Of all the models launched during Austin Rover’s long and painful haul back from the brink of oblivion, none is more important than the new Rover 800 which was launched on July 10th In order to ensure future growth and development a medium-sized make like ARG needs a catlike the 800 both as a flagship for the entire range and because a luxury car generates more profit than a small car.
Though it is fashionable in some quarters to denigrate the fact that ARG has had to go into partnership with Honda to develop the new model, it is hard to see what alternative the company had. The harsh economic realities of creating new cars in the Eighties means that companies are increasingly having to pool research and development in order to spread costs. If one was looking for a partner, then Honda with its proven track record of engine development must seem attractive and, besides. Honda needs ARG as much as the British firm needs Honda.
From this association has already come the Triumph Acclaim and the Rover 200 series of cars, but these are really British assembled kits by comparison. The partnership has now matured into a true collaboration which has seen two allied but subtlety distinctint ranges, the Rover 800 and the Honda Legend which was first shown at the Tokyo motor show last year. Each company will make the other’s models alongside its own, giving each a foothold in the other’s market. We have become so used to hearing Japanese cars praised for their build quality at the expense of the home product that this statement of faith by Honda in ARG’s ability to build to Japanese standards is a heartening one. It remains to be seen whether the world market will perceive one version to be superior to the other.
Rover cars have not enjoyed the best reputation for reliability in recent years. particularly in America where they have not been sold for some time. Part of the function of the 800 is to penetrate the US market once again, but under the name of ‘Sterling’ which, in Britain, will be the top of the range model.
Some models of the existing Rover SDI range will continue to be marketed for the time being and further variations on the 800 theme are promised in the future, a hatchback being likely within the year. A ‘concept’ coupe has already been shown at the Turin Show where it attracted a great deal of favourable comment indeed, some went to far as to call it the ‘Star of the Show’. Following so closely on the stunning MG E-XE ‘concept’ car (the first in the log history of all the companies which have variously formed BMC. BMH, BL and now just ‘Rover Group’) it does seem that, at long last, the home industry is becoming adventurous and is able to prove that it can create exciting designs with the best.
It is a long time since ARG has introduced so completely new a design, for apart from an entirely new shell, there are two new transversely-mounted four valve per cylinder engines, a 2.5 litre V6, which is Honda’s and a 2.0 litre four from Rover. This latter engine has been on the stocks for some time (it was originally drawn for the TR7) but tar frorn showing age, it is a current ‘state of the art motor.
Honda’s C25A engine is an over-square (84 X 75) aluminium alloy sohc unit of 2.494cc with Honda PGM-Fl multi-point fuel injection, which develops 170 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 160 lb ft torque at 5.000 rpm when allied to the (Honda) five speed manual gearbox. With the Honda four speed automatic transmission, the figures are 165 bhp at 6.000 rpm and 163 lb ft torque at 4,000 rpm.
The different characteristics of the engine when tuned for the automatic change are marked in driving for it feels so much more flexible. You need to keep the revs up when driving the manual version for not a lot seems to happen at below 4,000 rpm Rover’s engine, which is basically a dohc, aluminium alloy headed, version of the familiar ‘0’ series iron block unit, comes in two states of tune, the M16E with single point fuel injection and the M16i with a Luca multi-point system. Both are slightly long stroke motors (84.5 X 89) of 1.994cc and are both ‘lean burn’ engines designed to run on unleaded petrol.
The M16E unit gives 118 bhp at 5,600 rpm and 119 lb ft torque at 3.500 rpm, while the M16i delivers 138 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 131 lb ft torque at 4.500 rpm. Both engines use the Honda five speed manual gearbox with a ZF 4HP14 automatic transmission as an option.
Front suspension on all models is by coil springs and unequal length double wishbones. telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar Rear suspension is independent by struts, transverse and trailing links. with coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar The V6 cars have Boge Nivomat self-levelling rear suspension. Disc brakes are fitted to all four wheel, the 56 cars have 15 in wheels and 10.3 in front discs, while 10.24 in discs are fitted to the rear of all models Bosch ABS is standard on the Sterling model and an option on other V6 cars.
Power-assisted steering is standard on all cars, the V6 models use Honda’s spreed proportional system, the 2 litre cars use one made by Cam Gears.
When ARG presented the cars, the most common word used was ‘refinement’ and it was not used idly. All models come with a high level of equipment and on the top of range cars it’s hard to see what else could be added. Even the base Rover 820E comes with central locking, electric mirrors and front windows, and a driver’s seat which has height and lumbar support adjustment. The Rover 820i has the same level of trim but the more powerful engine.
The 820 SE has the M16E engine and more ‘goodies’, such as a more complicated radio/cassette player, electric rear windows, uprated trim and slide/tilt glass sunroof. The 820Si is the same but with the M16i engine.
The 825i is the well-equipped ‘basic’ V6 can while the Sterling comes with Connolly hide upholstery, shag pile carpets, electrically adjusting seats with a four-person memory, air conditioning, powered sun roof and cruise control.
Rover’s models differ from the Honda Legend by a more rounded bonnet and different interior.
Since the car was shown to British journalists in Switzerland and the prescribed route was a dull affair encompassing a lot of main roads where the Swiss police are empowered to hand out hefty ‘on the spot’ fines for speeding, it’s hard to give much In the way of driving impressions. The cars are extremely comfortable and quiet and they felt unusually well-balanced. The M16i units felt more willing down the rev range than did the V6 cars with manuel gearboxes but the V6 with automatic transmission was a pleasant proposition. A colleague and I left the suggested route and took to the hills in one and found it a thoroughly competent car.
Rover’s performance claims are 0-60 mph in 8.8 seconds for the M16i engine, and a 126 mph top speed. The V6 models with manual transmission are claimed to cover 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds (9.0 seconds for the automatic) and reach a top speed of 133 mph (131 mph when fitted with automatic transmission). Figures for the M16E-powered cars were not available as we went to press.
Prices start at £11,820.47 and go up to £18,794.65.
The cars we drove on the launch were not free of faults and problems but then they were all pre-production models Rover’s collaboration with Honda extends beyond joint design for the company has learned from its Japanese partner a thing or two about involving its work force in quality control Instead of a continuous production line, these cars will be built in ‘islands’ and, as an example of concern with quality control, the doors will be taken off the shell for detail assembly, allowing the production workers easier access to the main body of the car.
It’s hardly over-stating the case to suggest that the future of Rover rides on this new range If the company really has learned how to screw them together properly, then its future should be assured for they are attractive, well-equipped and finished cars of some refinement which also boast good performance.
Rover is taking on the likes of BMW, Volvo, Saab. Audi and Mercedes-Benz and is also preparing to re-launch in the American market. It has a tough lime ahead, for the opposition is good. very good, and all one can do is wish Rover every success in its venture An awful lot depends on Rover getting it right. M.L.