Students of automotive psychology might like to devote a few moments to pondering the reaction I got from two friends when they asked what car I was driving this week and were told that it was a Rover 45.
In each case the beginnings of a smirk appeared on their faces. This was followed by comments along the lines that I must be well fed up with having to drone around in an old man's car, and would surely be looking forward to getting my hands on something more interesting in the next few days.
Now, I will immediately admit that this was not necessarily a representative sample. I do, after all, have more than two friends (the third one was away on business and unavailable for comment). But the fact that I heard the same thing from different sources on consecutive days does suggest that Rover's public image is not that far removed now from what it was in about 1950.
Anyway, it so happens that I quite liked the 45. I don't think it looks very much like an old man's car - or rather, I did when they stuck the 75's headlights on it, but I've just about got over that. With multi-spoke alloy wheels (standard fitment on the iXL test car) and pearlescent red paintwork (a £300 option), it looks quite smart.
The 1.8-litre K-Series engine has a fair amount of zip to it, and if the effect of this unit is slightly dulled by the CVT transmission, well, so be it. I like CVTs, and this particular one contributes to the 45's splendid cruising ability.
(This was in fact the third CVT I had driven in the space of a month, and it had the jerkiest engagement of them all, but since this got noticeably worse on a daily basis I assume it was a problem with this particular car and not inherent to 45s generally. At least, I hope so.)
After current fashion, the CVT has a thing called Steptronic which allows you to switch through a series of six ratio holds and thereby pretend that you have a six-speed sequential gearbox. I tried this for a few miles and got thoroughly bored with it. The 45, in this form at least, just isn't sporty enough for that sort of thing to make any sense at all, and I preferred to leave the CVT to choose its own ratio, which is what it does best.
There's a solid feel to the interior, which was also quite comfortable (I'll pass over the fact that it was beige, just in case you think I really am heading towards pipe-and-slippers territory). The seats don't give particularly good side support, though, which left me with a few twinges in the middle of my back. That might also have had something to do with the fact that the steering wheel is adjustable for height but not for reach - one inch closer and I reckon it would have been ideal.
This is not a car you would ever feel inclined to hustle, but I was quite pleased by the way it tackled some of the more complicated roads in these parts. Ride quality was also impressive, degenerating into jiggliness only when I was pushing on across bumpy surfaces.
The 45 is by no means a class leader, but apart from the small doubts expressed above I reckon it's smart, well-equipped and comfortable, and works pretty well in most driving conditions.
What's that clicking noise I hear? Ah, my friends have started knitting me a scarf . . . confound them and their silly prejudices . . . young people today . . . honestly . . . .
Second opinion: Rovers are much better value now that the prices have dropped to a sensible level. In this case, I'd probably go for the manual box, and save more money. It's the interior which sets the 45 apart from its immediate rivals, none of which has the same upper-class appearance and solid feel. That's nothing new. In the days of the Honda connection, Honda was so impressed with Rover interiors that it had some shipped to Japan for installing in top models in its home-market range. I agree about the headlights and the front seats (which also have hard-to-get-at adjustment controls), and it's worth noting that Rover has added rear kneeroom by fitting the same kind of inset backs to the front seats that you get in the 75. Hard on the knees, though. Quite a classy-looking car, all round, and the pearlescent paint option (it was actually Copperleaf Red) is well worth it. Ross Finlay.
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