Rover is to make a determined challenge in the small, but lucrative, coupe market. A three-model range is now available, priced from £14,495, if you opt for the familiar Honda 1.6-litre sohc powertrain, to £18,315 for the 220 Turbo that we tried in Yorkshire recently.
This lavishly equipped Rover has no Honda equivalent and is said to be the marque’s fastest ever product, with a claimed top speed of 150 mph and the ability to sprint from 0-60 mph in 6.2s. It is aggressively styled, effectively engineered and modestly innovative.
Externally the appearance is very much in the Japanese mould, although the lack of spoilers on the 216 allows a more European (Calibra-style) effect. The twin glass sunroof panels are an easily detachable standard feature that give the Rover a unique semi-Targa feeling, courtesy of an Italian supplier. MOTOR SPORT has previously tested the boosted two-litre T-series engine in the current Vitesse, but the version for the smaller and lighter coupe is the result of a 14-month co-operation between Rover and Garrett AiResearch engineers. The T25 turbo is the same, but the intercooler has been replaced, primarily for packaging reasons. Power has been increased from the Vitesse’s 185 bhp to 200 bhp at 6000 rpm. Torque is also revised, to 174 lb/ft at a modest 2100 rpm.
To achieve these figures, Rover Powertrain Programmes at Longbridge changed exhaust camshaft duration from 260 deg to 240 and reprogrammed the Rover MEMS electronics to allow 12 psi boost pressure rather than the 800’s 10 psi peak. The use of thinwall techniques within the catalytic converter and an increased exhaust bore have helped to speed up flow rates.
To complement the increased power there had to be a rapid search to find a suitable transmission, all-wheel drive systems having been ruled out on grounds of cost and engineering time. After a look at the kind of electronic traction controls that VW uses upon the VR6 and the viscous coupling employed by Ford on older Escort RS turbos, Rover opted to enter negotiations with Torsen, now under Japanese ownership. Rover engineers enjoyed excellent co-operation with American engineers and Belgian production facilities to bring the Torsen front-drive differential to the Longbridge production line.
We covered just over 70 miles, most of them in a torrent, to assess the low-riding sports suspension (nicknamed ‘Tomcat’, though this surely can’t be another TWR project?) and modified powertrain. These were the most demanding conditions for a powerful, front-drive car. With the reservation that front wheel location is not sufficient to prevent pronounced wheel hop in a wet weather standing start, we liked the turbocharged small Rover a lot. The exterior style is such that you expect something of a hooligan road racer in the old Escort RS style. What you get is one of the most refined and capable members of the current turbocharged, four-cylinder generation. It will run from 1000-6400 rpm without any sudden hummocks in the power curve.
The K-series model? That has a power unit to establish Rover as a serious source of civilised horsepower.
The Torsen differential does its job well, allowing the driver to select power and line in a manner that VW’s system would never permit. It does not provide the security (or customer expense) of a full four-wheel drive system, but it does work well in association with usual Rover flair for balancing ride and handling qualities.
The cabin of the new Rover coupe was finely finished in dark hues (leather and air conditioning are options), and the coupe promises to satisfy a planned 7000 new owners per year in the UK, with an estimated 5000 valuable sales overseas.
On this brief acquaintance I would be unlikely to pick the Rover over the VW Corrado (I thought both 16v and G60 versions worthwhile, and hear nothing but praise for the new 190 bhp VR6 range leader). However, thousands of Rover customers will place value for money and strong style ahead of the less unobtrusive Volkswagen’s qualities. This will make the latest Rover coupe a deserved commercial success.