Rover 75: Long(ish) Term Test

Almost a year with a Rover 75 2.5 litre V6.

All images by the author.

I have, on a number of previous occasions, regaled readers of with tales of my odd obsession with Rover’s last (chance) saloon and a number of you were kind enough to express interest in an update regarding my second example of the breed; a 2002-registered (though built in 2001) 2.5 V6 Sterling, known as Connoisseur in the UK market. This car was purchased almost a year ago and has been in regular use as my sole form of motorised transport since then.

My beautifully blue Rover was blessed with two apparently-careful previous owners, who had not neglected its maintenance, and had, for its very nearly 20 years of age, a low kilometerage, to which I have added a good eleven thousand or so. Said car is also one of the most over-specified conveyances I have ever encountered – its original owner having ordered the topmost trim level, added a dark blue personal line leather interior (a lovely thing to have on the 75) and then ticked every other cost-option box on the order form for good measure.

Such exotic features (for 2002, remember) as satellite navigation, an in-dashboard television(!), rear parking sensors, power-folding wing mirrors, an electric rear-window sun blind, a CD changer that robbed the car of most of its glovebox and various other niceties were all present and, remarkably, given the universe’s general tendency towards increasing entropy with the passage of time, all in working order.

So, my purchase was a complicated, third-hand, almost two-decade old, six-cylinder conveyance made by a British car manufacturer that (as we now know) only had a few more years to live after having been spat out by BMW. You are no doubt already imagining the unreliable nightmare this car must be and I am not one to disappoint my readers. The car has required not one, not two, but three replacement bulbs (a brake, side-and headlight) during my ownership. A switch in the interior became difficult to operate and had to be replaced too. As if that wasn’t enough, on one occasion the car actually failed to start. I had to turn the ignition key a second time.

Stereotypical joking aside, the Rover has been as trouble-free as a car of its age could reasonably be expected to be and has confirmed my pre-existing opinion that these are fundamentally well-engineered and well-built cars, a fact that makes their (and their manufacturer’s) ultimate demise seem all the sadder and less necessary. As I wrote previously on the subject of the 75; there may have been, in the end, insufficient room in the marketplace for what MG Rover was offering but in product terms, they went out with a bang.

I note the above in regard to the core range of cars, of course, and consciously leave aside any reference to distractions such as the Xpower SV or bought-in nonsense like the CityRover, upon which other DTW writers have already commented sufficiently. Considering the fundamental goodness of the Rover 75 / MG ZT twins (at least in big-engined V6 form) and the sheer charm of things like the MG F, it still seems a terrible shame that MG Rover should have ended the way it did.

Alas, we denizens of DTW are no strangers to the unfair fate visited upon once-great marques and it is entirely possible to argue that MG Rover’s relatively quick demise, like that of Saab, was preferable to the continuing zombie existence of Lancia or the shadow that now bears the illustrious name of Citroën.

Sad philosophising aside, what’s it like to live with a 75 long-term then? Well, largely delightful actually. As I have already noted, the car has given virtually trouble-free service and there are very few objective faults to note (though I will return to one shortly). What is important to state, however, is that the 75 is a very particular type of car offering a very particular type of driving experience; one that has vanished from the marketplace in the intervening years. If that’s what you want, there may be no better car for you. If it isn’t, you probably won’t like it much.

In writing this article, I wanted to avoid the baby Bentley and mini Rolls Royce clichés that were much used at the time of the Rover’s launch but, in all honesty, those are valid descriptions of the car. The 75 (certainly in 2.5 litre, top-spec form) is an effortless, soft-riding, classically-styled, not-huge, luxurious carriage that seeks to isolate you from the cruel world outside in a pleasant cocoon of polished walnut and soft leather, and does so very well.

Although it has an excellent chassis and handles surprisingly well, it is tuned for comfort and compliance. The 75 is ideal for someone that secretly fancies a series 3 Jaguar XJ as a daily driver but knows they need something smaller, more modern and less generally insane. For enthusiasts of Type R Hondas or M Sport BMWs, it is not.

One aspect of the 75 that does have a sporting side to its demeanour is Rover’s 2.5 litre KV6 90 degree V6 engine and this deserves a paragraph to itself in any case because (despite a difficult start to its life, being fitted in effectively pre-production form to the Rover 825) this is a splendid engine. Though smooth and quiet at the low revs the car’s 5 speed auto-box normally prefers, more and more often I found myself sticking the car in sport mode and pushing the accelerator pedal further than necessary upon exiting roundabouts simply to hear the delicious V6 roar.

This engine loves to rev and makes a wonderful noise whilst doing so. It is also at this point that you get some real shove from the unit (it is no low-down torque monster) and rapid progress can be made, should you so desire. It’s no surprise that the 2.5 litre KV6 was chosen as the basis for both the MG ZT 160 (initially) and 190 power-plants.

I promised to return to a more critical observation and that concerns the driver’s seat. I suffered a minor back injury a couple of years ago and, though I have made a good recovery, since that time I have become acutely sensitive to the support offered by seating. The 75’s broad front seats are initially comfortable but no amount of fiddling with the adjustable lumbar support on the driver’s seat gave me the right combination of lower and mid-back support for long journeys, it was either enough of the former and too little of the latter or enough of the latter and too much of the former. Weirdly, the passenger seat seemed to offer a better compromise, although that could be a question of wear. This point is of course somewhat personal but I would urge anyone considering a 75 to check the comfort of the seating during a good long test drive.

So, how would I summarise the 75? It’s an excellent car of a particular (unfashionable) type that will appeal to a certain sort of person. The seating comfort is something to pay attention to for those of a sensitive spinal disposition and, of course, the as-yet unmentioned elephant in the room is MG Rover’s infamous ‘Project Drive’ cost-cutting programme that meant cars built from the (very) end of 2001 onwards lost the signature real walnut dashboard and further trim (and even some mechanical) niceties later on. Having said that, if it is your sort of thing and you can find a well looked after, early-ish, example with the right engine and specification, the Rover 75 is a lovely car to own and drive.

Why, then, despite the praise I am busy heaping upon the 75, does the attentive reader detect a certain element of finality about this not-quite-a-year later report? Well, the seating issue, combined with the desire to change gear at a moment of my own choosing; (manual V6 75s do exist but were never sold in this market and in any case make hen’s teeth look common), has meant that the Rover and I have recently, tearfully, parted company.

This happened rather sooner than expected and had to do with the appearance of something a bit special and rare that has very recently become the 75’s replacement. This will appear in DTW in due course but as an indication in the meantime, if you will forgive me the childish indulgence of a riddle: When is a Rover 75 not a Rover 75?

Author: Chris Elvin

Appreciator of dead and dying marques. Drowns his sorrows with good wine.

44 thoughts on “Rover 75: Long(ish) Term Test”

  1. Good morning, Chris. What a delightful story about your 75. I’m guessing you traded it for a ZT.

    I’ve been driving an E92 for the last 9 years and the 2,5 liter straight six isn’t a low-down torque monster either, a characteristic that I actually quite like. It has an automatic too and with traffic and speed limits in mind it shifts before the engine starts to sing it’s wonderful tune, so I understand the want for a manual. Too bad I’m not that fond of the manual gearboxes BMW fits, but I really have no complaint about the six speed automatic other then I just mentioned.

    1. Thanks Freerk. I’ve realised through driving both manual and automatic cars in recent years that changing gears is one of the things I really like about driving. I have no illusion that I can do it better than a machine but there’s something very satisfying about one’s own manual intervention facilitating mechanical synchronicity in the car you are driving.

      En… je hebt gelijk. 😉

    2. Yes, agreed about changing gears. When I bought my car I drove a lot in heavy traffic, so I welcomed the automatic gearbox. Now I only drive to friends and family. One way trips are anything between 100 and 250 kilometers almost all of it on motorways outside rush hour, so no need to shift gears, but also no need for an automatic anymore. I’m comfortable with both.

      Veel plezier met de MG ZT 🙂

  2. Hi Chris, thanks for this report. As far as I interpret your description, you like the same kind of cars as I do – and struggle equally to find something apropriate that was built less than 10 years ago.

    I suspect I would feel quite at ease in a 75, and the nice colour combination you have would suit my taste even better (although I’m not usually a fan of glossy wood and overly rounded interior shapes). As a plus over my curent motor, it also seems that power is sufficient to provide some real driving and accelerating fun – something I’m missing from time to time since a C6 has replaced my Xantia (with basically the same engine, but 400 kg more and an automatic transmission).

    1. The comparison between the 75 and the C6 is an interesting one. The big Citroën always captivates me anew on the increasingly rare occasions that I see one, whatever its faults may be as an ownership proposition.

    2. I saw a couple of C6s in Oslo recently. One of them was not black but bordeaux. What it has in common with the Rover is comfort and a strong national character. Both are poison in the showrooms.

  3. Good morning, Chris and thank you for again sharing your experience of the 75. I’m sorry to see it go, but suspect that it’s replacement will be equally intriguing, and look forward to reading about it in due course. I suspect that Freerk has answered your riddle correctly (unless you’ve found a Roewe 750 somewhere!)

    The 75 was a highly competent design and deserved better than to have been effectively sabotaged at launch by BMW. Your excellent account of the ownership and driving experience confirms that it really did capture the essence of Rover more completely than any model since the P5 and P6. Sadly, I’m left wondering if the market for such a car was simply too limited, given the marketing-led general obsession with ‘sporting’ driving characteristics.

    Good luck with your new drive. I hope it treats your back more kindly than the 75.

    1. Thanks for your kind commentary Daniel. That there is still a market for big luxurious cars but no market at all for less-big ones any more remains perplexing to me. Where did the buyers go?

      The Roewe 750 is a fascinating thing. There is a good account of it (with lots of pictures) in a book on the 75 and ZT that I have here. You can definitely see what they were getting at, even though it became a much less pure design visually.

  4. Thank you for a well written story and for proving that a 75 can be a pleasant and reliable everyday companion.
    This is in stark contrast to the comparable story on AROnline where somebody bought a 75 from an ex-AR manager and now is occupied with eliminating an endless list of faults.

    I don’t think that the market the 75 tried to serve was too small. The reasons for the ultimate failure of the 75 lay in the product itself and the way it was tried to sell it. The biggest fault undoubtedly was the K four engine of the simoler model versions. Then the 75 was sold at eye watering prices through dealers that – at least on the Continent – were not what you’d expect. Our local Rover dealer sold it from a corrugated iron shed on a gravel covered forecourt where his other products were on display: Ladas. In the shed you got one or two Elises and a Super Seven and then two 75s. I doubt that such surroundings made many people want to buy a 75.
    Maybe it could have worked (provided it had the Hams Hall engine instead of the K four) if they’d done what Alfa did woth the 156: sell it at attractive prices and try to make dealers more attractive. For the 156 it worked, at least initially.

    1. “Thank you for a well written story and for proving that a 75 can be a pleasant and reliable everyday companion.
      This is in stark contrast to the comparable story on AROnline where somebody bought a 75 from an ex-AR manager and now is occupied with eliminating an endless list of faults.”

      This again reminds me of the C6 in some ways. Feared by many as an over-complicated contraption that is bound to produce expensive failures from the start, there are examples that back this point of view. My dealer bought a not too well preserved example and after hours of repair still fails to sort out some faults. On the other hand, my car had one previous owner who obviously took good care of the car, and I tried to continue with the same servicing mentailty. I actually did have to replace a bit more than just light bulbs, mostly well known parts for premature failure. But never was there anything that stopped me from going where I had to, in due time.

    2. Lotus, Lada and Rover, together in a shed. How I would have liked to see that…

  5. Thanks for that essay which managed to convey the appeal of the 75. It´s no coincidence that the purveyors of smooth comfort did not thrive though Saab is a special case among the special cases. The endless replacement of the bulbs pretty much sums up the disastrous quality so I can understand you wanted to change the car to something more reliable but still, if you actually did like the comfort, ambience and appearance, then the replacement car is surely not offering more of those things but less. Like the other commentations here, I can´t think of a newish car that would do what my two-decade old barge will do. If it goes on like this I will driving a 40 year-old when I am 70 which is probably silly.
    The Rover 75 is one of those cars that looks adorable outside the UK and ROI. Jaguar have the same image-transformation. When I see a Rover 75 here it becomes a charming souvenir of a happier England, much like the S-Type that lives in my ´hood. It´s interesting and surprising to think Rover dished out dealerships to tin-shed premises. We have here a small anecdotal case of the other reason Alfa in the UK did not do well – they did not get to grips with the dealer network. I suppose there must be a book on this somewhere. Is it really so much harder than it appears to match a good product with a competent support network? Answer: yes and no. It must be blindingly obvious that a marque does need good back-up; some manage to provide and others don´t. Given its importance, one would imagine everyone in sale and marketing would do hard work to ensure the dealers weren´t enemies of customers, quality, competence and civility. So – dealer networks? Easy to do or hard? Or what?

    1. Peter: it´s an effect that does not work for Lancia (who might be seen as a wee bit like an Italian Rover). Lancias don´t look any better on the British Isles or on the island of Ireland than they do at home. Cadillacs of a certain type manage to gain some charm in mittel-Europa though not, I think, France. I am not referring to the later Art & Science Cadillacs which, in Ireland anyway, look like Opel´s American cousin or just alternative Opels.

    2. Rovers being sold from sheds wasn’t that unusual.
      During the Sixties and Seventies the German market was served by about half a dozen companies importing British cars. Some sold Jaguars and Triumphs, some sold Austins and MGs, some sold everything as long as it didn’t have a tin roof.
      When BL formed they tried to set up an official importer and wanted to cancel those other contracts. All but one of those former importers happily agreed but one, Brüggemann in Düsseldorf, refused to have his contract terminated. Therefore there was an official BL import headquarter with no dealers and an inofficial importer with contracted dealers. BL then tried to sell their cars through unusual channels which eventually led them to sign a contract with a large DIY shop chain (don’t remember whether it was OBI or Bauhaus). Then you could by your MG Metro or Maestro between toilet bowls and shower cabins (not that Brüggemann’s partners selling SD1s were that much better…).
      Coming from that background and trying to sell a car like the 75 was quite a task.

      Bringing your dealer network up to and keep it at the necessary quality levels is expensive and a never ending task. Fiat tried it and eventually failed with Alfa. When I sold my last Alfa because I was annoyed by their non-existing service they contacted me after about two years because they hadn’t seen my car so long. I told them that I had an Audi and didn’t think of ever buying an Alfa again. The result was a two hour conversation with their managing director and sales manager in which they told me that they wanted to improve their service quality without outside assistance. When I explained my expectations like phones being picked up and calls being answered, spare parts being ordered in time and in the required quantity for a repair, parts count of the car should be the same when I pick it up as when I delivered it, warranty issues being fixed without endless discussions and some other things we agreed that what they’d need were new mechanics (and sales people) working to a different ethos because with what they had it would be impossible to establish an inner approach putting emphasis on such aspects of car ownership.

    3. Dave: that story sounds like the battle to change the ethos of a country. While I have focused on the manufacturer´s side, there is also the dealer side. And you have to wonder why so many of them remained so unserious about meeting basic expectations. It is if they were enacting a parody of operations in a failed banana republic. The same staff who dished up bad service would go home and expect (and usually get) the kind of service they themselves failed to deliver. So are shoddy dealers really populated by people not quite bad enough to commit crime? It seems like it. It is the same impulsive, short-sighted and unethical behaviour that one might demand of a potential felon.

    4. I honestly always thought the whole ‘Fiat group awful dealers’ thing must have been a myth… until I owned a Fiat. Wonderful little car but the dealer was, as Richard puts it, really run by those “not quite bad enough to commit crime”.

    5. It’s not just Fiat Group dealers.
      PSA dealers aren’t much better, if any.

      I know a guy who in the Eighties was co-owner of the second largest Nissan dealer in Germany. He told me of a case that was discussed within Nissan dealer circles of a customer who was not satisfied with the service his dealer delivered. After repeated and fruitless discussions this customer wrote to the Japanese Nissan HQ with the result that in the end the dealer had his contract cancelled from Japan because of lack of service.

  6. I had one of these in exactly the same colour and engine, but with a manual gearbox. It was a fabulous conveyance for UK roads (ie lots of motorways and then distinctly rough country roads) but alas was afflicted with seemingly intractable overheating issues so in the end it had to go. After a W123 and two W124 Mercedes (which were much more reliable but a fraction sterile) it took about ten years before I dared risk a British car again. There followed two x300 XJ6s that proved even better than the Mercedes, but expensive to service. The Rover definitely had some of the gliding quality and charm of the Jags, but perhaps I was unlucky in mine.

    And I second Richard’s opinion – to appreciate its elegance, there is nothing like seeing a Jaguar in a sunny clime to make everything else look gauche. I have had this uplifting experience in California, Spain and, most perplexingly, Albania!

    1. I’m sorry to hear you were less lucky in your 75 experience than I was. By the sounds of it, your one must have been quite new so that is very disappointing. I have never seen a 75 2.5 litre with a manual gearbox; I think the combination wasn’t even available here.

  7. I’m pleased you had a good experience, Chris – did you sell it to a fellow enthusiast? The 75 isn’t a schporty car, of course, but I can’t imagine that people see one of the current saloon best-sellers, the Passat, as being sporty, which means there must be a market for comfortable cars. It’s a triumph of marketing that the ‘S’ in SUV appears to stand for ‘sports’.

    Regarding British cars abroad, I’ve noticed the phenomenon mentioned above; I wondered if it had something to do with number plates – that non-UK ones change a vehicle’s appearance. The climate and setting no doubt contribute a lot, too. Perhaps it’s like a holiday romance.

    Finally, turning to dealers, it looks as though manufacturers have accepted the fact that in order to provide decent service, they (manufacturers) will have to play a much larger and more direct part in customer interactions. As vehicles become less maintenance-intensive, this will become easier, as less investment will be required at ground level, as it were (hence Tesla’s service model).

    1. Thanks Charles. The 75 went back to classic car dealer from whom I bought it. It has, I am sure, ended up with a fellow enthousiast.

  8. I could say that Lancia´s zombie existence has allowed it to carry on finding 60,000 customers a year and maintained the awareness of the brand. Maybe one solution for Saab was to make it a one-model brand for a while. Would that have been heresy? What if Rover had contracted out Rover manufacture to someone else and closed down all but the design office. Russel Bulgin talked about this kind of footloose manufacture but it never came to pass. Ford still make Fords and Honda still make Hondas. Outsourcing is still mostly done by anonymous suppliers like Steyr. But maybe the solution for Rover was not wholesale closure but making the things in Germany or asking Honda to make them.

    1. The continuing success of the White Hen, against all odds, is a fascinating counterexample to the proposition that luxury=big. Maybe only Italians can appreciate something small but a bit posh?

    2. Production of Smart Fortwos is completely in the hands of suppliers without participation of any Smart employees. The people working on the production line are employees of the suppliers.

    3. I think SAAB was a one-model company from 1948 to 1959 with the 92 and then 93, so it’s not heresy.

      Cars have been increasingly assembled from modules provided by suppliers in recent times. However, the emergence of EVs appears to be encouraging vertical integration – manufacturers taking more control themselves, including battery production (and dealers, at the other end of the chain, as I noted earlier). I think everyone is trying to control the means of supply (and distribution) of new technologies before anyone gets the upper hand.

  9. Since the 75 was designed by BMW, I presume the LHD version wasn’t hampered by an overly narrow pedal box. The first time I drove one I didn’t realise there was a footrest on the left – it was beyond the clutch pedal instead of next to it.
    Lovely car to sit in and enjoy the ambience, in spite of the silly dials. Driving was less of a treat. I still remember trying in vain to keep up with a colleague in a V6 2-litre QX , and yes the noise was wonderful but no compensation for the lack of performance.
    I always thought it was partly the issues with the V6 motor that hurt the 75 – didn’t it have cambelts at both ends of the block ? Certainly the one on the company fleet had engine issues, and it was “common knowledge” at the time that the diesel was the pick of the bunch.

    1. Alain: the French quite like British things to go along with the idea of “le gentleman”. I could imagine a 75 break parked outside a modest French country house or cantering around in the landscape of Provence. It would be more approachable than a Mercedes and less costly than even the smallest Jaguar – though I might wonder if the French took to the much-loved X-Type.

  10. J’ai toujours aimé la Rover 75, une vraiment belle voiture .
    On en voit assez en France, je pense qu’elle s’est pas trop mal vendu ici.
    Il n’y a que l’avant de la 75 que j’aurais fait un peu plus agressif (avec les yeux froncés , un peu comme une Camaro…)
    L’option TV, ça ressemble à ça :

    translate :
    I have always loved the Rover 75, a really nice car.
    We see enough of it in France, I think it has sold quite well here.
    There is only the front of the 75 that I would have made a little more aggressive (with frowning eyes, a bit like a Camaro …)
    The TV option looks like this:

    C’est vraiment tout petit 😀
    It’s really very small 😀

    1. Digital television must have been in its infancy when the Rover 75 was launched, so the ‘retro’ car was quite advanced, in that respect at least!

      La télévision numérique devait n’en être qu’à ses balbutiements lorsque la Rover 75 a été lancée, la voiture « rétro » était donc assez avancée, du moins à cet égard !

    1. Hello Alain. That looks like a very pleasant coastal setting in the second photograph! May I please ask where it is?

      Bonjour Alain. Cela ressemble à un cadre côtier très agréable sur la deuxième photo ! Puis-je s’il vous plaît demander où il est?

    2. Aha, I have now noticed your caption!

      Aha, j’ai maintenant remarqué votre légende!

    3. I never understood the shutline (?) between the plastic bumper/fascia and the wing, as if there should be an indicator outboard of the headlamp.

    4. Mervyn: the way the bumper relates to the wing is, to me, evidence they made a late decision abandon a block-type single lamp cover for the double lenses. If they had not done so maybe they felt it would have looked like a Rover 600.

    5. If I may be contrary; there are some early design sketches and a model for the 75 that indicate the front end cutting into the wings was always part of the intended design. I think they are stille available somewhere at ARonline.

    6. Roewe finally made use of those cutouts in the front wings when the 750 received its last facelift:

      Whether or not the cutouts were originally meant to accommodate the light units, using them for this purpose corrected the ‘pinched’ look that afflicted the facelifted Rover 75 and MG ZT.

    7. They did look better, those Roewe lamps, even if not perfect. The grille is not so good.
      If it is the case that the 75 was intended to have double lamps the whole time, it means it wasn´t even a workaround that forced the shutline to look as if a another lamp design was intended. That is strange indeed. Surely someone must have pointed this out? I also realise that fixing the problem means a substantial alteration to the bumper, bonnet and wing. By the time someone noticed that it looked as if the double lamps were a hasty change it may have been too late.

    8. Or maybe BMW felt it looked too much like a BMW (see E46, for example). It would also explain how the slight Hofmeister kink became disguised by a filler piece of black trim.

      The sketch in question has the proportions of a much larger car. I think it is unquestionably a sketch for the cancelled “Flagship/Flashpig” as discussed in the accompanying AROnline article, and not “Core/Isis” which became the 75.

    9. I never saw that facelift, Daniel. It looks much better, and I will sleep better tonight for having seen it. TY!

    10. On the sketches which are lovely, the lamp problem is not very clear to see. It ought to have been corrected at the clay model stage.

  11. Splendid read, Chris, thank you. You almost had me welling up at the end. As one who knows back problems only too well, being uncomfortable is no fun, even if the rest of the car is to your requirements. Looking forward to your replacement vehicle reveal, too.

    A very interesting thought on the perception of British vehicles abroad, too. Mr Elvin has certainly put his case forward, so too Mr Herriott, The picture from Alain could easily be the east coast of Yorkshire or near Dover . The 75 looks perfectly at home here – if I were on holiday and seen the car there, it would certainly help the memories.

    1. Goodness; no higher compliment than inspiring emotion in one’s readers. Thank you!

    1. I’ve bought two cars from him so clearly no huge complaints. His stock is focused on ‘modern classics’ of unusually good quality… and priced to match.

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