from his Morris Garages dealership. Now roll forward 80 years…

To the MGs of today, almost lost to the world during BMW’s recent brief ownership of family head Rover, but successfully resurrected by the current management team. The MG ZT is essentially an Auntie Rover 75 saloon that has been on a fitness programme, benefiting from sportier cosmetics and some effective suspension tweaks. But with the V8 model, the surgeons went a couple of BIG steps further by shoehorning Ford’s run-of-the-mill 4,6-litre V8 under the bonnet, then radically reworking the underpinnings to convert from transverse-engine/front-wheel drive to longitudinal/rear-wheel drive. Hey, come on, hot-rodding alive and well in the middle of Birmingham? (The one in UK, not Alabama…)

Well, the result is one grumbly, lumpy, hootenanny of a Q-car. Fire it up and the almost instant staccato “POW-POW” bellowing from the twin exhausts turns onlooker’s heads skywards for forgiveness. The big, bad bleat is unmistakable: a Motown muscle signature tune. Mustang Sally, in fact, because the motor is a tweaked version of Ford’s latest pony car’s staple engine: a simple 4,6-litre iron block/alloy head, s-o-h-c per bank, two-valves-percylinder V8 playing through a pair of sanitary pipes. Big, simple, powerful. Noisy, too. The office cat has not been seen for a while…

Outside, the snuffly, wuffly ZT exhaust beat drowns out the thumping bass of passing mobile discos masquerading as hot hatches. There is no trademark muscle car “shaker hood”, but inside the car rocks and vibrates to the erratic idle: 750 r/min one minute, 1 500 the next. You can feel it through the seat of your pants, the gearlever, the pedals, and the steering wheel. Look in the mirror and your smile of anticipation is as wide as Texas.

The clutch is heavy and, you discover, the shifter is not the slickest (not helped by the floor console/ armrest getting in the way), but this is no orange juice, yoghurt and muesli bar car. This is coffee, beans and hash browns. Get into traffic and you find the steering is also heavy, and the turning circle not car park friendly. You feel every pothole and ridge. Crawling though the streets, there is so much torque available low down that you spend more time reigning-in than catching up. And, yes, the brake pedal is no softie, either. Annoyingly, the new, wider transmission tunnel precludes fitment of a footrest, forcing the left foot to be hooked under the clutch pedal, which is neither comfortable nor supportive.

But out on the prairie, er, open road, it all comes together. With a boom. Changing up takes some deliberation, despite MG’s tweaking of the shift action (and ratios) of the ex-Mustang Tremec gearbox. But the thrust is relentless as the engine races to butt heads with the hardhitting rev limiter at 6 000. And that noise is glorious… Until you get to top gear cruising speeds, when an exhaust resonance booms around the cabin. It is not pleasant over a sustained period, tiring in fact, and can only be partially relieved by easing pressure on the accelerator pedal, but it is a delicate balance. What it does is to encourage a drop down to fourth, which eliminates the boom and intensifies the evocative exhaust note. Heck, third is sometimes even better, with the consequent benefit of trigger-like throttle response. And the range – third is good for 157 km/h, fourth 209 – is such that you can hang on to a single gear and concentrate on exploiting the driving conditions. Turn a blind eye to the fuel gauge, though.

Bare numbers do not always tell the full story. The Ford V8 has been given MG’s X-Power treatment to boost peak outputs to 227 kW at 5 000 r/min, and 470 N.m of torque at 4 000. Mid-range muscle is tremendously strong, as the overtaking acceleration figures reflect. In the top three gears, the time taken to complete each 20 km/h increment from 40 to 140 km/h varies little. After replacing a faulty fuel pump, out at the test strip trying to curb shredding Michelin rubber with excessive wheelspin – it is a surprise, but there is no form of traction or stability control on the ZT V8 other than a limited-slip diff – to get the best acceleration times proved difficult, and we settled for a 0-100 km/h time of 6,94 seconds, and a standing kilometre in 26,9 seconds at 203,4 km/h. Top speed is limited to 250 km/h, but in the ZT V8’s case it is as much about how you do it as what you do. Smoke ’em, baby!

Despite its outward similarity to standard ZTs, the V8 boasts new front and rear sections to the floorpan, and a new multilink rear suspension layout to complement the beefier front MacPherson set-up necessary to carry the heavier-thanusual engine. MG’s expertise in suspension tuning has been carried through to the V8. We’ve mentioned its firmness when pottering around, but that is the sacrifice practically any performance car has to make in the interests of feedback and control at higher speeds. The ZT’s steering is accurate and, at 2,7 turns lock to lock, responsive, but its feel is a bit numb. Ride on the 225/45 Michelins wrapped around some handsome 10-spoke alloys improves with speed as the body hunkers down on the springs, but sufficient compliance remains. Cornering is rock steady, with handling progressing naturally from neutral to fail-safe understeer, unless the driver puts the boot in to create oversteer, which is easily controlled. Like all current MGs we have driven, the ZT has very impressive balance, and is rewarding to drive in experienced hands. The front ventilated discs are carryover, but larger diameter vented discs have been fitted at the rear: ABS is standard. (Incidentally, there is no spare wheel, only a getyou- home puncture fix kit.)

The ZT V8 looks little different from its less powerful sisters, a deliberate act by MG Rover to create a genuine Q-car: apart from V8 badges on the flanks, and those menacing twin exhausts – eyebrowed with heat protector plates for the valance – it looks like the rest of the ZT range, completely disguising the engineering makeover necessary to create the V8.

Inside, lots of matt black cannot hide the seven-year-old Rover 75 origins, so the cabin ambience is a little dated. The eye-popping instrument backlighting is a bit of a shock, though. Seats are comfortable, with cushion height and lumbar adjust for the driver. Dual zone climate control and a Harmon-Kardon radio/CD are standard, and all the usual luxury appointments such as trip computer, electric windows and mirrors, self-dimming interior mirror, cruise control and rear parking sensors are fitted. There are six airbags. Options include sat-nav and a sunroof.

Test summary

Hats off to the engineers at Longbridge: the ZT V8 is a refreshing new twist in the performance compact market. Dropping-in a big motor is fairly commonplace at the moment, but switching from a pullme to a push-you powertrain is not. (Looking back, we can think of only Triumph and Dacia as massproducers who have switched ends of a production model.) Sophisticates will likely not appreciate the ZT V8, but anyone with a little hot rod in their soul – and a well-stocked wallet – might just get turned on by this ZT. Like all locally available MGs, it is more expensive (far more, in this case) than one would expect, which is a pity because the ZT V8 is an appealing package of raw fun.

Original article from Car