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.

SPECIFICATIONS

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.

COMPARISONS

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us