UK CAR Review: Rover 820 SLi

Last of the Real Rovers ?

Rover 820 SLi

Rover's have gone through somewhat of an image crisis in the last few decades.
Cars up until the last P5 in 1975 were middle class Rollers, well built but conservative. The P5 was the chosen transport as such luminaries as Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher. Big but not brash, well built over engineered cars for sensible middle aged well to do types.

In the late 60's the radical P6 arrived and virtually single handed, invented the sporting executive saloon and transformed Rovers rather staid image.  It had sophisticated engine and suspension like no Rover before, it also had velour and plastic trim like no Rover before, and  sprouted the first plastic walnut  trim we brits are supposed to love so much today. Later under the BL banner the SD1 arrived . 
A stunning chisel nosed aerodynamic hatchback design which picked up many awards, before everybody realised they where built to standards even the Russians could better, they broke down, rusted and fell to pieces, overnight Rovers image was destroyed.
Today the Rover badge is carried by the remains of the once massive British Motor Corporation (BMC), British Leyland (BL), Austin Rover conglomerate now in BMW's hands. Arguably until the introduction of the BMW helped  75, only one car in the range could be considered to fit into the real Rover bracket that being the big conservative, well appointed, and not Honda based 800 series. Is the 800 the final swansong or the final nail.


This particular 800 is the face lifted late model and its also the better looking saloon version . Its a big imposing car and looks quite smart at first glance. Neat alloys wheels and lots of chrome bright work combine nicely with the dark ever popular British Racing Green paint to create a good first impression.  Don't look too closely though the genius who scared a decades worth of Maestro's and Montego's which who swage lines has been at it again. There seems to be at least two lines too many down the 800's flanks exaggerating its length enormously. Its rather reminiscent of the big Datsuns and Toyota's of the 70's and 80's and not anywhere near as good as the smaller cars in Rovers range.


Rover 820 SLi

Ah well on to the Interior. remote central locking is no less than you would expect at this level of car, and a cursory glance indicates the Rover to be reasonably well appointed. Air Con and Electric Sunroof, Electric Mirrors, Electric windows front and rear. Multiplayer CD in the boot, front fog lamps, height and lumbar adjustable seat, remote boot and petrol release and a plethora of arm rests. Shiny veneer gleams from the dash board and small patches of leather/ette break up the endless expanses of velour. But no matter how hard it tries it cant hide its basic flaws and the fact it is based around the same ubiquitous clocks found in legions of lower end Rovers. The Interior is made of seemingly a thousand different ill fitted pieces, no smoothly contoured ergonomic design here just a raft of parts flung where so ever they fitted. Buttons of various sizes are scattered in numerous random locations each group of seemingly a different design and quality. 

The shell may be large but the cabin feels quite cramped width wise. Storage space is minimalist, uselessly tight door pockets are set to close under the chunky square arm rests, and the glove box is poxily proportioned by the intrusion of the passenger air bag. Just to add to the cramped feeling the gear lever is set too far forward forcing you to  sit closer than is natural to the steering wheel and pedals or stretch towards it.  The seat may be height adjustable but it doesn't go down very far restricting headroom. It's lumbar support would be okay if you didn't have to use all the adjustment to get it comfortable in the first place. I guess at least with the driver hunched forward rear seat leg room should be pretty good. The only things which seem perfectly placed are the arm rests, which makes a change from most cars and show Rover can get it right when they try (or maybe they got lucky). The boot is adequately if not stunningly large and the manual petrol release string in case the front switch stops working is a nice touch if only to ease your fears as the car grows older.

The old solid virtues of the Rover brand seem to have got lost amongst rafts of gimmicky little touches, bleeper's constantly sound, on the alarm, the lights, even the rear windows for god sake, and turn it off at night , get out and its lit up like a Christmas tree, with half a dozen courtesy lights, fade out headlamps etc etc , personally I would appreciate  more real engineering and less idiot proof wiring, not all Rovers customers are about to go senile (or maybe they are).


Rover 820 SLi

On paper the motor looks like a good one the K series Rover engine is a sweet revving unit and its 138 bop is only a handful of donkey's short of  Fords Granada/Scorpio 2.9 V6 cologne unit. But paper is for writing on and not driving , and to get at the performance you must rev the proverbials off the engine, not quite the relaxed easy going stress free stately image the car tries to portray.  At least the gearbox when you can reach it, is as slick and accurate a unit as the Rover group have ever concocted. The engines paucity of torque and the gearboxes sweetness may together explain why on this car, which has more miles on than the Starship Enterprise, the only part which didn't seem gleaming new was the leather wrapping on the over used gear knob. 

 To be fair the engine would be fine in a smaller car but its got its work cut out hauling this leviathan. It really came home to me going up a multi storey where it refused to trundle in second and I had instead to be content with kangarooing along in first.  The engine may need to be flogged but up until around 4000 revs its a quite and unobtrusive unit, this only made the low speed road roar and high speed wind noise seem even worse. Its not  loud just louder than it should be in this class of car.

The performance is easy to fix, fit a bigger motor, I'm not sure if the 200bhp Turbo is the one I would choose that may have even worse low down torque? I don't really know? but the V6's or even the Diesel may be a better bet for all round driving.


Not so easy to fix is the handling and ride. Around town you can live with it, the steering is light and the pedals are easy but the ride is trashy and wooden especially at the front. As the speeds increase though the steering fails to weight up discernibly and becomes increasingly vague, the brakes seem to lack a bit of bite and the car is prone to wandering offline. You can't push it on too hard through corners as the body control is fairly poor and it does not instill any sense of confidence, at least the engine hasn't got enough power to corrupt the steering though if it did it may make it a bit more fun.


It's a real shame about this car because most if its faults, could have or should have been fixed over the years. The money Rover spent on the facelift could have transformed it instead into the comfy cruiser its supposed to be. All its faults do mean that its very cheap second hand as it suffers from dreadful depreciation. If you need a big big car and budget limits your choice then really there is only this or the Granada/Scorpio easily available in large volumes, At the low end the Rover looks classier on the outside, but the Ford is a dynamically better, Roomier motor, I know which I would choose.


Engine 16 Valve DOHC
Max Speed 125mph
Max Power 136bhp
Performance 0-60mph in 10 sec
Insurance Group 11
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