Japanese designed, German owned, but still very British

R O A D T E S T; The Rover 400 is a classy addition to the 'lower medium' section of the market

Ironically, the new Rover 400 makes its dbut when thoughts are focused on commemorating victory at the end of the Second World War. Fifty years ago, no one would have predicted a future in which British cars were based on Japanese designs and built by a German manufacturer's subsidiary. The 400 has a lot in common with the Honda Civic - built in Swindon, incidentally - and Rover, which used to be motoring's answer to John Bull, was virtually given to BMW in 1994.

The newcomer seeks to carve itself a niche in what Rover calls the "premium lower medium" section of the market. One reason for this jargon is that the 400 does not slot neatly into an existing category, for reasons of size and price. Rover mentions it in the same breath as the likes of the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Cavalier and Citron Xantia, but the most basic yardstick - length - puts it in the same class as the Escort and Astra.

Initially available only as a five-door hatchback, with other models arriving later in the year, the 400 maintains Rover's reputation for cars that belie the Honda tie-up by offering a dash of distinctly British class and character. Careful detailing gets much of the credit for this. The subtle use of chrome has become a "signature" and the little Rover badges on the rear pillars are a deft touch. Inside, even the basic 414 is a reminder that Rover can make a material as traditional as burr walnut appear appropriate and stylish, rather than contrived and naff.

On the other side of the balance sheet, the "family" look almost certainly accounted for the 416Si attracting minimal attention when it was driven several weeks before the official announcement date. The test included a journey that packed 500 miles into nine hours, embracing motorways, busy city centres and remote Welsh roads which put a premium on everything from grip, steering, brakes and acceleration to comfort, convenience and noise levels.

There is nothing Honda or BMW about the 416Si's power unit. The new, 1.6-litre version of Rover's award-winning K-series engine lives up to expectations for smoothness at high revs, brisk performance and good economy. Like most of today's best engines, it has two inlet and two exhaust valves for each cylinder. Lack of pull at low revs is often the price paid for this layout's overall efficiency, but the 416Si does not suffer from that shortcoming. The power curve is smooth, not "stepped" at the point where the engine suddenly starts flexing its muscles. This reduces the need to change gear for overtaking or when trying to maintain progress on roads that snake and switchback.

The engine's sophistication is one reason for the Rover being a car whose low noise levels and overall refinement create an immediately favourable impression. Others include the basic structure being 20 per cent stiffer than the previous model's. The only snag is that what seems like 70mph is fast enough to exceed the motorway speed limit by a significant margin.

Drivers who give a high priority to sharp steering will give only average marks to the power-assisted system, but the Dunlop SP Sport tyres grip well. There will be few quibbles about the smooth-riding 416Si's poise on challenging roads.

Rover does not claim class-leading passenger space, but there is adequate room for a quartet of adults to be comfortable on a long drive. Their comments on the cloth upholstery, which looks more 1895 than 1995, will depend on taste. Standard equipment includes a sophisticated alarm system and an engine immobiliser.

The boot's 13.2 cubic feet of luggage space is average for an Escort- class car, but small by Mondeo and Cavalier standards. Pricing the 400 to lock horns with bigger and more powerful models is quite a gamble.


Rover 4126Si, £13,895

Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, 109bhp at 6000rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive.

Performance: 0-60mph in 10.0 seconds.

Average fuel consumption: 29.lmpg.


Ford Mondeo 1.8 LX, £12,700 Bigger, cheaper and, as such, typical of the opposition Rover has chosen for its new range. Excellent ride and handling, but the engine lacks Rover's zest and refinement.

Vauxhall Cavalier 2.Oi LS, £13,500 Ford's main rival in this hard-fought section of the market. Assets include a 136bhp engine and a boot 40 per cent bigger than the Rover's. Keen price includes anti-lock braking.

Citron Xantia 2.0i SLX, £13,520 A strong contender for best-in-class honours, most notably in terms of ride and roadholding. Spacious, stylish, good to drive and a touch more exclusive than its main opposition.

Nissan Primera 1.6 SLX, £13,620 Lacks character and is also slightly slower than the 416Si, but it still merits serious consideration. The 2.0-litre version is a good buy as well. The ABS is standard equipment.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

    £20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor