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’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.
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.
£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.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.