I know that I’m going to come in for a lot of flack about this, but I think that the Rover 600 is a bloody good car – possibly one of the best that Rover ever built. However, before you accuse me of being boringly predictable and saying ‘of course it is’, given the 620ti’s 200bhp – let me just clarify that I mean the standard unsung Honda-powered ones. Given that this was supposed to be the least Roverised of all the joint venture Rover-Hondas, it looks the most British of the lot.
That’s something of a miracle because the European Honda Accord upon which the 600 was based wasn’t exactly blessed with great looks. However, given Richard Woolley’s masterful reworking of the Japanese body – which was confined to door frames, rear and front wings, bonnet and bumpers – its undoubted elegance is absolutely astounding.
The 600 may have looked great at its launch in 1993, but how has the old girl aged? Surprisingly well, actually. Again, here’s an area that Rover scores massively over Honda, and not just because the classical four-light shape looks better. No, Rover’s colour and trim combinations were class-leadingly enticing during the early- to mid-1990s and stood head and shoulders above the rest. Where Honda’s interiors were all dowdy and grey, Rover’s were classy and biscuit coloured – as a result, the British car was a whole lot more enticing a place to sit in.
OK, so the 600 still looks great, but what’s it like in service? Well, as you can imagine (and as many of you know), it’s astoundingly reliable. In fact, even today, in cars that are 15 years old, the worst you can expect to find them suffering from are windows dropping out of their runners, rusting brake lines and sticking rear calipers. Oh, and a little bit of rust around the rear arches and sills. Hardly a catalogue of disasters…
A few years back, I ran a 620i for Car Mechanics magazine. It had well over 200,000 miles on the clock and had been given to the magazine for free. I was tasked with licking it back into shape and, although it initially seemed like a forlorn task given that it had endured a tough life, once I rolled my sleeves up, it was suprisingly easy to sort. With new brake lines on and the rear calipers sorted, it sailed through an MoT and, with a leather GSi interior fitted and 16in wheels on it, it looked smart and felt nice to sit in.
More than that, though, you’d never actually have known it had mega-miles on it from behind the ‘wheel. It felt, tight, modern and pleasurable to drive, despite having the low-powered 115bhp engine under the bonnet. Yes, it impressed me and I made a mental note to buy one some time soon.
Here we are four years on, I still haven’t bought one and, more to the point, a 600 has still not been Car of the Month on this site – a shocking omission – but then that kind of sums up the 600 all over. We deal in underdogs and unsung heroes on AROnline and yet the mid-sized Rover was so good at what it did and simply got on quietly with the job in hand, that it’s been overlooked.
I guess I should alleviate that situation sometime soon, but for now, I’ll keep looking at the 600 as the car that – in the real world (that place where reliability and dependability count) – is perhaps the best thing ever to wear a Viking Longship on its snout…