Tested : CityRover

They say that curry is the most popular food in the UK now; MG Rover hoped to repeat the phenonemon in automotive terms with its new baby…

However, Roger Blaxall recounted a lukewam tale shortly after the car’s launch…

FOR £1600 the average punter can buy any manner of decent second hand AstraGolfEscort, etc. For MG Rover though it has bought a whole lot more … the ultimate Indian takeaway!

If Autocar’s to be believed, that’s the incredible price it costs to build the new CityRover over in Pune, India.

The magazine didn’t speculate how much extra it costs to transform a third world supermini into the latest addition to the MG Rover range but I bet my bottom rupee it wasn’t the £4,800 added to the price of the Tata Indica when its marketed as the City Rover Solo…

Profiteering or clever marketing? Personally I’d have loved to have seen the base model priced at around £4995 to take on cars like the Matiz, Alto and Agila head on.

The jury, it seems, is still out on the future of the new CityRover – and not just because if its pricing. There have been mixed reviews in a variety of national magazines and the general consensus seems to be it’s a good, but not great, effort from MG Rover and Tata.

It’s all a far cry from the raw emotion which greeted the announcement of the Austin Mini Metro back in October 1980. Remember Sir Michael Edwardes almost besieged at the entrance to the NEC and who can’t forget the OTT documentary with Sue Lawley in which grown men at Longbridge were seen to break down in tears in the hope that their new baby would make it.

Break down – now there’s a choice phrase for all those who can remember the faulty (French?) clutches and other early design faults which Leyland bashers said was typical of the marque. Credit where credit is due – Austin fixed the early faults and the PR offensive, masterminded by people like Tony Ball (father of singer Michael Ball) smoothed over many of the early glitches. But what made the Metro so special was the brilliant advertising campaign – who can also forget the original adverts for the MiniMetro back in 1980?

Among the cars I recall being repelled were a Renault 5, VW Polo, Ford Fiesta and Fiat 127. Spool forward 23 years and the launch of the new CityRover has been a different affair in many ways. Not least in that it’s not European cars alone which pose the biggest threat but models from the likes of Suzuki and Hyundai with the new Ignis and Getz showing just how far the supermini has advanced in the past few years.

Rover also chose not to have a proper press launch which meant minnows in the journalism world like me had to make do and mend. That saw me test drive a Sprite at a dealer in Kendal with a bright red model put at my disposal for half an hour.

I returned with mixed feelings. Back down memory lane again but I still have vivid memories of my original test drive of a Metro 1.3 S from my local Ormskirk dealer (Balmforths if anyone remembers them) all those years ago – and as a young journalist anxious to please perhaps I was swayed by the reports in the likes of Autocar, Car and Motor. Given the dealers enthusiasm, it was hard NOT to be enthused about the car.

Now, with the UK motoring press expressing serious doubts about the car’s pricing and some aspects of its overall quality I came back a little underwhelmed by the new CityRover…

It wasn’t helped by the fact that the dealer demo was damp inside. Well, damep is too kind .. it was sodden in the rear hatch, so much so that a small block of ice had formed under the carpet and there was lots of condensation inside … pity the poor woman who was driving it after me.

Anyway, let me be positive too. The car started promptly after a hard Cumbrian frost, warmed up quickly enough and was surprisingly lively once out of the 30 mph constraints of the town centre.

The ride was little bouncy for me but what was impressive was the way in which it climbed some steep unclassified roads out in the countryside. By way of comparison, my own Citroen Avantage 1.4 was reduced to first gear where the Sprite lived up to its name with sprightly performance up said gradients in second. I also liked the raised seating position but am not so sure about the cheap looking instruments, the dubious switchgear and build quality. Oh, and the rear fog lights were inoperative and the central locking warning light stayed illuminated.

So, my personal verdict on a dealer demo car? I’d give it 6 out of ten. I await with interest a test car from the MG Rover test fleet (booked solidly for the next few months) to get to know the car better over a week or so.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of opposition out there. A recent Telegraph motoring section mentioned 14 of them – and that’s not counting the lowly Rover 25 1.1 and the mega dealers specials which are usually thousands cheaper after a few weeks. And talking of discounts … the police version of the new CityRover will be priced at £5000 when it hits the beat.

Some final thoughts … given that the Indica mark two has just been announced in India with comprehensive improvements inside and out, couldn’t MG Rover have hit the ground running with that new, improved model? And I wonder when the saloon, estate and diesel variants are planned for introduction?

Keith Adams

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