Motoring: The Independent Road Test: As quick as a Porsche at half the price: Roger Bell takes a spin in the 220 Turbo, Rover's class-beating performance coupe

THE PRICE of high performance is tumbling. A year ago a four-seater coupe capable of more than 150mph would have cost pounds 30,000. Now supercar performance is on offer for the cost of a Vauxhall: the company's impudent Calibra Turbo does 2 1/2 miles a minute for about pounds 20,000.

But now Rover's new 220 Turbo, the fastest model in a new range of coupes based on the 200 hatchback, undercuts even the Calibra. Faster than any other car that Rover has made, it costs pounds 18,315. The Porsche 968, priced at pounds 35,000, is barely quicker.

Nobody pretends that 150mph is, in itself, relevant on British roads; but it so happens that high speed is a by-product of other disciplines, such as efficient aerodynamics (good for economy, also for speed), quiet motorway cruising (surplus power means the engine does not have to work too hard) and, above all, blistering acceleration for safe overtaking.

To put it another way, cars that over-perform are like powerful computers: they make light of ordinary tasks that stretch lesser machines. Besides that, they are a lot more fun.

While stamina may not be the top priority for thrill-seekers, the 220 Turbo has this, too. In a bid to emphasise this, Rover ran a standard 220 Turbo all-out for 24 hours at the Millbrook test track in Bedfordshire, averaging 138mph and reaching 156mph.

Although the 200 series is based on the Honda Concerto, Rover's Japanese affiliate had nothing to do with the new coupes, which were designed, developed and built by Rover. The 1.6-litre Honda-engined models, available from pounds 14,495 with either manual or automatic transmission, are adequately nifty for most people's needs. The manual-only 136bhp 2.0-litre, and the 200bhp 2.0-litre Turbo tested here, have 16-valve Rover T16 engines, first used last year in the larger, heavier 800-series models.

Designed to challenge Vauxhall's Calibras, the best-selling coupes in Britain, the new Rovers are stylish, clean-cut cars that just pass muster as four-seaters, even though the roof is low at the back, and leg-room tight. Children are easily accommodated, beanpoles are not. Above your head are two glass panels, titanium-coated to deflect the sun's heat. Either or both can be removed and stowed in the boot, providing more fresh air than a sliding roof but less than a soft-top. Spring-loaded deflectors cut down wind buffeting.

The attractive, low-line dashboard and smart decor - timber embellishment included - reflect Rover's hallmark flair for opulence. Nor is the flagship Turbo short on equipment: included are anti-lock brakes, power-assisted steering, plus electric windows, mirrors and locks, and a security alarm to deter thieves and joy-riders. Nevertheless, you can expect high insurance premiums.

The Turbo comes with an ingenious Torsen limited-slip differential which delivers power to the wheel with the most grip, thereby curbing unruly wheelspin and steering weave, unnerving traits suffered by some powerful front- wheel-drive cars (Rover's previous Maestro/Montego turbos included). Assisted by an engine that delivers its power in a clean surge, not a sudden kick, the Torsen works well. However, it does not completely eliminate wheelspin on wet roads or steering tug when aggressive, first-gear starts are attempted.

If it is not pushed to boy-racer limits, the 220 Turbo is a pleasant, easy car to drive. The chassis and hard-riding suspension handle 200 horsepower with impunity; so do the strong brakes. You never feel less than secure in this powerful car. But it takes more than the promise of 150mph to make an uplifting motoring experience. That magic fluency - the ability to flow through bends rather than steer round them - is not quite there. On price, performance and panache, however, the Rover 220 Turbo now sets the pace.

SPECIFICATIONS

Rover 220 Turbo, pounds 18,315. Engine: four cylinders, 2.0 litres, 16v, 200bhp. Transmission: front-drive, with traction control, five-speed manual gearbox. Top speed: 150mph; 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds. Fuel consumption, unleaded: 26-36mpg.

COMPARISONS

Ford Escort RS Cosworth, pounds 21,380 Over-the-top looks, but terrific four-wheel-drive traction, acceleration, handling and brakes. Sudden turbo action mars surprisingly refined engine. More room than Rover but less plush and lower top speed. Great to drive, hard to insure.

Honda Prelude 2.3i, pounds 18,255 Eye-catching coupe, cramped in the back and boot. Fine front-drive handling sharpened by rear-wheel steering. Lively but all-out performance no match for the Rover.

Toyota MR2 T-bar, pounds 18,395 Sporting two-seater, with baby-Ferrari looks and noisy mid-mounted engine. Car's balance and handling, recently improved, are terrific. Performance nifty but well down on the roomier Rover's.

Vauxhall Calibra Turbo, pounds 20,950 Fastest of Vauxhall's best-selling glamour cars, based on the Cavalier. Roomier than rival coupes, faster than most. Four-wheel drive gives terrific traction and safety; but it is rather uninspiring to drive.

VW Corrado VR6, pounds 19,895 Sheer magic. Chunky styling has its critics but V6 engine is sweet and potent, benchmark handling is fluent. Great driver's car with more space than looks suggest.

(Photograph omitted)

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

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

    £500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

    360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

    £18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

    Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

    SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

    £22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

    Day In a Page

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue