Motoring: Done Roving

The British car industry is alive but not well, concludes Michael Booth after readers test the Rover BRM LE

Jeanette Wright, 41, company director, and her son Lee Wright, 16, from East Hanay, Oxon. Currently drives a BMW 7-series

Jeanette: "I'd actually prefer a smaller car but all my children are very tall and I think this would be a bit tight for a family. I suppose Rover are trying to capture a younger market - maybe young girl racers. The gear change is nice and tight but it's noisier than my car and you can really feel the vibrations from the road - over a distance I felt a bit jolted. I don't like the orange grille - it clashes with the red leather." Lee: "I bumped my head on the roof a few times but the leg room is not too bad and I like the leather and chrome. It's a bit like being in an old plane. The stereo's not great."

Adrian Parr, 31, NHS accountant, from Southmoor, Oxon. Currently drives a VW Jetta

"I've seen a lot of 200s round here because they make them up the road and I must admit I don't particularly like the shape. Rovers are much better built now than they used to be but they're bland. I can't imagine who this is aimed at. I'd never think of buying a Rover 200, they're rather anonymous - I'd prefer an MGF. This one's got plenty of poke though, the ride is nice and hard, and I like the chrome bits. It's very much a second car but for pounds 19,000 I'd probably get a Golf. It's an awful thing to say but maybe if Rover collapsed it'll become collectable. If it doesn't I'd expect this to depreciate very quickly. I don't like the orange grille."

Dr Alex Hannon, 37, physicist, Sue Hannon, 35, chemist, and Lucy Hannon, 10 months, from Wantage, Oxon. Currently drive a Rover 220 Coupe

Alex: "I have mixed feelings about the aluminium bits, it's hardly restrained is it? It's very `Boy Racer'. Actually the 200 is much more of a driver's car than its rivals so it's funny that it's never attracted a younger following. This one feels quite a bit more powerful than mine, the seats are nicer and the suspension's harder. I like to feel every bump on the road - it's better at sending the baby off to sleep. The brakes are also more powerful. It makes a nice noise too, doesn't it? Very nice gearbox." Sue: "The trim doesn't go with this type of car, it's too ostentatious. I don't think it's worth the money. The whole thing just doesn't gel."

Diana Shamash, 56, gardener, Wantage, Oxon. Currently drives an Isuzu Trouper and a BMW 3-series convertible

Diana: "This wouldn't be remotely practical for me, I need to carry plants and horse food. I don't think I'd spend this much on a Rover. I always think of Rovers as slightly boring, solid and worthy. Bank managers' cars. This one might lure a bank manager's son. It's very noisy at speed and there's not much acceleration above 70mph. I don't like the trim or all those twiddly bits. It's quite nimble and feels secure on the road, the brakes are fine and the steering is nice and precise."

Road test If you would like to take part in a test drive, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

ike those other great indigenous industries, coal, steel and Croft and Perry sitcoms, the once mighty British car industry has all but disappeared, swamped by cheap imports, beleaguered by bad management and subjected to the changing tastes of a market sick to the teeth of Su Pollard. I have spent many an afternoon wondering how on earth we let great names like Alvis, Frazer Nash and Armstrong Siddeley crumble to dust, and can come up with no better answer than sheer, wilful complacency.

Ironically, the new Rover 200 BRM LE resurrects one of those noble names. I say "resurrects", but unfortunately what Rover has done with the name is more akin to an undignified exhumation in which the corpse is subjected to a Richard and Judy make-over before being propped up outside King's Cross for hire. It seems complacency is just as rife in what remains of the British car industry today as it was when they mocked Japanese efforts at small saloons back in the 1950s.

British Racing Motors (BRM), a long defunct Grand Prix team which gave Graham Hill a championship and Jackie Stewart his first GP victory, worked briefly with Rover on two gas turbine-powered racing cars that competed at Le Mans in 1963 and 1965. Those racing cars were subsequently filed as a technological footnote - one of motoring's cul-de-sacs. Now, seemingly out of nowhere and for absolutely no reason, the BRM name has resurfaced on a limited run of 1,100 Rover 200s. For pounds 1,250 more than the standard car (a decent, understated Golf rival, favoured by senior citizens), the Rover BRM gets alloy wheels, a stiffened and lowered ride, a close ratio gearbox, improved brakes, and a limited slip differential to distribute power better between the front wheels. Sounds a bargain doesn't it?

And if you could drive it with your eyes closed it would be. The BRM is a treat to hustle along country lanes, punching up through the gears as it grips like a limpet with cleats, and soaks up bumps without smothering steering feedback.

Open your eyes, however, and the problems begin. To differentiate the BRM visually from its mass-market sister car, its mirrors, bumpers and side-stripes have all been coated in "sparkle silver" paint - even the wood trim has been replaced with this ugly finish which reflects irritatingly on the windscreen. The rest of the interior is trimmed in red quilted leather, while crackle-finish chrome, tacked on with a constellation of allen bolts, decorates the centre console. Outside, British racing green bodywork is finished off with gruesome orange paint to the front air intake (a BRM tradition), and horrendously cheap BRM stickers on the rear. The overall effect of this prosaic hatchback tarted up like a hot-blooded racer is like seeing Thora Hird in bondage gear.

Perhaps the BRM's appeal will prove more subjective than I give it credit for. Some may well like this kind of nostalgia. But I think most will see the 200 BRM LE for what it is: a fine hot hatch tainted by the cynical hand of a retro-obsessive marketing department

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