Rough guide to : Buying a Rover 600 diesel

Now very much in the bargain basement, the 600 is perhaps the most reliable and dependable of all the Rover diesels left on the second hand market.

The bargain diesel

Rover 600 - a great diesel for very little money
Rover 600 – a great diesel for very little money

Rover’s tie-up with Honda was yet another of those squandered golden opportunities handed to the British motor industry. By the time the 600 arrived in 1993, Rover and Honda had established an excellent working relationship, and had settled on a programme that amounted to co-development of the Japanese company’s products with a British slant on style. And that meant Rover could offer a state of the art saloon, competitive with the best of the opposition – a blessed belief after years of selling the Montego.

In 1994, the 2-litre L-Series turbodiesel engine was installed under the 600’s low-line bonnet to create Rover’s most convincing oil-burner to date. Although the engine’s family tree could be traced back to the B-Series used in the MGB and Morris Marina, the L really was a case of the Irish Hammer – two new handles and three new heads! With fully-mapped engine management and direct injection, the 103bhp intercooled turbodiesel was a genuine class-leader. It also endowed the 600 excellent performance and economy, and just about acceptable refinement.

But politics got the way of sustained success for the 600 – BMW bought Rover in 1994, immediately ending the and after a brief five-year production run, the BMW-era 75 replaced it.

Model history
Throughout its life, there was but a single body variation of the Rover 600 – the four-door saloon. That makes tracking down model history is a simple affair, with four trim variations being offered: Di, SDi, SLDi and GSDi, all powered by the same intercooled L-Series engine. Easily the most desirable model is the GSD, which is fitted with full leather interior, electric sunroof, mirrors and windows. Strangely, only the SLD and GS were fitted with folding rear seats, a useful addition.

In 1996, the range was facelifted subtly. For the diesels, that meant 15in wheels on all models, improved interior and specification levels (air conditioning was fitted as standard on all models from SDi up), body coloured mirrors and door handles, and the adoption of Rover’s own award-winning PCF power steering set-up. In an attempt to cure the unsettled ride, what was called 1-2-1 damping was adopted. It softened the ride no end, but also made handling more vague than before.

The good news for bargain hunters is that the Rover 600 combines Honda engineered-in quality with the rugged reliability of the Shire horse-like L-Series engine. As long as it’s been cared for, and not rusty, enjoy years of service and fine economy.

Here’s your five-point checklist:

  •  Check the gearbox for whines and clonks, a common problem with differential bearings. A loose-feeling lever is fairly normal on cars with over 100k miles.
  • Brake pads wear quickly, and rear callipers regularly stick. Check handbrake works properly. Brake lines suffer from corrosion, so check under plastic fittings.
  • Electrics are robust, but alternator is underspecced and wears out prematurely, so listen for whining. Windows fall out of their regulators, so check they all work.
  • ABS and aircon systems are rugged and long-lived, but do fail on high-mileage, abused cars. In both cases, an easy fix, with good parts availability.
  • Rust? Wheelarches are the biggest problems, but inner sills can also be a weak point. Radiators are also not long-lived, so check condition closely.

Price points
£500    Leggy, baggy and undesirable earlier cars with little history or visible signs of corrosion. Good ones can be found at this level, but it’s a case of pot luck.
£750    Good, privately sold R-, S- and T-plate cars. Probably still with 120k-plus miles, but cared-for enough to be worth a punt.
£1200    The absolute best T- and V-plate cars with around 100k on the clock from a dealer, with warranty. Don’t pay more, and haggle for a long warranty.

Rover 600s are fundamentally solid and dependable cars, with one or two minor niggles that can soon render a good car looking like a banger. The main problem is image – do you want a Rover on your drive? And for many people, the answer is no, leaving this very much an unloved choice in the marketplace. But ultimately, the 600 is a sensible family hold-all, and it’s difficult to argue against a previously loved GSD with all the trimmings for around £1000 on any rational grounds – making it a great choice for anyone electing to leave the rat race.

Keith Adams


  1. “The main problem is image – do you want a Rover on your drive?”

    The decline of Rover’s image has been discussed many times before, but in 1996 I can remember being quite angry when my colleague was allocated a new SLDi as his company car, whereas I had “only” a 620Si automatic (superb car). Both were in BRG and were considered more aspirational than the similar then-current Accord within the company, and certainly on a par with the equivalent 3-series etc. The diesel was considered to be the one to have, the ti not being allowed.

    Just a quick anecdote but it shows how quickly things slid.

    And yes, I do have a Rover on the drive in the form of an MG ZT.

  2. “The main problem is image – do you want a Rover on your drive?”

    The main problem is the sheep that take Clarkson’s word as gospel, and think that something with a propeller badge is a better car than a Rover, while encountering HG issues / blown turbos and the infamous BMW 50mph steering wheel shake.

    The Ultimate Marketing Machine.

    • If people listened to Clarkson Alfa Romeo we would be the most popular brand in the UK.

      As he will admit that many cars he has trashed such as the Escort Mk5 went on to be a best seller, yet cars he spoke well of Alfa 159, Rover ZT260 failed to get anywhere near their sales targets.

  3. Nothing for Rover 600’s at the moment but going to the Auto Trader website and selecting Rover or MG (but no model) and mileage upto 10,000 often throws up some interesting cars (except those where the true mileage has been abbreviated, eg 64,000 to 64)

  4. I agree with this guide entirely. 600 diesel is a cracker of a car. I am by no means a fan of diesels, but a mate who subscribes to the theory of Bangernomics bought himself a 150000 mile 620SLDi for £200 last year. Having put 25000 miles on it, he sold it with a full MoT and a slipping clutch for £280.

    I drove it a couple of times and by God it felt good for such a cheap car. It was also refined, comfortable, and spacious enough to take 4 adults and their camping gear on holiday. On top of this, on a run from Bristol to Sheffield it averaged 60mpg. That car impressed me and I would have one tomorrow.

  5. I don’t think slagging off German cars, really helps develop the argument. I would add that given this site audience, most commentators would probably have no problem with a Rover on the drive. My dad had a K reg 620ti as his company car on which we were all insured and I have to say it was absolutely superb, one of the best cars I have ever driven. We all drive Merc’s in our family now and I would say that they are in my humble opinion, the best engineered cars in the world. My old V plate E300TD drives like new and is as smooth as silk. I would happily buy British again and I have no doubt that that time will come again, either in the form of a Jaguar or maybe an MG when they (and they will) reach an acceptable style and build quality.

  6. I can vouch for the radiator probs. I had a leased late 1996 Honda Accord 2.0iS which had its radiator replaced early in year 2000 at around 40K miles.

  7. As I recall in 1993 when the 600 was launched Rovers image was at its Zenith. The cars where well regarded and sold in large numbers and crucially made a profit for the company. The R8 had much to do with this. Rovers decline coincided with the arrival of BMW, but I dont think that is down to them. Bad decisions where made prior to the BMW buy out. The HHR was a poor replacement for the R8 and overpriced. Compounding the problem was the arrival in late 1995 of the new 200. A good car in many respects, but it overlapped with HHR and confused buyers. BMW then made the mistake of believing that Rover could design and develop cars independantly. They couldnt. It took nearly 4 years for the first BMW era Rover to arrive and only after BMW intervened at the eleventh hour to finish off development and get the thing into production.

  8. I have to tap that I don’t agree on the quality image that fans of BL/AR cars have of the 600 at all. It has no halo for me.

    When they were very new they looked really nice but I had use of a few as company cars from 1995-1999 and the equivalent Honda Accord too – and none lasted very well at all. Apart from the brand new Ti owned by a high-ranking guy who bought it new and looked after it, the others were well on their way to bangerdom after only 2-3 years.

    The first and most obvious failure was the front window rubber surrounds – they would split and then flap about in the wind. One guy got so annoyed he sliced them off over a weekend at home. Rover didn’t seem to want to fix them.

    The paint faded and marked very easily. BRG was the best colour to show up any failings or minor scratches – these would appear inside of a year usually. A 12 month old Rover 600 looked at least a year older than the equivalent Audi at the time.

    And as for the interior – this was not the usual Rover “nice place to be” that it is often described as. Sure if you had leather and all the toys you could ignore the shiny cheap plastic switches from Honda or the clear but cheap looking instruments or perhaps the driving position that made you feel like you were sitting on the floor or the hard plastic and rather cheap feeling textures. I would have preferred an early 1980s Metro VDP to a Rover 600 GS level model to sit in any day.

    If you were unlucky enough to have the non-leather interior (aka Furry seats) or indeed the Honda model you got all of these problems plus of course nothing even remotely nice to look at inside.

    The driving experience also left a lot to be desired. I have only ever spun one car and that was a Rover 600. It was on the roundabout at Abington on the M77 Northbound. I ended up on the roundabout itself. If I cared for the car I would have waited for it to be lifted or towed off, but I didn’t do I scraped, skidded and screamed it off and just continued on.

    I never drove a Ti but the non-turbo Honda 1.8 and 2.0 engines were quiet but very thirsty. You could just about stretch a 1.8 to the mid-30s MPG but you would have Miss Daisy wanting you out of the way. The 2.0 would never get over 30 in normal use.

    The Diesels were good engines – I had one in a 200 – but nobody – and lets be honest here nobody – in any magazine said the 600 Diesel had “acceptable” refinement at the time. All of them called the car for what it was – noisy and well behind the class for refinement, OK-ish for power and just about average for MPG.

  9. To anyone thinking of buying a 600 of any description, I say go for it. I had an R reg Honda Accord 2.2iVTEC, which, engine aside, was the same as a 600 except for the the majority of the external metalwork (sorry AR fans, I just prefer Hondas!). It was an excellent car, a consummate mile eater, and far better to drive and ride in than a lot more modern cars. The only downsides were its length – 16 foot, the length of a UK parking space and the fact that it was incredibly low down – but then again, cars of that era were. I paid a very small sum for a car that cost £22k brand new! The Rovers were just as good, and in my opinion, had a far nicer interior treatment than my Accord. They’re a hell of a lot of car for the money and still look a cut above the competition of the time.

  10. My official Jaguar dealer here in La Coruña gave me a 600 diesel courtesy car whilst servicing my XKR! I thought it was a joke but the service manager was a little offended at my comments insisting it was a perfectly accptable loan car.

    I have to say it was indeed a fantastic car. 250 000 miles, mint cond, and nice to drive. I will never knock an old Rover diesel again.

  11. Not the most stylish car – a little bland, especially older, low spec models. However, a much better car than most people would have you believe and I find it touch ironic (given their respective reputations) that the Rover engines are the pick of the bunch and the Hondas are the also-rans.

  12. I had an S reg Rover 620 diesel for about 3 years until it was written off in Feb last year. I bought it as a cheap winter hack for around £1200 with 95k on the clock and then put 25k miles on it, even taking it abroad several times. When it got written off, I accepted £1000 for it.

    The only thing that went wrong with it was the drivers electric window (a common failure point). I paid out to have the aircon fixed too.

    I ran it on BioDiesel for most of the time I owned it too. Never seemed to mind running on processed chip fat once the fuel filter was changed.

    Mine was painted in gunmetal grey and was externally in near-mint condition. It only ever got a quick wash and then a coat of AutoGlym AquaWax but always looked great. The interior was grubby but quite airy with a light beige dash and soft furnishing.

    Last time I looked, the diesels still commanded more money than the petrol versions. It was a thoroughly reliable car and I’d happily have another one.

  13. The diesel is probably a more sensible secondhand buy than a Honda petrol engine, which may sting you about £150 for new cold start module, or £500 for a new distributor. My 216 alternator wore out its brushes and slip rings at about 140,000, and cracked its exhaust manifold.

  14. PS diesel noise levels are very much about installation, insulation, and whether a turbo is fitted. I test-drove a non-turbo Maestro Clubman, which was a shed; then a turbo Montego estate, which was quite acceptable. But not a car for a bachelor! All diesels are noisy from cold start; but are often very much quieter than petrol on the motorway, as they can pull taller gearing. I remember my 218SLDT being a lot quieter than my 216 up the M5 – though it helped to have an 8-valve iron engine, rather than a 16-valve alloy lump.

  15. I own one 620SDI since 4 years, when it was 10 years and 180000 km old. Driven previously in Italy, now it is in the southeast corner of Europe (Bulgaria). The “congenital diseases”: leaking radiator and el. window malfunction happened to me too. Cure – replacement, but nothing serious else. I feel the diesel somewhat “lazy”, but good performer when the hill is the challenge. It even does not care about gear-lever position!
    Not a trace of rust, solid and reliable ride (“almost on rails”) and the interior is The Jewel in The Crown. Yes, just a plastic imitation of wood and leather, but the beige\wood interior looks like “Jaguar for poor man” for me. I have even no leather seats under my bottom… but plenty of room everywhere. Indeed, I’m sitting so low, as in a GT car, but it’s problem only when you have to go out of the car. It’s just Rover – not a Land Rover. On the highway it is no better but not worst then any mid-size car.
    (May be the noise is just a little too big?)
    I had to do some (whit professional help) repair on the steering wheel (with real leather) and the result is great. So the ceiling – some glue and looks renewed. One of the speaker’s-membrane goes… I don’t know the word!… I replaced both front and the sound gains even another 10% improvement. The motor antenna is a little old-fashioned, but was a Mercedes-like luxury-dream in my childhood, so I love it!
    And now the best thing last – It cost me at least 30% less then second-hand German competitors of same class.
    That doesn’t means I wouldn’t buy a new BMW 5series (or present day’s Jaguar XF as alternative), It means I just couldn’t. So I currently enjoy a cheaper alternative to late-90’s BMW 520d ! You’ve got one more British cars fan from across Europe, possibly with a little help of the Japanese?
    Congratulations to Your nation for building such car, regardless that Germans are not to underestimate.
    It feels me sad to have good car, which Name and Badge are already part of the history museum… Pity!

    In any case – please excuse my English, it’s obviously not my language (Google-translate and spell checker helps me a little), so forgive me and Best Regards!

  16. @15, krDenchev,

    I’m glad you’ve had a great experience from your Rover- and that you’ve been able to keep it on the road in good condition (I’d be surprised if any car of that age and milage wouldn’t need a bit of attention).

    Your English is fine- our language isn’t the easiest to learn, and what you have written is easily understood. Welcome to the site!

  17. I’m not including in the previous story some body-paint repairs, collisions on parking sites, caused by other drivers (of course :-). They cost sometimes > 200 EUR\GBP, sometimes little trouble with insurance company. I had even not mentioned AirCon refill, battery and brake pad replacements. But they are called “consumables” all over the world. The shock absorbers are near end of life, but You can’t even imagine the road conditions (except highway) in my country. Fuel economy is perfect for weight and age, something extremly important for us. About the windows trouble – I’ve heard that it is (for a pity) Honda heritage… Other Rover drivers, including Honda powered ones, are predominantly very content. And the Rover 620TI and 623 Automatic are “exotic birds” at “our latitude”.
    Sole problem: One can’t swank (thanks Google for translation) while driving Rover… but can spare.
    And some joke at end: British-Japanese car, bought in Italy, German battery, French tyres, China speakers, Russian fuel, Bulgarian driver – what a Global World!

  18. @17,kr.Denchev,

    Actually you can swank whilst driving a Rover, but you need to have a tissue at the ready and pull over before you…

    Oh never mind.

    • Absolutely, 100%, NO!

      Given the choice of a new 3 Series Touring with my job, or buy my own Land Rover, it was a very easy choice 🙂

  19. With direct injection and an electronically controlled pump the L-series was the most advanced diesel on the market when it was launched. Shame there was no mention of AVL who developed it for Rover.

  20. I have a 21 year old Rover 620si auto for sale £450 with long m.o.t any one would like to buy it then email me

  21. My daughter (23) has found a job and needs a car (her first) because she will be driving 600 kilometres a week. She was immediately in love with the leather interior. I,for my self’ am more interested in the technical things. Will it hold out for a long time without to many costs on it?

    We are going to look at this one:

    With only 149.000 km for a diesel and a 1000 euro’s we think it will be a good buy bearing in mind the things said here.

    Any comments?

    Thomas Stokhof from Hoorn, Holland

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