WE’D been left waiting for a while… but, after a hiatus of just over 18 months, production of the Rover 75 restarted. And to greet the re-invention, some style improvements were made – oh yes, and it’s now made in China.
The Roewe 750E might look like a Rover 75, and could well feel like one, but until they arrive in the UK, we’ll not know for sure. In the meantime, here are some driving impressions as published on the Auto China website, with a bit of interpretation by ourselves.
By Auto China, edited by Keith Adams.
A new beginning?
FOR many visitors at the recent Beijing Auto Show, there was a surprise to be found – not because SAIC’s new car was there, but thanks to Ford’s decision to purchase the ‘Rover’ marque name from BMW, it was now to be seen on the Rongwei (Roewe) show stand. Ford’s decision to purchase Rover at the last minute in order “to give priority to their purchasing power,” meant that what we saw was the ‘Roewe’ – a new creation, with a British flavour to it.
The Roewe emblem might be similar to Rover’s Viking longship – especially in its shape, but there are very important differences. The red and black colour scheme, the lion and the ‘R’ script mark it out as different enough to establish its own brand identity.
The Roewe 750 models are built in China from local componentry – and although the Rover 75 was launched in the late 1990s, it was a very good starting point from which a autonomous domestic manufacturer could base its vitally important new car on.
Before we even drove the car, it was clear that the most impressive feature of the Roewe is its appearance. It’s easy to see similarities at the front end with Jaguar, and other classically styled British saloons. The cigar-shaped body styling has a distinctly classic style to it, and the Roewe looks like the latest of a long of of saloons.
A stylish tale
The UK has a long motoring history although in recent years, only Rolls Royce, Bentley, and Jaguar seem to have remained true to their heritage. These companies built cars that were aimed at upper-class customers who knew what they wanted in their ‘English’ cars. This meant that styling didn’t evolve in a fast-moving industry, and that meant that the cars ended up distanced from their opposition.
And in a market dominated by efficient Japanese cars and soulless Germans, the majority of the British cars really were like works of art. Now through some minor cosmetic surgery, SAIC has taken the British work of art and turned it into a tool to serve the Chinese people. The Roewe front end styling has been slightly revised and looks little different to the Rover it was based upon.
However, the Roewe 750 looks more aggressive at the front – giving it a more powerful style. Apart from that, the Roewe body is basically a carry-over from the design of the Rover 75 with the smallest of changes. The most significant changes are a 10cm increase in the wheelbase, and the drooping rear end design which cost boot- and leg-room has been revised – and from the C-post backwards some of that classic style with its charming curves have been lost.
The inside story
Clearly, in the eyes of SAIC’s designers, practicality has been an important issue – and within the romantic, classical design there has been a need to innovate – denoting that this is a new car. The bulkier rear end styling may have been at the expense of the styling, but it has been necessary for the Chinese market. Once inside, the full extent of the differences are clear to see – and the classic British style has been modernised.
Such is the success of the styling in our eyes, that had we not seen the Rover 75 beforehand, we’d have thought this was a brand new, good-looking, design.
Inside the car, the classic ovaloid theme has been retained – as have the pretty white back-lit dials. Either side of the retro-looking analogue clock are two oval air vents – and it seems that many of the function buttons follow the same theme, leading us to think that it’s a style unique to the marque for at least a century. The style of the Roewe has changed, and on first acquaintance, it seems that the interior materials are far away from the Rover’s aritocratic DNA. Perhaps this is a function of the car’s low list price.
On the road, the benefits of using of international resources in the production of our own brands is immediately obvious. Problems with most domestic cars, such as poor ride and handling and engine/transmission characteristics don’t seem to be evident with the Roewe 750. It’s a very smooth, mature platform from which the obvious benefits have been extracted.
On the road
Although the five-speed automatic transmission of the Rover 75 didn’t win universal praise, the Roewe system is hard to find fault with. There’s little wrong with the performance, either, and the smooth shifting smooth and relatively quiet gearbox matches the car’s personality perfectly. The original Rover KV6 engine comfortably handles it boost in maximum from 177bhp to 184bhp, although the torque figure remains the same.
The increased wheelbase does bring a weight penalty of nearly 100kg, and that means that the 0-60mph acceleration time has gone up to 10 seconds, from 8.9 in the Rover 75. The lengthened wheelbase gives the car similar comfort levels to the largest of competitors – and the Rover 75 was a great starting point, as it was originally very comfortable, despite its imperfect use of space.
Meanwhile, in order to meet China’s road conditions, SAIC engineers at the European Research Centre (Ricardo2010) specified the car with firm springing, which has been softened for Chinese consumption. This softer ride, along with the lengthened wheelbase has made a significant contribution to the rear of comfort. However, this chassis adjustment means some wallowing. As well as the adjusted suspension, the brakes and their pedal action have been tuned for Chinese tastes, and that means they feel softer in operation.
Driving enthusiasts keen on the Rover 75 will begin to worry whether these changes will dilute that car’s character. In fact, there is no need to worry, because although your driving style will need to adjust to compensate, you can still have a lot of fun in this car. We drove it close to 125mph from Hangzhou to the Qiandao Lake, and the best way to explain the feeling was that the chassis was solid – and the road was dismissed easily.
The Guteyi (Goodyear) high-speed tyres were well up to the task of keeping the Roewe on the road, and braking performance is good. The thick-rimmed steering wheel feels good, but also assists with high speed stability.
Like the opposition from Jaguar, the Rover 75 had a unique British feel to it – something the Roewe has inherited. Driving quickly in the the middle of the city, and the car made a beautiful and unique noise that attracted the attention of other drivers. Although the engine noise is pleasant, wind noise from the screen is not up to form, and will need to be modified before the Roewe 750 hits the market.
There has been a lot of the local optimization in its transformation into the Roewe 750, such as its new interior design, the longer wheelbase, and boot size. After all, Roewe-SAIC is only on the first step in the development of the marque, and much has been inherited rather than innovated. Now the challenge that faces the company is how to maintain the quality and ‘Britishness’ of the original while developing new models and selling them at a very competitive price.
As a toe-in-the-water exercise to see how customers will take to British-designed cars locally produced in China, the Roewe 750 is an impressive first step. The 750 takes its British style and aims straight for the competition – and from whichever angle you look at it, it will be interesting to see whether the opposition answers the challenge by producing similar cars. China’s consumers already have plenty of choice – so the question is whether the people will readily accept new things.
Unlike the Passat, the Roewe will appeal to a more unique buying group – and will be offered at an attractive price. Perhaps the best way to defeat the opposition is simply by undercutting them.
Article originally appeared on the Auto China website