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MG ZR

As makeovers go, MG's 2001 revamp of the ageing Rover 25 was up there with the very best of them. Gone were the restrained looks and traditional cabin of the conservative supermini, and in came an aggressive bodykit, monster alloys and wild interior colour schemes. As a result, the ZR quickly became the best-seller in the UK's competitive hot hatch market.

As makeovers go, MG's 2001 revamp of the ageing Rover 25 was up there with the very best of them. Gone were the restrained looks and traditional cabin of the conservative supermini, and in came an aggressive bodykit, monster alloys and wild interior colour schemes. As a result, the ZR quickly became the best-seller in the UK's competitive hot hatch market.
It was helped by a fine chassis that was further stiffened for duty in the fight for performance honours, as well as a sparky engine range that made the ZR a force to be reckoned with.
Of course, its Nineties running gear meant that it was cramped and looked dated inside. And to keep prices down, equipment levels were stingy. But the car has remained a front-runner in its class, and three years on, prices for the earliest examples have dipped well below the £6,000 mark.
Checklist
* Engine: head gasket failure can cost thousands to repair. Signs include a wavering engine temperature gauge and 'mayonnaise' on the oil filler cap. Timing belts need replacing at 40,000 miles.
* Body: paint can scratch easily. Check for faults such as 'orange peel' and paint runs. Loose rear spoilers are common, and optional side skirts can work loose, too.
* Chassis: hard-driven cars suffer heavy tyre wear; replacements cost £100 each. Gear linkages can become slack, and clutch cables snap too frequently.
* Interior: loose trim, an ill-fitting glovebox and wobbly front seats are common, so ensure everything is tight and in place. Check radio and separate dash-top display match.
* Security: early cars lack a Category 1 alarm/immobiliser, while some insurance companies stipulate Tracker must be fitted. Central locking can be troublesome.
Driving Impressions
On the road, a used MG ZR remains one of the best drivers' cars £6,000 will buy. Handling is sharp and lively, while steering response is immediate.
All engines demand plenty of revs, but they are eager, if a little noisy. We recommend that you steer clear of the diesel, which is low-tech and disappointingly harsh. The smallest 1.4-litre is the preferred unit, while the 1.8-litre VVC is the enthusiasts' choice.
Glass's View
Although it's a bigger car than most of its rivals in the supermini sector, the ZR still attracts a reasonable amount of demand from those looking for a racier alternative. Its sporting heritage helps sales along, but insurance premiums are relatively high, which tends to put some buyers off. Used values hold up reasonably well, due to the limited numbers that become available on the used market. The 1.4 105bhp three-door versions remain the most popular. Jeff Paterson, senior editor, Glass's Guide
Life With An MG ZR
I bought my ZR because it was offered with an attractive insurance deal. It has more street cred than a Rover and it drives brilliantly, but some of the plastics feel cheap. Damon Gray, Bootle, Merseyside
I've had problems with my ZR - the alarm played up and the power-steering pump was replaced. But the dealer was good, and it's great for drivers who can't afford so-called 'real' performance cars. Matt Hughes, Dudley, West Midlands

Verdict

We applaud the sterling job Rover has done in turning the ageing 25 into a great drivers' car. Few hatchbacks offer the automotive slap in the face provided by the ZR. It's genuinely impressive to drive, and makes demands of its driver that few other modern machines can. As a hot hatch which combines an old school feel and appeal with modern engine technology, it's certainly unique, but it's also a little too rough around the edges for most drivers.

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