UK CAR Reviews: Rover 218 SL Turbo Diesel.
After decades of creating some of the world's most unattractive cars, the Rover group, last vestige of the once mighty British car industry have finally managed to produce some cars they can be proud of.
Not only that but they have managed to introduce a second version that was actually an improvement and not just another bag of 30 year-old parts-bin leftovers. (Disco door handles seem familiar to anyone?) It's a shame then, that Rover have pulled off one of the best moves of their failing career by borrowing a Honda and then having the bare-faced cheek to not even disguise the exterior. In this, the Turbo diesel guise, they also borrowed a French engine and a German gearbox. This is probably the most cosmopolitan British car of all time!
Climbing aboard the Rover for the first time, you are certainly not disappointed. Step on to the Rover emblazoned chrome sill and slide into the velour trimmed seat. Your hands grasp the thick, soft-touch steering wheel and the nicely trimmed, shaped and sized gearknob. The dashboard is slightly cheap, made of hard-looking plastic, but your eyes are naturally drawn to the classy-looking walnut inserts. The interior seems quite large but most of this is down to the light beige trim and large glass area - the later black interior versions are much more claustrophobic. For this class of car, it is pretty well equipped. Electric front windows and mirrors, sunroof and all the usual gubbins. Classy touches include remote releases for both fuel and boot situated on the floor and more working warning lights than on most other British motors.
Unlike older Rovers, the heater is top-notch in this car, and when the weather turns nasty, the heater can still give you a serious toasting. The seats are a little on the soft and low side and the height can
be a bit of a problem for the vertically challenged but at least the steering is height adjustable to improve matters slightly. Rover couldn't resist revamping a few bits and pieces though. The suspension, retuned for European tastes, no longer does much suspending, preferring instead to bounce off large obstacles and is prone to undue jiggling at low speed. The French motor retuned for economy is pale imitation of the fire breather fitted to the Citroen BX. Lack of torque and power merely makes you drive it harder and change gear more often. Once the turbo is spinning, it provides adequate thrust for normal use, it's just that combined with the high gearing, the lack of low-down pull does tend to leave you temporarily embarrassed whilst you wait for some power to arrive.
Towing really highlighted the engine's on-off power supply, as cruising at the towing limit leaves the engine turning over just off the boost point, the imminent arrival of a hill has you speeding up (into "getting pulled" territory) just to avoid a down change up the hill. If you're stuck in traffic, it gets even more frustrating as you are forced to change down once or even twice and then find the diesels' low rev ceiling. This means you have a relatively narrow power band to play with - rev it till you lose all pull in third, change to fourth and then find you've dropped off the boost and need to change down again. The only answer is to try and maintain a speed that's not strictly legal and keep your eyes wide open!
The handling is okay most of the time as long as you don't push on too hard. At this point, under steer starts to set in and can only get worse until it becomes TERMINAL. Grabbing a handful of lock around a sharp kink gets the front end sliding a little too easily, the tyres are quite large and grippy though and backing off the throttle allows them to regain control. All safe stuff if a little uninspiring. I personally don't think Honda ever expected a big old diesel donkey to find its way up-front and, as a result, didn't allow a wide enough set of parameters to be entered into its design computer. Maybe Rover pushed the weight a little too far and ruined the balance of the car. It's certainly not the power causing the problems as the basic chassis has been harnessed to more than twice this power without major problems. Anyway, you have been warned - don't go stupid and you will be okay.
This motor's fairly easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. 40mpg is easy to attain (50 is possible if you drive in slippers). The power-steering feels solid without being heavy, the brakes light and powerful, the clutch though harks back to more traditional British cars and is a bit of a heave. The gearbox is notchy with a rather long throw, 1 through 4 are easy to find but 5 is a slow, awkward long change away. The sloping rear end which endows the car with (in my eyes at least,) its distinctive good looks, doesn't help the practicality - even with the seats folded the boot isn't exactly large. The rear seats are split folders, or at least they are split in the vertical, unfortunately this doesn't extend to the seat base so you can't fully fold one side down and leave the other side up. When the seats are fully folded, the front seats are effectively restricted to people around of around 5' 8". Security on the older models isn't great - no alarms, no deadlocks, no immobiliser, zilch - maybe car theft isn't a national pastime in Japan! Barter on the price to cover cars with no aftermarket security items. Reliability has been pretty good although the cv joints went on mine and are shockingly expensive for a British car, but nothing else has yet managed to break so fingers crossed.
So if you want a reliable, economical, stylish and British medium hatchback, that's much nicer than an Ashtray (Astra) or Escort, look no further.
Please send your comments to UK Car using the contact us on the left.
|For all Rover cars specifications and data from:
www.ukcar.com click here.