Nowadays, there are few compact saloons or hatchbacks which aren’t available without a roof: Golf, Escort, Astra, Peugeot 306, Punto, Renault 19. . . Citroen is about the only mainstream European manufacturer without an alfresco option.
Rover’s contribution to a growing market is the 200, available with either 1.4- or 1.6-litre 16-valve engines. We tried the 216, which at £15,995 is similar in price to the equivalent Renault 19/Ford Escort (and about £2000 shy of the 306, whose alluring profile comes at a price). The test car also featured ABS, a £965 option, but compensation for that extra outlay comes in the standard provision of a power hood, remote central locking with alarm and immobiliser and, usefully, a demister fan to help clear the PVC (ie easily scratched) rear screen. Unlike some of its rivals, it also has a stout roll-hoop, which does rather more for one’s confidence than it does for purity of line. Aesthetes might also wonder why the rear windows can not be retracted fully, which looks a little odd if the fronts are down.
Small beer on the surface, but given the style-conscious profile of likely buyers in this sector, such attention to detail is probably important. One has become accustomed, in recent years, to the quantum leap in build quality chez Rover. In some ways, however, clambering into the 200 cabrio is like stepping back to a time when bat-wing shirt collars were all the rage and the Electric Light Orchestra ruled the world.
It’s not that there’s anything faulty with the construction, per se, but — despite the roll-hoop and the presence of body stiffening materials which make the cabrio 35 kg heavier than its saloon cousin, the 200 suffers more than most from body flex and scuttle shake. On anything other than wellsurfaced dual carriageways and motorways, the 216 squirms uncomfortably most of the time. And you don’t expect a car to feel as though it’s pulling itself apart with only 121 bhp on tap. Small wonder there’s no 220 in the range.
Performance claims are modest (0-60 mph in around 9.0s, and a top speed of 120 mph); truth be told it doesn’t actually feel that nippy.
On a smooth surface, at around 55-60 mph, it’s pleasant enough with the roof retracted. Above those speeds, rear seat passengers start to complain about buffeting. The front of the cabin, however, is well protected against the elements, even in the rain (so long as you are moving).
Plus points? It’s user-friendly in the modern Rover idiom, with crisp gearchange, an engine that is willing within its own limitations and decent brakes. The trouble is that when you touch the brakes the whole car is likely to shimmy in protest. One is always prepared to accept compromises with a hatch-turned-cabriolet; with the Rover, you have to tolerate them to a greater degree than most. S.A.