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Car reviews - Rover - 75 - Connoisseur sedan

Our Opinion

We like
ambience, comfort, equipment, value, quality
Room for improvement
lazy auto, bottom-end torque, rear legroom

Rover logo8 Apr 2002

By MARTON PETTENDY

THE product of German engineering and British styling, the Rover 75 is proving a hit with spoilt-for-choice mid-sized premium vehicle buyers in Australia.

Described by some as the first front-wheel drive BMW, the 75 was created during the German company's ownership of the MG Rover Group. Many of the spinning propeller brand's legacies still live on in the 75, such as much of its extensive switchgear, the audio unit, optional satellite navigation system and the automatic transmission.

BMW's involvement has also resulted in a surprising level of solidity and build quality, as evidenced by the thud with which the doors and boot close, and the excellent panel fit and finish. Of course, the Q word hasn't always been associated with products from Britain, and of those Australians old enough to remember it, the Rover brand conjures up memories of such forgettable products like the 827 Vitesse hatch.

That doesn't seem to have dulled the enthusiasm for the first Rover to be sold here in more than a decade, however. Though selling in much smaller numbers than the traditional segment leaders, Rover 75 has come close to the ambitious sales projections expected by MG Rover Australia - which is owned by the Trivett group that chose to import the Rover brand here following BMW's last-minute abandonment - and is now seen in growing numbers on local roads.

Like many of their front-drive prestige rivals, the 75 lacks the dynamic qualities offered by both BMW's 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-class, but what it loses to the rear-drive Germans in sheerly dynamic terms it makes up for with a high level of standard equipment and far less ambitious pricing.

Of course, Rover 75 must also contend with a horde of small to medium prestige vehicles, such as new all-wheel drives in Jaguar's X-Type and the Audi A4, plus the rear-drive Lexus IS200/300, and front-drives in the Alfa 156, Citroen C5, Saab 9-3, Volvo S40 and S60, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 406 and Renault Laguna.

Both the Rover 75 sedan and wagon are available in entry level Club and more luxurious Connoisseur specification levels, while the sedan also offers the Connoisseur SE flagship. Only the 75 Club sedan is available with a manual transmission.

All models employ a 2.5-litre V6 and the Club sedan lines up on price with 2.0-litre entry level versions of both 3 Series and C-class, while the well equipped Connoisseur tested here undercuts almost all of its six-cylinder prestige competitors by a fair margin.

Common to all Rover 75s is leather seats, steering wheel, gearknob, handbrake and centre armrest, plus driver's seat height adjustment and lumbar, a split-fold rear seat, tilt and reach adjustable steering wheel, trip computer and message display, climate control air conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and (heated) mirrors, cruise control, rear fog lights, alloy wheels and eight-speaker six-CD audio with steering wheel controls.

On the safety front the 75 also offers twin front airbags, front seat mounted side airbags, side head impact (ITS) airbags, four-channel ABS, electronic brake force distribution, and three-point seatbelts and headrests for all five seating positions - the front two with height and tilt adjustment.

In addition, the Connoisseur also offers chrome door mirrors, electric front seat adjustment and heating, driver's seat memory, front passenger lumbar adjustment, an auto dimming interior mirror, front fog lights, larger 16-inch alloys, an electric rear sunblind, power glass sunroof and parking sensors.

Connoisseur options are limited to metallic paint, Personal Line interior trim and satellite navigation, making the mid-spec 75 a hard act to beat for the price.

If the olde-worlde exterior styling doesn't convey the message, then the luxury orientation of Rover's 75 becomes immediately apparent once inside the spacious and well laid-out cabin. Following the exterior theme, chrome trimmings are liberally scattered throughout the green/beige fluted leather interior, while rich red woodgrain inserts reside on the dash and centre console.

The 75's finely crafted seats are lacking in lateral and thigh support but - being positioned refreshingly low and with a wide range of (relatively noisy) power adjustment - they will cater for a wide variety of human body sizes. Adjustment includes a good range of both height, reach and lumbar settings.

Our test vehicle came equipped with the optional satellite navigation system, and the use of many other BMW-sourced components like the gearshift lever and gate will be recognisable to anybody familiar with the BMW parts bin. Storage compartments are provided in both the dashboard itself and the doors, while cupholders are also offered front and rear.

Otherwise luggage space isn't one of the 75's strong points, the small glovebox being swallowed up by a CD stacker and the shallow floored boot losing space to the sat-nav control unit. And the spare wheel is a steel item to boot.

The shortage of rear cargo space in particular is surprising when you consider the 4.75-metre, front-drive 75 was based on the rear-drive 5 Series platform and is substantially longer than 3 Series, C-class, A4 and 9-3. The rear seat does offer the practicality of a ski-port as well as a fully folding function.

Cosseted by six airbags, the 75's cabin is both a safe and pleasant place to be. Aside from a notable lack of rear legroom and the use of some shiny, hard plastics for the dash fascia's dual-zone climate controls, some say the 75 out-classes even Jaguar's S-Type for interior ambience.

On the road the Rover's impression of luxury is heightened by excellent noise suppression, the glasshouse remaining relatively silent at all but the highest of highway or engine speeds. Rover says a great deal of research was devoted to reducing cabin noise, and the results are obvious.

Similarly, ride quality is superb - especially low speeds where cars like the 3 Series become jiggly. But the compliant suspension doesn't come at the expense of handling, which reveals a distinct lack of bodyroll when pushed and undoubted stability at speed.

Of course, well telegraphed understeer is the eventual handling characteristic during hard cornering, but good chassis balance and a general feeling of solidity are a reminder of the quality underpinnings beneath the 75.

Another highlight is the engine, which is a major new development of Rover's K-series modular family and produces a spirited 130kW at 6500rpm and 240Nm of torque at a lofty 4000rpm. It's easy to criticise the small capacity V6's lack of bottom-end torque and there's no doubt the all-alloy, quad-cam unit does its best work towards its 6650rpm redline, where the engine delivers a surprisingly raspy, purposeful note.

However, given the reasonably modest 1500kg kerb weight, we suspect the 75's lack of low speed urge is more a factor of the poorly calibrated JATCO transmission. Shift quality is seamless but the five-speed automatic, which goes without a sequential manual shift function, is slow to downchange - even in Sport mode and its adaptive function notwithstanding.

Once accustomed to its slightly disconnected steering feel, aided little by the fact the steering wheels is actually offset, the 75 remains relatively enjoyable to drive both around town and in anger. Despite its sometimes frustrating auto and rear accommodation issues, it's also a highly comfortable and competent long-distance tourer.

The Connoisseur's equipment level betters almost all of its similarly priced - and some much more expensive - rivals, and its highly refined ride, noise suppression and build quality - not to mention its distinctive, oh-so-British styling - make the Rover 75 an attractive proposition for those not lured by the cachet of more accepted automotive monikers.

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