In 2001, three years after the launch of the Rover 75, and less than a year after the de merger of MG Rover from BMW, the MG ZT and MG ZT-T were launched. During the cars' development, the models were codenamed X10 and X11, for the saloon and estate versions respectively.
The basic shape and styling of the MG ZT remained the same as for the Rover 75. but with changes to the front bumper, now with an integrated grille, and detail alterations including colour coding of the chromed waistline, a new bootlid plinth, and different alloy wheels and tyres sizes.
The interior featured revised seats and dashboard treatment, with new instrument faces. Engineering changes ranged, from upgraded suspension and brakes to revised engine tuning for the petrol and diesel models. Development of the MG ZT was headed by Rob Oldaker, Product Development Director, with styling changes undertaken by Peter Stevens, who was previously responsible for the styling of the McLaren F1 and X180 version of the Lotus Esprit.
The Rover 75 started life as part of a group of three new designs for the company under the guidance of Richard Woolley; a large saloon codenamed Flagship, a smaller vehicle (with the codename of Eric), and the 75. Of these only the 75 concept progressed. The initial aim was to re-skin the Rover 600 (launched in early 1993) but following the BMW takeover in 1994, it was quickly decided that this platform would not be re-used but replaced by an entirely new model, scheduled for launch in the late 1990s.
Work on the new model, codenamed R40, progressed well with little operational interference from BMW; the styling received an enthusiastic response from the management and both companies believed the classical look would be the ideal direction for Rover. Revolutionary new design processes were adopted, including the 3D virtual reality assembly simulation "ebuild" techniques, ensuring the car would achieve class leading build quality when series production started.
The Rover 75 was first shown to the public at the Birmingham Motor Show on 20 October 1998.Although a number of early production models were registered over the next four months while the S-prefix registration plates were still in force, it did not officially go on sale until 17 June 1999. It had already been extensively tested and widely applauded by the motoring press.
Under the lauded styling was a range of petrol and diesel engines from 1.8- to 2.5-litre sizes. Petrol engines provided were Rover's 4-cylinder K series in 1.8-litre guise and the quad cam KV6, offered in either short-stroke 2.0 or revised 2.5-litre formats. The 2.0-litre was later dropped on introduction of the 1.8-litre turbo for emissions purposes.
Transmissions on all models were either the Getrag 283 5-speed manual, supplied from the company's new facility in Bari, Italy, or the JATCO 5-speed automatic unit—one of the first transverse engine deployments made with this feature.
Braking was in the form of all-round discs, complemented with a Bosch 5.7 4-channel ABS system and electronic brake force distribution. The parking brake was a cable operated drum integral within the rear discs.
Suspension was a MacPherson strut arrangement at the front, anchored by lower alloy L-arms. The wide spacing of the mounting points, compliant bushings and a perimeter subframe gave the model a cushioned yet precise ride with relaxed handling that could be tuned for different markets or model derivatives such as the later MG ZT. The rear suspension, after a period of uncertainty during development, was eventually a version of BMW's Z-Axle arrangement first featured on the 1988 Z1 sports car.
At the time of the launch there had been speculation within the media that the Rover 75 used the BMW 5 Series platform, perhaps due to the overall size of the model, the apparent presence of a transmission tunnel and the use of the parent company's rear suspension system. This was in fact not the case: Rover engineers had used the concept of incorporating a central tunnel which had been explored by BMW as part of their own research into front-wheel-drive chassis design, which would have been a departure from the BMW tradition of rear-wheel drive on the majority of its models. As the 75 took shape, this core engineering was passed over to Rover and evolved into the Rover 75 structure. The tunnel concept, along with the rear suspension system, was also used by the Rover engineers for the design of the Mini.
At launch the Rover 75 quickly attracted praise for its styling and design integrity. Some critics of the car labelled its styling too "retro", suggesting it had been designed with an older buyer in mind, and was not sporting enough when compared to the competition. However, the 75 won a series of international awards including various "most beautiful car" awards, including one in Italy.
Assembly originally took place at Cowley but in 2000, following the sale of the company by BMW to Phoenix Venture Holdings, production was moved to Longbridge in Birmingham, England. 2001 saw the introduction of the Rover 75 Tourer (developed alongside the saloon but never authorised for production by BMW), swiftly followed by the MG ZT and MG ZT-T, more sporting interpretations of the model, differentiated by modified, sporting chassis settings and colour and trim derivatives. Between 2000 and 2003, there were few changes to the range: the most significant was the replacement of the 2-litre V6 engine by a low-pressure-turbocharged version of the 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine. The introduction of the 'greener' 1.8-litre turbo greatly benefited British company car drivers who are taxed on carbon dioxide emissions. A customisation programme, Monogram, was launched, allowing buyers to order their car in a wider range of exterior paint colours and finishes, different interior trims and with optional extras installed during production. Rather surprisingly, it was offered for sale in Mexico, making it the first Rover to be sold in North America since the Sterling.
From June 2002 a factory-approved dual fuel petrol-liquid petroleum gas conversion was available in the UK on 1.8 and 2.5 litre models. The LPG conversion was an after-market undertaking approved by MG Rover. Developed by EcoGas Systems Ltd and Landi Renzo S.R.L. in conjunction with MG Rover Powertrain Limited, the conversion was ordered from Rover dealerships, the cars retaining the three-year factory warranty. The retail price of the conversion was £2,195, but in an effort to encourage LPG use for transport for ecological reasons the UK Government offered a Powershift Rebate of some 60% of the conversion cost. When running on LPG the Rover 75 suffers only a slight reduction in performance compared to running on petrol; LPG fuel consumption is also slightly higher than when running on petrol but this is more than offset by the greatly reduced cost of the fuel.