Review and road test of the Rover 75 (1999 - 2005)
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Rover has produced so many 'last chance saloons' that by now they've become rather good at it. The 75 range is the product of Rover's disastrous spell under the governance of BMW, and if you were expecting the car's abilities to mirror the organisational fiasco that overwhelmed Rover, you'd be quite wrong. The 75 is arguably the best Rover model to date, ruthlessly aimed at a specific target audience and offering good value. As a used proposition, the 75 fares well, with high demand despite fairly strong resale values.
(4 dr saloon, 5 door Tourer 1.8, 2.0, 2.5, 4.6 petrol 2.0 diesel [Classic (SE), Connoisseur (SE), Club (SE)])
The Rover 75 was a key vehicle for Rover, replacing as it did the 600 and 800 ranges. Launched in February 1999 to massive international acclaim, the 75 surprised many with its rather quaint detailing and uncanny refinement. The range was reasonably straightforward for buyers to comprehend. Three petrol engines and a diesel engine were available in three main trim levels with the basic Classic and SE luxury variant of each added in October 1999. The engines included the trusty Rover K Series 1.8-litre four-cylinder unit as seen in the MGF, Land Rover Freelander and Lotus Elise, and two V6 engines in 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre guises. A 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine was also offered, and the Tourer estate version was introduced in summer 2001. A turbocharged version of the 1.8T engine was introduced in 2002 to replace the thirsty and inefficient 2.0-litre V6 but the biggest change to the range came in early 2004 when the 75 was treated to a controversial facelift. Directly thereafter a V8 version was added, using the same 260bhp 4.6-litre Mustang-sourced engine as the MG ZT 260 and shortly after that an extended wheelbase limousine model was launched. The 75 joined the choir invisible in 2005 as MG Rover sadly departed from volume car production.
What You Get
The Rover 75 was created to 'give owners that special sense of occasion every time they use it.' Most will agree that it does. On paper, it competes against cars like Audi's A4, BMW's 3 Series, Saab's 9-3, Mercedes' C-class and Alfa Romeo's 156. In the metal, however, it's a different story. Set a 75 alongside any of these and it seems a classier proposition altogether. So much so in fact that you'd think it competed in the next class up against BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 opposition. This is entirely intentional, of course, for the 75 must, at a stroke, replace not one but two complete ranges - the 600 and 800 Series line-ups.
In order to do so, there's an impressive range of engines on offer including a diesel unit courtesy of BMW's 2.0-litre 'Common Rail' unit, the same as that used in the Bavarian company's 320d. Developing 116bhp, the marketeers hope that the 2.0 CDT models will convert diesel doubters, combining as they do sparkling performance (0-60mph in 11.0s en route to 120mph) with an achievable consumption average not far off 50mpg. The V6s aren't the fastest engines of their kind, but they're certainly among the most refined. However, they produce a lovely six-cylinder burble that really will put Rover enthusiasts in mind of some of the classic models from the '40s and '50s.
The same is true of the interior, complete with its oval 'steam engine' binnacle dials that look like they've been lifted from one of HG Wells' time machines. Other lovely detail touches also take you back: the chrome-plated door pulls and wing mirrors, the satisfying 'clunk' as the doors shut - even the wood fascia, designed into the cabin rather than added on as an afterthought. It isn't really wood of course, but who cares? It's the ambience that matters and ambience is something the 75 has in abundance.
Accommodation is one area where those glorious 'junior Bentley' looks flatter to deceive. The 75 may be somewhere between a 3 and a 5 Series in exterior length but inside, there's no more room than you'd find in the smaller 'Three'. This is surprising when you consider the natural packaging advantages that the front wheel drive Rover enjoys over its rear wheel drive German counterparts. In compensation, the boot is a reasonable size - though you have to pay extra for a folding rear seat. Standard equipment levels really depend upon the size of your chequebook and your choice between three main trim levels - Classic, Club and Connoisseur. Either way, however, expect to find ABS, powered front windows and mirrors, a six-speaker stereo and an alarm fitted across the range.
What to Look For
The Rover 75 has proved to be a reliable offering, and despite its executive pretensions has been bought by a large number of more mature customers. Given that this clientele are less likely to drive the 75 in the manner in which an Alfa Romeo 156 or a BMW 3 Series are often driven, this is good news for the used buyer. One thing to check is that the specification sheet matches the date of first registration. There are continued rumours of large numbers of 75s that Rover pre-registered to artificially inflate sales figures. These cars may have been standing in a field or car park for weeks on end, so check for water ingress, signs of surface corrosion on suspension parts. Aside from this, it's pretty clear with the 75 so far.
(approx. based on 75 1.8) Nothing too scary here. For most parts the prices are quite reasonable and worth the money. Expect to pay around £230 for a full clutch assembly, around £90 for a headlamp and about £195 for an alternator. Brake pads should cost about £55 for the front and £50 for the rear, whilst a starter motor is around £185.
On the Road
It's hard to believe the 1.8-litre models share an engine with the Lotus Elise. Not that the Rover disgraces itself over a series of bends, just that in this guise, it's noticeably more refined. It can still develop a useful 120bhp which means sixty in 10.9s on the way to 121mph. Even the diesel can manage the sprint from rest to sixty in 11.0 seconds en route to 120mph. With an achievable consumption average not far off 50mpg, it's an impressive unit, as drivers of the similarly equipped BMW 320d have testified. The 2.5-litre V6 cars manage sixty in 8.2s on the way to 137mph, and have an impressively relaxed nature, especially when mated to the automatic gearbox. The 1.8T offers the best compromise between performance and affordability whilst those with plenty of money to spend may well prefer the mighty V8.
On the road, that emphasis on luxury continues. The Rover sails over surfaces that would, quite frankly, be unpleasant in equivalent BMWs and Audis. It's quieter too in every area save that of wind noise. True, a 3 Series or an Alfa 156 is more fun to drive on a twisting country road, but a well-driven 75 wouldn't be that far behind: in every other circumstance, it's the car you'd rather be in, capable yet undemanding.
There's the usual choice of five-speed manual or a new five-speed automatic transmission which curiously, given this Rover's Bavarian parentage, isn't available with the Steptronic self-shifter that works so well on rival BMWs. Even so, this is the one to choose, the shift quality of the manual box, though adequate, not being one of the Rover's strongpoints.
The Rover 75 is a British-built car to be proud of. Currently riding on a wave of goodwill, the 75 is a car that can be bought with head as well as the heart. If you want a car that's refined, sophisticated and which has more of a presence and sense of occasion than any of its rivals, take a look at a Rover 75. There's not a bad choice across the entire range, though the 2.0-litre V6 automatics are particularly smooth. With quite a few examples now landing in the used network, take your time to track down a good one. It's worth the effort, as the 75 will still look good on your drive ten years down the line.
Rover 75 (1999 - 2005) review by ANDY ENRIGHT