New Cars: Rover 825i

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British BMW chaser — how close?

The launch of the Rover 800 series was one of the most eagerly awaited events of 1986. Even the most casual follower of the motoring scene must have been aware of its impending arrival for there had been a campaign of ‘leaks’ and, besides, Honda had introduced its version of the collaboration, the Legend, at last year’s Tokyo show.

It has to be said that the press launch in Switzerland in July came something as an anti-climax after all the build-up. The main reason was that we were given pre-production cars to drive and this made it very difficult to assess the cars. Any faults which appeared, and there were several, could be excused by the fact that the cars were not in final form. On the other hand, positive comments about such things as build quality also had to be moderated, for pre-production cars are virtually hand-built and one expects them to be good.

One came away being able to describe the cars but unable to make any proper judgement on them. This was particularly true of the most important aspects of them, quality and refinement for, with this model range, Rover has said it is taking on the likes of BMW 5-series, Audi 100, Mercedes-Benz 200 and Ford Granada.

You’ll not be surprised to learn, then, that when the test car appeared at Standard House it was gone over with a fine toothcomb, and it passed with flying colours. Build quality and finish were first class.

The 825i costs £15,871 and one has the choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic at the same price. Although at first it appears to be expensive, when you begin to add up all the equipment it begins to look, if not exactly a bargain, at least reasonable.

The 825i has all the frills which one has come to expect of this class of car: central locking, with remote activation; electric windows on all four doors, with one-touch operation for the driver; electric mirrors; and variable-speed intermittent wiper control. In addition there are other refinements, like a delay on the interior lights, the facility to have a 50 second delay after switching off the headlights, variable height and lumbar support on the front seats and fore and aft adjustrnent for the rear seat cushions. All in all there has been a lot of thought gone into the details of the design and, though I’ve said it before, it may be worth repeating, the Rover Group is now second to none when it comes to packaging a car.

As soon as one sits in the car, there is a reassuring air with the seats upholstered in good quality cloth, a discreet use of wood facings and a pleasing finish to the plastic trim.

The engine and chassis were described in the August issue of Motor Sport but, briefly, the 825i is fitted with a Honda 2.5 litre injected V6 short stroke engine with single overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder which, in manual transmission form, gives 170 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 160 lb-ft torque at 5,000 rpm.

That the maximum torque appears so far up the rev range has been a frequently-heard criticism and Honda acknowledge it to some extent by mating the optional automatic transmission with a version of the engine in which a fractionally higher maximum torque figure is reached a full 1,000 rpm lower in the range for the loss of a mere 5 bhp.

The odd thing is that while the car feels to be lacking in low-range muscle, and its incremental times are not rapid, a look at the engine’s torque curve shows it to be remarkably flat, with just over 114 lb-t torque at 1,000 rpm. Still, with a claimed 0-60 mph time of 7.8 sec. and a top speed of 133 mph, this car is not slow.

These guideline performance figures are better than any of the Rover’s stated rivals and it is superior, too, covering the important 50-70 mph increment in just 5.2 seconds. In fuel economy, the Rover is one of the best In its class. Driven hard in a wide variety of conditions, the test car averaged just over 25 mph. With its 15 gallon fuel tank, this gives a range of 375 miles.

On the road the engine is smooth and quiet, as indeed is the whole car. Wind and road noise are both exceptionally low and the ride is comfortable. The chassis is extremely competent and the greatest compliment one can pay it is that it does not feel like a front driven car. There was never a hint of torque steer or front wheel tramp even when accelerating hard in the wet.

Handling and road holding are both of a high order and while the steering is on the light side it has a great deal more feel than the same Honda speed proportional pas as fitted to the Honda Legend. Braking is by 11.22 in ventilated front discs, with 10.24 in solid rear discs and again is everything it should be. ABS is available as an option at just over £1,200, but is fitted as standard to the top-of-range ‘Sterling’.

All in all, the Rover is a very pleasant car to drive though lacking a distinct personality. When one compares it to its stated opposition one feels that Rover has done a good job. True, it is not as roomy as, say, the Granada and its pricing has been perhaps ambitious, though 820 models, fitted with Rover’s own 16-valve four-cylinder engine appear to offer good value for money. Most damaging to the 825i’s chances in the market place, though, has been Jaguar’s coup in bringing in the base model 2.9 XJ6 at only £700 more.

Much of the range’s fortunes will depend on Rover being able to fulfill its promise of improved quality. In this respect the test car was impeccable. —ML

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