Rover 200 was launched in 1995 to great acclaim; in 1999 it received a comprehensive makeover to become the 25. How did it stand up in 2004’s competitive market?
Roger Blaxall finds out…
Remember the Fiat 128? A former Car of the Year, the European motoring icon was a fabulous small saloon, typifying Fiat’s approach to design and engineering. And the response from Austin?
Don’t laugh, but the Allegro was touted as the answer to cars like the 128 and Citroen GS. I can still remember Motor’s dismissive comments when comparing the Allegro’s pushrod power with the rev happy ohc unit in the Fiat. ‘The Austin power unit feels agricultural in comparison” (or words to that effect) were writ large in a contemporary Fiat ad to hammer home just how antiquated the Austin was under the bonnet.
Now, this is all a convoluted introduction to a test on the latest Rover 25 – and now I’ll explain why. The week after I’d tested a 1.4iL five door, a Honda Civic diesel was delivered. I know, the Civic is more a 45 competitor but please read on for some interesting personal observations.
Anyway, you know the phrase ‘chalk and cheese’? Despite the price advantage of the Rover which costs £11,125 on the road (does anyone pay full price for any Rover 25 anyway?) the test car came loaded with various options (monogram paint, part leather trim, alloys, rear parking sensors, etc.) bumping up the price to around a cool 14 grand …
I thought the CityRover was overpriced but that takes the biscuit – or rather the whole packet of digestives. Not only did I choke at the price but comparing a fully loaded five door 1.4iL with the Civic on price alone (£13,700 v £14,013) is enough to make your eyes water – and the differentiation narrows further with the excellent Civic petrol.
It’s not only the price that rankled. Read these quotations and guess when they were made …
‘This is a Rover in Gap clothing, rather than Marks and Spencer’s finest. And do you know what, you can have a fun old time, even in the school runabout versions. Quicker steering reactions allied to a tauter body have made it more Fiesta than Polo to drive, without putting too much of a dent in the bump suppression capabilities, which were always pretty good. Verdict: more honest and capable.”
or … ‘Rover drives pride back into the Midlands. I have to take my hat off to the workers down at Longbridge. There is nothing wrong with the quality of the latest product (and) it drives like no baby Rover has done for years.”
Great quotations about the ‘new’ 25 – if only they were up to date! Yet the MG Rover PR office inserted them in the current press pack despite them being FOUR years old. Disingenuous or what … well I wasn’t very impressed especially as the latest Polo and Fiesta (never mind the Civic) have taken a quantum leap in all areas since then.
And that in a nutshell is the problem with the Rover 25. Just adding new paint colours, items like Trafficmaster and some interior styling tweaks (which have cheapened the car in my opinion) are laughable when you see the leap forward cars like the Fiesta, Polo, Corsa, Ibiza et al have made. Salesmen might know that the current 25 has a better power to weight ratio, sharper handling, a superior ride, etc. but the poor old customers is given the impression in the motoring media rightly or wrongly that the range is past its sell by date and ‘tired’.
Yet a few years ago it was all so different, and once the marketing suits had got the range positioning and pricing right, it was a car to take on the rival superminis head to head and win. Back then its beautiful, almost hand-crafted, interior looked the part while the exterior styling made rivals like the Fiesta, Polo or Corsa look pretty clueless.
The range still has a lot of talent and private punters still seem to like it with the 25/ZR 11th in the Autocar private sales charts. Time will tell next year it can still reach such a lofty position given the fact that many potential 25 punters might opt for a CityRover instead …*
At least the PR pack recalls the car’s glory days. The new 25 debuted in December 1999 … thus giving it the accolade of the last car introduced in the 20th century … and was the best selling UK car in April 2000. The latest Motorshow update can’t come soon enough, then. The 25 still has its good points – in monogram supertallic Lagoon supertallic with ‘Turbine’ alloys it looks good but the dumbed down interior with fake wood and lots of black plastic is more Adams family than Habitat. And while the latest generation PoloFiestaIbizaCorsa etc. all now major on large, usually chrome ringed instruments, the 25 instrument pack is looking really dated. The seats are relatively comfortable though and look even better when the full leather pack’s specified.
On the road, the car’s a capable driver providing you keep everything under 3000 revs. Take it to 4000 rpm and beyond and it’s a frenetic experience. Motorway driving, which takes up the majority of my time, is a relaxed affair up to the legal limit and even with an extra 20 mph on the speedo the 25 copes well, albeit noisily.
*One MG Rover dealer in Liverpool is so embarrassed by the CityRover he always points prospective customers into a new 25 1.4. He works for one of the UK’s biggest motoring groups so can sell them a base 25 1.4 for around £8000.