AROnline takes a another look at the decent metal which once adorned the highways and by-ways of our green and pleasant land. Mike Humble again, snatches the keys to one of Rovers finer cars.
Far from being the most spacious or cheapest hold all on the market, this one had that vital ingredient that placed it head and shoulders above the rest of the gang – distinction!
Friends, Romans and Countrymen… A toast, to the Rover 420 Tourer.
Size isn’t everything
Here at AROnline, the general consensus of opinion seems to view the HH-R range to be lacklustre and rather underwhelming compared to the R8, and on a personal level, I would have to agree. The R8 range really did put the bite back into Rover, and for a few years it seemed they could do no wrong with both the public and press loving the new breed and confidence of Rover. Following the facelift of the R8 in 1993, owners of older models were banging on the parts counters for chrome grilles – I should know, I fitted enough of them.
Those heady mid-1990s were the glory days of Rover, and I still feel sad at the thought of not seeing that momentum continue, things got muddled as Rover lost its way on the road to success. So far as estate cars were concerned, Rover still had the Montego on the books, and regardless of the smart colours or catchy names like ‘Countryman’, the Montego was sort of seen as the last gasps of British Leyland. Only the ultra thrifty, yet vocal diesel had any real credibility in the modern world and even then, it only sold in decent numbers simply because it was cheap.
Out with cheap and cheerful
I won’t waste too much time knocking the Montego estate, besides, that would be pointless owing to the fact I owned one and loved its angled looks. Loving even more its economy, with the ability to drive, seemingly forever, on the sniff of an oily rag. The dear old Monty never carried a Rover badge (in the UK), maybe because it wasn’t a Rover and maybe because the Montego, just like bicycle tyres round a lamp post, were quickly becoming a fading memory of the past. Rover was milking the wood and chrome effect for what it was worth by now, and the R8 range was proving to be a useful and versatile platform.
The company-saviour 200 and the ever-so-slightly dull 400 R8 platform morphed into a pretty looking two-door coupe, and then by stroke of genius, Rover revealed the 400 Tourer range powered by the free revving Honda D-Series 16V or Rover’s own in house 2.0-litres T-Series engine/PG1 gearbox combo. They wisely chose not to call the new car an estate – hell no; the middle classes would not to be associated with the rancid ambiguity of an estate car! Unless it was a Volvo. The Rover 400 Tourer was the chosen name, having that certain air of nobility to it.
In with class and pedigree
From the front, the Tourer was obviously based upon the R8, but viewed side or rear on, the car was actually quite handsome and cleverly used as many existing parts such as rear doors and back light clusters. The Honda developed double wishbone rear suspension made for a high boot floor and the car was no where as capacious as say, an Astra Mk3 or Escort Mk5 estate car. That said, the Astra and Escort also had no class or perceived image of opulence that the Rover possessed, even the recently introduced Golf estate looked bland and frumpy compared to the pleasing lines and splashes of chrome of the Rover Tourer.
Other superb aspects of this pint sized hold all included the fitment of the excellent 1769cc PSA sourced XUD turbo diesel. What a package indeed, that engine, Honda underpinnings and Rover’s trick of adding that magical touch of nice trim and lustrous paint finishes. One of the best selling models was the 420GSi featuring a 136bhp T-Series engine with gutsy low down torque available in every gear making for an effortless drive. Performance on the 420 was sublime, unruffled and quick if required to be and the GSi also featured revised suspension and 15in alloys offering a slightly sporting feel.
Pulling on the colour-keyed door handle let you into a familiar environment, the well crafted R8 facia garnished by a sensible amount of burr walnut. Seating featured the praised ‘Silverstone’ faux Recaro front seats with lumbar and height adjust on the driver’s side and all trimmed in good quality hide and lightning effect cloth. A useful centre floor console with leather armrest hiding a decent sized cubby box helped keep those odds and ends away from prying eyes. The load space was also looked after with an extended version of the hatchback’s parcel shelf, while the full remote alarm system kept guard as you slept.
On the whole, the 420 was a fine package indeed, offering the best of performance with favourable fuel economy. Problems in service seemed to be confined to oil leaks from the T-Series engine and the odd blown head gasket, the PG1 gearbox could whine and scream like an alleycat if used and abused, while owners who drove in heavy Oxford Brogues rather than slippers, could wear the brake pads down in shockingly double quick time.
Offering a little more versatility than the 200 hatch and so more pleasing on the eye that the 400 saloon, the Tourers were loved by their owners, and, if you keep ’em peeled, the ones you still see tend to be lovingly looked after.