New models - Rover - 75
First drive: Diesel boosts Rover 75 range
British luxury car boosted by German turbo-diesel engine quality
2 Aug 2004
By BRUCE NEWTON
THE slow but steady climb of turbo-diesel passenger cars into our consciousness is about to get another little kick along with Rover to add an oil-burner to its 75 range in August.
The 75 Diesel Cdti will be launched as part of a refresh and recasting of the line-up which is attempting to remove the clutter for both potential customers and boutique importer, MG Rover Australia.
In a nutshell, MGRA has deleted the top spec Connoisseur SE sedan and booted the estate bodyshape into touch, while adding the Diesel.
The entry level Classic stays on with its pricing unchanged at $49,990, the Diesel comes next at $53,990, then the Club (up $4000 to $59,990) and range-topping Connoisseur, which also gets a hefty $7000 price rise to $69,990.
There’s an increase in spec across the range, so the price hit does not come without its rewards.
Baseline equipment continues to include front and side airbags, "light oak" interior, ABS, cruise control and a CD player.
When first launched, the Classic actually had a manual transmission but demand has been minimal and with this update the five-speed auto transmission is the only choice. Auto climate control, front roof airbags and 16-inch alloy wheels join the standard equipment list.
Over that, Diesel adds full leather trim and a trip computer. Club then adds power-adjust seats with memory settings, electric sunroof, MP3-compatible sound system and CD stacker.
The Connoisseur is the big daddy, with features including rear parking sensors, chrome door mirrors, front foglights, wood trim steering wheel and gear knob, burr walnut dashboard and console, satellite navigation, colour television, heated front seats, electric rear sunblind, chrome exterior mirrors and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Outside, the 75’s styling has been tweaked to separate it more from the MG ZT sporting derivative. The changes include a larger and more prominent radiator grille and a new headlight design with standard halogen projector units.
Inside, Rover has re-profiled the seat cushions and squabs, for better rear passenger entry and exit, as well as introduced improved foot and knee clearance and revised instrument design.
Mechanically, the changes are pretty much limited to adopting the steering ratio from the ZT, in an attempt to make the car feel a little sportier than the first iteration which was criticised for the remoteness of its tiller.
There’s no change to the petrol engine line-up in terms of power and torque, the trusty KV6 lump delivering 130kW at 6500rpm and 240Nm at 4000rpm on standard unleaded, and mated to a five-speed auto.
If that doesn’t sound like a big deal you’re right, but for cash-strapped MG Rover Group – the last independent mainstream British car manufacturer – any expenditure on 75 has to be weighed carefully against other more pressing needs, like developing an all-new small car.
This means the Diesel is the big story really. In Europe, the sale of turbo-diesel passenger cars is booming, in Australia it’s a tiny percentage of the market, reflecting the fact that we don’t get the same tax and price incentives to swap from petrol.
But the message is getting out as petrol gets more expensive and diesel’s advantages of frugality becomes more obvious, tandemed with its traditional bounty of bottom-end torque.
Peugeot, Citroen and Mercedes-Benz have been the traditional players in this market here, but Audi is now building its presence and Rover is having a nibble – an accurate description when the company is seeking just 10 diesel sales per month.
It sounds miniscule, but when you consider MGRA’s total sales objective for 2004 across both Rover and MG is just 1000 cars, it helps you grasp that small bites are what this company specialises in.
The 75 Diesel employs a BMW-sourced 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder, turboed and intercooled engine with common rail injection that produces 96kW at 3500rpm and 300Nm at 1900Nm. MGRA claims it is the most powerful diesel sedan currently available in Australia for under $65,000.
And it’s light on fuel too, with a claimed combined fuel average of 6.7L/100km and the ability to cruise on the open road at under 5.0L/100km.
Gaining hold of this engine is a hangover of the fact that BMW used to own MG Rover. Indeed, the 75 was designed during the German company’s tenure and has drawn high praise from launch for its engineering quality.
That the engine comes from the same stable is encouraging, although MG Rover hurries to stake its claim by pointing out that it comes in a unique state of tune that it has developed.
"It’s only a matter of time before diesels’ value and characteristics are recognised by discerning Australian buyers," said MGRA boss Michel de Vriendt.
"Their low-down torque, power delivery and exceptional fuel economy are ideally suited to Australian conditions. In fact, when you compare 2003 passenger diesel sales with those of 2000, the increase is almost 300 per cent."MGRA has another engine story to tell at the other end of the spectrum, and that’s the V8 version of the 75, which employs the same Ford-sourced 4.6-litre engine and rear-wheel drive chassis as the MG ZT 260 which goes on sale in Australia in September.
The Rover 75 V8 will not make it here until late in the year and even then it will be in very low sales volume. Nevertheless, it will provide another opportunity for MGRA to fly the flag.
We can bet though, when that car comes along, probably priced somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000, there’ll be a lot less spruiking about fuel economy!PRICING
75 Classic (a) $49,990
75 Diesel Cdti (a) $53,990
75 Club (a) $59,990
75 Connoisseur (a) $69,990
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:AFTER briefly sampling the Rover 75 Cdti Diesel, it’s hard to imagine just why anyone would pick the petrol version.
Yes, it’s a bit noisier at start-up than the V6, and you can certainly tell it’s a diesel when you stand outside and listen to the engine noise. But from behind the wheel this is the best 75 yet.
It’s so smooth, so quiet, so grunty. Where a 2.0-litre petrol engine would be thrashing around as the auto chased torque, this is an altogether more serene device, which covers the ground rather faster than you realise.
The low-down pulling power combined with a plush ride make it an excellent conveyance for traversing our chopped up city streets and country highways. It’s easy to see the diesel earning real favour on Sydney’s hilly, gnarly streets.
And the steering definitely benefits from the change to the quicker ratio. It isn’t at ZT levels of directness, with a definite tendency to feel nose heavy, but it is certainly acceptable.
The changes in the cabin are also a plus with more back seat room liberated, making this a true four-adult conveyance.
That combines with the cabin fundamentals which are carry-over and continue to impress with their design quality.
But build quality is another issue, with frayed trim disconcertingly poking up from the A-pillar on one car. The drabness of the plastic in the centre console is another disappointment, and a harder one to correct.
It’s ironic in a way that BMW, the company that cast MG Rover adrift in 2000, should provide the engine for this latest 75. It is a great engine in a good car, and therefore a fine combination.
Overall, it’s a great argument for why we should all be taking diesels more seriously.
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