New models - Rover - 75
Rover's renewed assault
Rover returns to the Australian market with a luxuriously appointed prestige sedan
5 Mar 2001
By TIM BRITTEN
THE Rover 75 could almost be described as the first front-wheel drive BMW.
Much of the new Brit's suspension is based on the BMW 5 Series - which is no surprise considering the German company owned Rover for a while - while its overall dimensions generally reflect those of the German company's mid-size model.
And the BMW influence can easily be found sneaking into much of the detail work of the new Rover, right down to the switchgear and the general fit and finish of the interior.
These were the sort of things BMW personnel were keen to point out on the new Rover just a year ago, when they were on the verge of launching the car in Australia.
That expression of confidence was quickly forgotten shortly after the Melbourne motor show when BMW decided to pull the pin on its expensive and ultimately embarrassing Rover venture.
But it appears the decision take on the project abandoned by the Germans has the potential to be a reasonably sound one: The new Rover 75 checks out on styling, packaging, performance and dynamic potential - and price.
Still, the local arm of the company - MG Rover Australia, formed by the Trivett group in NSW - is taking a bold step by deciding to go where BMW decided it couldn't.
The 75 has similarities with the 5 Series other than its BMW-influenced underpinnings, too. In overall dimensions the Rover reflects very closely the package size chosen by BMW.
Only the wheelbase is significantly shorter - a fact made possible because the Rover is front-wheel drive and is able to pick up the resulting packaging advantages in terms of passenger space/overall size relationships. And it's lighter than a comparable 5-series too.
The new 75 is available in two versions the base 75 Club and the Connoisseur, with the Club model offering the choice of five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions.
The engine is a 2.5-litre V6, mounted transversely in the engine bay and driving the front wheels. Don't be alarmed, but it's essentially the same engine picked up by South Korean manufacturer Kia for its Carnival people-mover.
The all-alloy powerplant uses quad camshafts and four valves per cylinder, which help it wind out useful power and torque figures of 130kW and 240Nm respectively.
The suspension uses MacPherson struts at the front, with a coil spring independent multi-link layout at the rear and braking is by four-wheel discs with four-channel anti-lock as well as electronic brake force distribution - as you'd expect in a car in this class.
But the big thing with the Rover is its style. Quite distinctive, and undoubtedly Rover, the 75 cuts a very British figure on the roads with lots of design cues from early models, including the waistline chrome strip that recalls the V8-engined 3500 model that cruised Australian roads in the 1960s.
The interior oozes British influences, from the club-style seats to the classic, ovoid black-on-beige instruments, to the shameless splashing around of wood grain trim.
Equipment is generous, with dual front airbags, front side airbags, five three-point seatbelts incorporating pretensioners, cruise control, climate control air-conditioning with a pollen filter, heated rearview mirrors and an eight-speaker Alpine sound system with a glovebox-mounted six-disc CD changer.
The Connoisseur picks up electric seat adjustment, trip computer, glass sunroof, larger, 16-inch alloy wheels and parking sensors built into the front and rear bumpers. This model also offers as optional satellite navigation - with TV - and a special, personalised interior trim package.
But the clearest indicator of all about where MG Rover Australia wants to go with its new baby is the pricing. At $51,950 for the manual-transmission Club to $60,500 for the Connoisseur, the new car is clearly aimed at the medium to small cars from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Saab, Volkswagen and Volvo.
Where it has an advantage over previous Rovers available here is the BMW involvement. This shows in more than just the visible quality, and clearly also played a part in its 5-series dimensions.
The last Rover to sold here was the 827 Vitesse hatchback, a product of the Rover-Honda joint venture in the 1980s, that soldiered on until 1992. The car was essentially an anglicised version of the Honda Legend but never really made a favourable name for itself.
With a new Rover carrying an undeniable BMW heritage, there is no excuse for MG Rover Australia not doing very well with what looks to be an appealing, well-priced prestige class entrant.
ROVER 75 PRICES: Club $51,950 Club Auto $53,950 Connoissuer $60,500
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