Rover Cars

UK CAR Review: Rover 416Gsi



Rovers Zingy little 1.6 engine in a Honda Concerto Chassis. To the plain bigoted that doesn’t sound very good does it. The Last vestiges of the old BL, Austin Rover, cant make decent engines can they? And Honda for god sake, they make great engines but they don’t make great chassis do they?

Well I’m sorry but your living in the past. Honda make decently engineered cars with fine chassis, and Rovers late model motors were a million miles from the sluggy old A, B and C series efforts they inflicted on the British public for the best part of 40 years.

The whole concept of these cars was just so right in their day, they helped Steady the Rover ship, making it attractive too the asset stripping krauts, and at least had a part in allowing the phoenix to arise from the flames. Its doubtful if any of Rovers would still exist if the Japanese sourced recovery hadn’t put a bit of a gloss back onto Rovers well-tarnished image. The Honda derived Rover 600 clung on until, the BMW influenced 75 arrived, just before BMW bailed out and the 400/45 is still there. It’s strange how despite BMW’s ownership the Rover range still owes more to Honda partnerships than BMW influence.  

In essence the 416 is a Honda touched and smartened up to suit western tastes, and driven by a smart performing Rover motor. 

Rovers have a bit of an image crisis though. They still have one now. In the days of the 416, Rover seemed to have decided to aim squarely at the middle aged – and elderly market. Hence despite the smartness of the exteriors, they have some rather dowdy interiors.  In this case it’s a rash out break of grey and beige, presumably to suit someone 5 years younger than the Total beige out of other versions. (That would make it in and around the pre-pensioner 50-60 market then)

It was actually quite a successful tack at the time, add in the strips of plastic wood to echo back to the Rovers of old driven by your Great Aunt Ethel, and the little Rover did a reasonable job of packing in the not so young at heart, Happy in the knowledge that their smart little Rovers were way classier than any Escort or Orion could ever be, and safe in the thought that a least a Re-badged Japanese car wouldn’t fall to bits.

It’s slightly strange then to drive the 416 and discover its not quite the pension collection mobile you thought it to be. The overriding impression that’s left on you comes from the engine.

It’s a rev happy banzai little unit that needs a sack full of revs to get going and then zips on ever harder to its heady heights. It has a rev-counter but you don’t need it as the power band is announced by the cacophony of a dozen un-oiled sewing machines plugged into a three-phase supply. It’s not so much a deeply strained sound, much more a horde of angry wasps on drugs. Extra sound insulation would be a definite bonus.

The steering, pedals and gear shift all join in the little game with a quick sharp responsive feel. The Gearbox is surprisingly slick considering the treacle stirring effort of the diesel versions, the pedals have a light sharp feel but also have a strangle short stunted travel feel to them. Short clutch and brakes are fine, but the short throttle makes balancing the revs at getaway a little difficult.

Despite a shot CV joint, the steering still showed enough of what its really like, with almost nervously quick response at speed. The CV joint did rather spoil any impressions that should be made with larger amounts of lock on, but I’m pretty sure a good one would have smooth responsive steering.

Ride is of the firm variety, which helps the vehicle maintain a composed feel through the bends   at least until the bumps started to cause the tyres to lose adhesion. Feel back through the wheel is though fairly limited other than shock when the firm suspension runs out of travel.

Turning circle is never a strong point on east-west front drive installations, on Rovers it seems to be even worse than normal, but its always been an Austin-Rover trait.

This one was a GSI, which means electric windows, Mirrors and sunroof. It also   has some improved seats with small side squabs, which are quite comfortable despite the non-adjustable height and the sit up and beg position.  It on this vehicle means a set of alloys, which may or may not be original. They were shod with some low profile tyres of dubious benefit. Just 185 wide but rubber band thickness sidewalls, they ride fairly roughly, but more importantly have a very small rolling circumference. This gives a very low top gear, great for in gear response, but bringing the wailing engine onto song above 60mph and making motorway speeds distractingly noisy. 

The 416 are falling toward banger prices and for your little money you get a practical little saloon that’s much more pleasant than most of its ageing competitors. The boots a reasonable size, the large glass area gives a light airy feel and easy vision all rounds.  But the best part for those who are fiscally challenged is the zippy and economical motor its just a shame its image is so middle aged.

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