Motoring: Get up and glow

The new Rover has an orange nose, and a past
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The Independent Online
There is nothing subtle about Rover's 200 BRM LE. It flaunts its limited-edition status with orange gnashers that call to mind a dining shark. Step inside (shades recommended) and you will blink at the quilted crimson upholstery and shiny metal embellishment. Such garishness is great if you like that sort of hint, a bit OTT if you do not.

The Day-Glo mouth - set off nicely by any colour you want so long as it is British Racing green - rekindles Rover's association with BRM (British Racing Motors), who once celebrated success, after years of humiliating failure, by painting its nose cones orange. And the Rover connection? The gas-turbine Rover-BRM that twice completed the Le Mans 24 hours in the Sixties.

For Rover to cash in so long after the event may be stretching nostalgia a furlong too far. But who cares about such cynicism? It is only a car. What matters is that the young company dashabouts at the 200 BRM's will enjoy themselves - and I do not doubt that they will, even if the occasion the car commemorates eludes them.

The racing association must make the 200BRM LE faster than normal, right? Wrong. The engine is the same 1.8 twin-cam as that in the lesser 200Vi, a spirited car that holds its own against most rivals in the hot-hatch division. It is just a pity that the BRM LE is not quicker still, given the visual promise of sporting prowess, not to mention a premium price.

What it does have is a Toren differential, all the better for transferring power to tarmac, and a close-ratio gearbox which makes cog-swapping even more of an indulgence to those who like to be totally involved. With a gearchange as slick as the this car's, there is no excuse for lazy shifting, for hanging onto fifth when third will liberate more of the lively engine's top-end sparkle. Vi or BRM, the joie de vivre of the 200's drivetrain is truly intoxicating.

The ride is impressively smooth, too, as it is on all Rover's 200 and 400 models. For a car with sporting aspirations, the suppleness of the suspension is perhaps out of keeping with the character of the car. Not that it is a sloppy handler. The BRM LE scuttles through the bends on generous rubber and firmed-up suspension with terrific elan, even if the steering is on the mushy side of crisp. Ditto the brakes, though they anchor with poise and power.

As a family car, Rover's spatially-challenged 200 is nothing like so accommodating as, say, Ford's new Focus or the roomy Vauxhall Astra. As a sports saloon, though, the BRM LE is perhaps all the better for being of compact dimensions. Although cramped in the back, in front there is plenty of space to stretch a leg. Initially, the height-adjustable seats feel great. Exploit the car's cornering powers, though, and you soon discover deficient support.

Cosmetically, the BRM LE is out of the ordinary. Dynamically, it is not quite special enough. I would prefer fewer gewgaws and more shove.

SPECIFICATIONS

Rover 200 BRM LE

Price: from pounds 18,000.

Engine: 1796cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, produces 143 bhp at 6,750 rpm. Transmission: five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive. Performance: 0-60mph 7.9sec, top speed 127mph. Combined fuel consumption: 38mpg.

RIVALS

Audi A3 Sport, pounds 18,127. Roomier than Rover and just as quick but heavier on fuel. Solid, beautifully made carved-from-solid car.

Citroen Xsara 2.0 VTS, pounds 17,545. More three-door hatch than coupe, but still roomier than Rover. Strong, powerful engine, handles well. Uninspired styling.

Honda Integra R, pounds 19,845. Pricey but good. Amazingly potent engine, terrific performance and handling. A real driver's car.

Nissan Almera 2.0 Gti, pounds 15,695. Bland looks disguise fine fun car bursting with driver appeal. Well made, durable, comfortable. Underrated and keenly priced.

Peugot 306 2.0 GSi, pounds 15,670. Not the fastest 306 but roomier and cheaper than the Rover and great to drive.

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