Monday, July 27, 2009

Driven: Rover 416

A (not so) polished performance...

They say you can’t polish a turd, but I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Don’t for a moment assume I’m defending the gloriously crap Rover 400 you see in the photo above though, because it is indeed a turd; a vehemently malodorous pile of steaming excreta that should never have been allowed to leave Longbridge. What’s shocking is the fact I owned an MG ZS, based on this very model, and it was really rather good. While it wasn’t the last word in automotive evolution it was still a very credible competitor for something like the Ford Focus ST170. The Rover, on the other hand, isn’t.

While the MG changed direction with great alacrity and cornered flat (if a little too flat on occasions) the humble Rover is like steering a big boat in heavy seas... with a broken rudder. After a somewhat delayed response from the unbelievably woolly steering it wallows from side to side in a way I simply didn’t realise cars still did in the late ‘90s. The interior, meanwhile, looks like it was designed for the sort of people who list their remaining pleasures in life as comfy slacks and visits to the National Trust.

To be fair there is something approaching an upside in the form of the 1.6-litre K-Series powerplant. As a Caterham owner I would say that, but the truth is, even in the more sedate confines of the Rover, the engine performs surprisingly respectably. That really is it though. To compound the handling matters, the brakes are numb and overservoed, the clutch is vague, and the gearshift feels like stirring porridge with a stick of celery; it is a car of virtually no redeeming qualities.

So how did I end up here? Well, quite simply it’s a courtesy car given to me while the Focus is in for an MOT. I know what you’re thinking, but no, a hire car’s life really doesn’t excuse the state of the Rover. I expected to see at least 250,000 miles on the clock, but it’s covered a relatively sprightly 79,000, which makes it considerably less decrepit than the target market apparently was.

I’ve heard people from MG Rover going on about how much modification gone into morphing the Rover 45 into the MG ZS, but always assumed it was exaggerated; now I realise it was not. Just imagine what the same transformation could to do a car that was dynamically sound in the first place. Come back MG, all is forgiven.

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