A week, they say, is a long time in politics and, equally, seven years is an absolute age in the motor industry – that’s how long it’s been since we were able to buy a freshly-made new Rover from the local MGR dealer.
In the intervening years, something of a revolution happened at Jaguar Land Rover. Both companies’ ranges have been reinvented from the top-down, with both clearly showing that there’s substance behind the principle of ‘Cool Britannia’ (sorry about the tired cliché), and our cars can use their wood ‘n’ leather in a progressive and modernistic way. Additionally, in terms of body styling, the wonderful XF and Evoque prove we can still make great looking cars which are both obviously British, have heritage and look utterly modern.
We all know that JLR wants to build a sub-XF saloon/hatchback to compete in the 3-Series/A4/C-Class market and the current thinking is that it will wear a Jaguar badge. And why shouldn’t it? After all, the Mk1/Mk2 saloon was pitched right in the heart of that sector (before it was actually defined) and look how well that went on to do. We’ll perhaps brush over the X-TYPE, which was a fine car in its own right but lacked a certain sexiness that should be part and parcel of a Jaguar – and didn’t actually do anything the Rover 75/MG ZT couldn’t do.
So, whatever new ‘small’ car that JLR comes up with will no doubt be progressive, sexy and cool.
Well, that’s where Rover comes in. After the X-TYPE, there’s clearly some jitters over the prospect of a Jaguar that competes in that sector after a relatively short break. It could be a gamble for a maker that, by the end of next year, will be offering a top-down range (XF, XFW, XJ, XJL, XK, C-X16 and C-X75) that matches anything the Germans or Japanese can come up with. The old Pub landlord/Arthur Daley image should be completely washed away by then, thanks to the innovative product-led rebirth.
Instead of expanding Jaguar downwards, why not exploit Land and Range Rover’s current standing with a complementary two-wheel drive road car, cast in the mould of the Evoque? But perhaps a little lower and sportier, too? JLR certainly is in the position to build Rovers now – US customers call their Rangies and Evoques ‘Rovers’ anyway, so why not? Beyond that, there’s an established dealer network that would sell new Rovers and a sympa customer base. That’s the idea, anyway.
What about the new Rover, then? Think Evoque levels of cool, but lower and sleeker than the rival Germans – and standing apart visually. And although my personal bias is well known, the closest Rover ever came to that was the SD1. A shame it was launched in the midst of the firestorm that we now know as the 1970s and was built so badly that all of the goodwill that was built up following its triumphant 1976 launch, was lost forever by the end of 1978…
Imagine, instead, that the Rover SD1 had been built by a company that was both the darling of the media and highly rated by its customers, and was built to a quality more than acceptable by the standards of its day. The stylish hatchback blew the opposition out of the water, both in terms of styling and performance and, without the rest of the BL nonsense, it would have gone on to become one of the UK’s all-time greats. Instead, that is, of the flawed gem which we have today.
That scenario could well be where a new JLR-developed Rover could find itself in – how great would that be?
As for the naysayers who consider Rover a dead and tarnished marque, consider that the last Phoenix-managed car rolled out of Longbridge a long time ago and, like-it-or-not, it’s MG Motor UK that has inherited that emotional baggage now. A clean and fresh start under JLR for Rover could and – in my opinion – would work. There’s a growing groundswell of people out there looking for an alternative to the Germans, but one that by its very nature is as capable and cool as them.
And to me, a Gaydon-engineered, Solihull-built Rover, styled by someone of the calibre of Richard Woolley (who is still very much a big wheel at Jaguar Land Rover and is a great stylist who is far too underrated right now), is that car.
Come one JLR, make it happen! The time is most definitely right…