Rover 216 Vitesse

My “Easter-Egg” this year, from the road-test viewpoint, was the larger of the 200-Series Rovers, in Vitesse form. After a Budget that imposed no extra burdens on the car-owner, and a fall in petrol prices following the slump in the cost of oil, it was a good time to go motoring, if one avoided the traffic tail-backs and just roamed country lanes, as I did with the Rover 216 Vitesse.

Now that Nissan has been welcomed to this country as a car-producer there is less reason to be snide about the smaller Rovers because they are largely Japanese-based; let us be charitable and just remark that the Japs make good cars and if Austin-Rover think it essential to work with them in designing new models, so be it… I found the 216 Vitesse a nicer proposition than the rather underpowered Rover 213SE I tried in 1984. This is to be expected, with the larger engine, 1.598 cc against 1,342 cc, giving in fuel-injection Vitesse form an extra 33 bhp and tipping the torque by 27 lb ft. Indeed, the 216 Vitesse is a very eager car, capable of being opened up to nearly 110 mph and of setting a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 9 1/2 seconds.

The actual power-output from the overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine is 103 bhp, with a torque figure of 102, and this compact Rover four-door saloon can best be described as a willing performer. It is one of those cars that are notably easy to drive, with that excellent fives-peed gearbox, responsive pick-up which continues to build up usefully for overtaking, and light if somewhat vague, but acceptable steering. In respect of running well within itself even in the high fifth gear the EFi 216 Vitesse is markedly superior to the carburetted 1.3litre model. The seats are comfortable, the instruments easy to scan in the modern idiom, although only engine speed, road speed and distance, water-heat and petrol-content are recorded. The petrol gauge needle is very steady but did not sink from the full-tank mark for a great many miles; when it was still above the red warning the engine cut out sharply several times, making me wonder about the accuracy of the needle position. In fact, this is a very economical way of enjoying one’s driving, the fuel consumption in not too flurried usage coming out at 36.2 mpg.

If the engine is not exactly quiet, it is certainly not unpleasantly obtrusive. The Vitesse 216 has 14 in alloy wheels, shod with 175/65 Pirelli P8s on the test car, and other features include a body-colour grille, door mirrors, front and rear spoilers, rear anti-roll bar, tinted glass, electric windows, and central-locking. Back-seat leg room is not over generous but the boot is notably large, providing 15.2 cu ft of luggage space if you can hump things over the high sill.

There are traces of Rover refinement in the simulated wood interior decor, good quality upholstery, and the Rover badge, and a reminder of the Oriental link in the little floor levers for convenience when the driver needs to open the locked fuel-filler flap or the boot. Also in the pile carpet, sports-type front seats, coin tray and adiustable steering-rake, although much of the body trim is miserable plastic, as on most of today’s cars. The digital clock before the front-seat passenger is easy for the driver to read, the warning lights include those for low brake-fluid level and or excessive wear of the front brake-pads, which operate on ventilated discs. A two-tone horn and sensibly-contrived stowages are other good items.

This 216 Vitesse is, then, an acceptable member of today’s Rover family, and Its fuel-tank capacity of just over ten gallons obviates frequent refuelling. For these smaller modern Rovers the transverse-engine, FWD layout is used, and the Unipart battery and all the fillers are very accessible under the rear-hinged bonnet-lid, which has an easy-to-operate frontal catch. The body shape is perhaps an acquired taste and the “Vitesse” logo on the rear doors rather unnecessary. But the Rover 216 Vitesse is commendably brisk in those acceleration bands that matter, such as 30-60 mph (in eight seconds) and 50-70 mph (in 11,2 seconds). For those who want their Rovers economical but quick, this car has a great deal in its favour. The price is £8,398. — W.B.