Looking to the Future
As red wine is to fish, British Rail is to timekeeping, Stanstead Airport is to mainstream aviation and the Scud is to precision bombing, so diesel-powered cars are to Motor Sport. They are not natural bedfellows, and yet if the pundits we have been talking to recently are correct in their assessment of motoring in the next ten years, then we had better change our ways.
It was more of a duty than a wish for further enlightment that we attended Rover’s launch of its diesel-powered 200 and 400 series, and it was also a chance to patch up relations with our national manufacturer after years of non-communication between them and us and their refusal to invite Motor Sport to drive their new models.
Two reasons to go then, but hardly a mouthwatering prospect.
There are four versions in this model range — the 218SD, the 218SLD, the 418SLD and the 418GSD, the latter three powered by the same 1.8-litre turbocharged engine and the former by a normally aspirated 1.9-litre unit. The surprise is, however, that these powerplants are not Rover’s own, but are Peugeot’s, the French company having a reputation for refinement and performance for such engines. The decision to use them was also made with an eye to the export market where a Rover product powered by a familiar-to-many Peugeot unit would be an attractive proposition.
Not being acquainted with either the five-door and three-door 200 range and the four-door 400 range, we were very impressed by the interior of every model driven. The top of the range 418GSD displayed touches of oppulence, such as walnut inserts and more comfortable surroundings than usually associated with the more utilitarian image of the diesel. In every case, the environment for driver and passenger was light and welcoming, in stark contrast to many medium sector offerings.
What of the diesel engines? It is difficult to judge since our only experience was that of a fairly basic Ford Escort diesel, but since it is Rover’s contention that their new models will make conquest sales from the petrol-engined variety, perhaps our lack of experience was not altogether a bad thing and more representative of the customer they hope to win over.
Whether it was the 418GSD or the 218SD, there was no escaping the fact that we were being propelled along by a diesel-engined machine, especially on tickover, but once on the move, that feeling was more or less dispelled. While the turbocharged versions had a little more performance than the normally aspirated one, none could be described as being over-endowed in this area, but that really is beside the point.
What we did notice, however, since our last ride in a Rover, is just how much better the build quality is nowadays. Unfortunately we were never in a car long enough to have a really good poke around underneath and inspect everything closely, but first impressions were nevertheless good; the doors closed with a satisfying click and nothing rattled or creaked within the passenger compartment.
Prices start at just under £11,000 for the 218SD, £12,950 for the 218SLD Turbo, £13,175 for the 418SLD Turbo and a highish £14,500 for the 418GSD Turbo. We have no doubt that these diesel-powered variants are keeping the company on the right track, one leading to a brighter future. — WPK
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