road test; Rover 114 Cabriolet

With the hood stowed away, this little Rover looks like a pram. At first sight, it is an object of mirth rather than desire. In order to maintain some semblance of boot space and room for a pair of rear passengers, the hood of Rover's new Cabriolet has to sit atop the rear deck. Because it is a fairly substantial item, it takes up a lot of space - so much so that you can see no more than the rooftop of a following car in your rear-view mirror.

Labour-saving as the electric motor might be for getting the hood to this state, you really have to complete the job yourself by fitting the hood cover, if only to force the hood into further compression and gain a modicum of more rearward awareness. This is the most physical task I have undertaken for some time - pulling here, stretching there, clipping somewhere else. I cannot see the average owner attempting this job more than twice before asking questions about the sense in buying this Rover.

All of which is a shame, because the rest of the car is rather good. The diminutive bootlid has neatly engineered hinges that do not encroach on luggage space, wind buffeting is low with the hood down and wind whistle is similarly low with the roof up, and the car's structure feels solid and shudder-free. The ultra-supple Hydragas suspension helps here, with its ability to soak up sharp bumps better than the steel springs of every other small car, yet the Rover still steers incisively and corners tidily.

Its little K-series engine is a jewel: smooth, sweet, quiet yet crisp in its response to your commands, backed up by a precise, well-oiled gear change. Few small cars are as civilised or as solidly built, which makes up for the disappointing dashboard, whose dated looks have changed little since 1985.

But all it really needs is a hood that normal people can fold away.

John Simister

Specifications

Rover 114 Cabriolet, pounds 11,995.

Engine: 1396cc, four cylinders, 74bhp at 5,500rpm. Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed 103mph, 0-60 in 10.9 seconds. Fuel consumption 37-42mpg

Rivals

Fiat Punto Cabrio, pounds 13,085. Slightly bigger than the Rover, with a larger 1.6-litre, 90bhp engine, the Punto is still scores highly on cuteness.

Mazda MX-5 1.6i, pounds 12,995. Two-seater sports car, now available at a bargain price with basic trim level and less powerful engine. Reminiscent of old-time MG Midgets except it is smoother, faster, safer and better made.

Mini Convertible, pounds 11,995. Cheap for a convertible but outrageously expensive for a Mini. Wood and leather trim adds to the impression of a miniature Rolls-Royce.

Volkswagen Golf 1.8 Convertible, pounds 13,599. Cheap open Golf, which retains the usual virtues of a rigid body and a snug roof that is easy to fold. Not much equipment, and the 75bhp engine gives a leisurely performance, but it will last a long time.

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