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MG Rover 75

 

Pity the Rover 75: born into a tumultuous automotive world where ownership of the Rover brand threatened the model's very existence, the upmarket car had a baptism by fire.

Unveiled at the Birmingham motor show in late 1998 and introduced in mid-1999 before Rover gained independence from BMW, the 75 saloon had a far from happy introduction through no fault of its own.

In the carve-up of the Rover empire, BMW took Mini and Ford snapped up Land Rover.

That left MG Rover as a stand-alone marque facing a major and time-consuming task of restoring buyer confidence.

But the company is fighting back with ambitious models, and in 2001 the 75 line-up was extended with a Tourer station wagon version, a model that only recently came to New Zealand.

Though there was a smaller Honda-based Rover 400 station wagon a few years back, Rover has never offered a large estate. Prototype Rover P5 and SD1 wagons were built but never put into production.

So the 75 wagon is something of a milestone and carries a modest $2000 price penalty over its four-door sedan brother. Only two versions of the 75 are offered in New Zealand - a sedan and wagon, both with 2.5-litre V6 power and automatic transmission.

The 1.8 litre four cylinder and 2.0-litre twin overhead camshaft BMW turbodiesel aren't in the local line-up for two reasons. Neither engine smacks of executive life down under and the local distributor also had to restrict the actual number of models to preserve the viability of the marque in a small market.

The 75 was never going to challenge the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, although Rover would have liked to. It was always different enough to polarise opinion.

The 75 represents Rovers of old, with conservative, graceful styling, plenty of chrome and well-finished interiors.

Though there are harks to the past, this Rover is no retro design, and the flowing lines of the sedan are especially enticing. That Bentley-like rear end never fails to impress.

Yes, the look is conservative and restrained, but it's also classy.

The car has presence, a quality feel and definite mana.

Confirming the luxury image, Rover now offers a limited production, stretched wheelbase Vanden Plas sedan version that is longer than a Jaguar S-type. The 200mm addition between the B-pillar and rear wheels rectifies the tight rear seat legroom of the standard 75.


For people with load-carrying and added versatility on their minds, the Touring station wagon is an obvious choice. Ultimately, one in every four Rover 75s is likely to be an estate.

Designers have done a good job on the rear end, with the back door line cutting into the bumper to provide a low load height. However, there isn't a huge amount of room and the load area height is modest, a consequence of a mildly sloping rear roofline.

Up to glass level is 400 litres capacity, extending to 1222 litres once the 60/40 split rear seats are folded down. The rear window glass can be opened on its own if the vehicle is parked in a confined space or if your loading requirements don't dictate lifting the whole tailgate.

Either rear seat folds with an easy, one-handed action and the seatbelt straps are positioned to avoid getting tangled during the operation.

Not unexpectedly, the load area is superbly lined and finished, right down to a small gas strut which eases opening and closing of the false floor for the spare wheel and other oddments.

The load area also has another hidden compartment, restraining load strap, side cubby holder and a pair of pop-out hooks for attaching bags.

From the low seating position, the interior is somewhat claustrophobic, and rearward vision is restricted by rear window size. Despite the quintessential Britishness, the influence of BMW is discreetly apparent in the Rover 75 - not surprising given the German were controlling the purse strings during development.

Too many people are prepared to write-off the car because of the ownership dramas associated with Rover in recent years. And, to be fair, a question mark still hangs over retained values for a make which has hardly experienced the best of times.

Most of the car's harshest critics have never driven a Rover 75. It's a case of ignorance and that's a pity.

Yet slip behind the wheel, soak up the cabin ambience and enjoy the ride. For this is one of the best-riding cars around, coping with bumps and irregularities with consummate ease.

Of course, you can now specify the sportier MG version with stiffer suspension and improved handling, but somehow I think the smoother Rover is the way to go.

In the case of the 75 sedan, there's a shade too much body roll and the steering needs more weighting.


The Tourer, however, benefits from a firmer suspension that makes the car feel more responsive and tighter. Bodyroll reduces by 30 percent and improved steering feedback is another positive benefit.

Complementing the MacPherson strut front suspension, gas dampers and anti-roll bar, is a Z-axle at the rear with coil springs, gas dampers and anti-roll bar.

Self-levelling suspension is exclusive to the Touring model in deference to the increased loads it may carry.

Profiling the New Zealand buyer isn't easy given modest local sales.

But in Britain it's very much a man's machine. Just on 90 percent of buyers are male; almost one-third are aged between 45 and 54 years and 74 percent of owners are married.

Rover 75 owners applaud the car's looks, comfort, elegance and British feeling. They'll have an extra reason to consider the car when the high performance V8-versions come on stream within a few months.

Meanwhile, the 2497cc K-Series V6, with twin overhead cams per bank and 130kW of power is the mainstream power unit. It's sweet enough as it sweeps from a standstill to 100km/h in 9.5 seconds. The 206 km/h top speed is down only marginally on the slightly lighter sedan.

The V6 is far from thrifty, however, with an official urban fuel consumption average of 15.8 litres/100km (17.9mpg), improving to 10.6 litres/100km (26.6mpg) in the combined cycle.

In many station wagons, extra noise is generated by air reverberating around the larger cargo area, but sound dissipation techniques have all but eliminated it in the Tourer which is a quiet car, indeed.

The five-speed auto offers three modes, including a sports programme with a shift map that changes down earlier. Of course there's no shortage of goodies like leather upholstery, park distance control and automatic rain sensor operation for front and rear windscreen wipers.

Options include a parking heater timer that warms up the cabin for your arrival in mid-winter. Alas, this luxury is only available on the diesel versions, but it's a handy bit of Rover one-upmanship.

Extras fitted to my evaluation Tourer included monogram Kinetic pearlescent paintwork (a costly $4500), larger 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels with 225/45 tyres, power sunroof and side head impact protection.

Though its packaging and handling may be only fair, Rover's 75 and its MG ZT offshoot are underrated cars in other respects. In Touring form the 75 is a noble estate for people wanting a versatile higher scale wagon with a difference.

By Donn Anderson


Auto Trader New Zealand