The MG Z series cars (ZR/ZS/ZT[T]) are often ridiculed for their horrendous headgasket issues. (The gasket that seals the engine block to the cyclinder head). In all fairness, this is a very real issue, but it doesn't take a genius to realise that this issue has been fixed. SAIC, the new owners of MG Motor UK, masterminded the MLS (Multi Layer Steel) gasket after Rover never made advances in fixing the identified problems before going into administration. It was designed to allow minute movement between the sheets.
The MGs are powered by, the rover developed, K series engine. When developed, back in the 80s, it was way ahead of its time. Developed as a compact engine which delivers high power, it was used widely in, Morgans, Caterhams, Lotus' Land Rover, rover and MG vehicles. Once the HG issue is resolved, the K series engine is a total gem. It just loves to rev, and when you hit the powerband (4500 rpm), it sings a totally new, beautiful, note all the way to the rev limiter (7000 / 7200 rpm), a friend once tried to convince me "The second cam kicked in".
Driving the MG ZR to me, feels faintly reminiscent of the incredible Lancia Delta Integrale. It holds a rather wide stance and the seating position makes you feel very close (and secure) to the road. The addition of 17" 205 width wheels just adds to the "grippy" feel. I would have more confidence throwing this round a bend at 70mph than a ford fiesta...
The best part of the MG ZR and K series engine is the simplicity. Now-a-days, engines are a mass of cables, pipes and plastic covers. Not the K16 (Named K16 due to having 16 valves), this engine is a delight for all levels of mechanic. An ex rover developer actually performs bespoke maps for these cars at an incredible price, and will even assist in adding high performance modifications (such as turbo charging).
The ZR comes as a 1.4 / 1.8 / 1.8 VVC with 105 / 120 / 160 BHP, respectively. As a "young" driver I could only (just) manage to afford the insurance on a 1.4 - and at my age owning such a sporty looking car felt quite amazing. Even better, a perfect example can be picked up for little more than £1000! - With modification options (Induction kits, exhausts etc.) coming in at very reasonable prices too, it makes a fantastic car for younger drivers.
The K series engine has been plagued by its head gasket issues since its development, but no one realised that with the new MLS gasket, it is just as reliable as your Ford Fiesta.
So ask yourself this. Would you rather spend £3000+ on a Corsa / Fiesta or spend £1000 on a car that looks better, sounds better and goes faster? I know my answer.