BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Although not without its merits, it's doubtful that Rover's tie up with TATA cars of India will be remembered as a high point in the firm's corporate history. The car that was spawned, dubbed the CityRover, was a quick and inexpensive way for the company to access the city car market and would have had quite some appeal were it not for some rather optimistic pricing from new. Given that buying used will nix that quibble about value, does the CityRover make a better used purchase than a new one? Find out here.
Models Covered: (5 dr hatchback 1.4 [Solo, Select, Sprite, Style])
It's common knowledge that MG Rover don't have the motoring industry's largest new product development budget and much of their product planning centres around modifying existing products to appeal to new market niches. The CityRover is different. Built by TATA in India, the CityRover is based on their Indica city car, but has been given a thorough makeover by MG Rover to appeal to European palates. Four models were available from launch, all based around the same 1.4-litre 83bhp engine. First up was the Solo, followed in order of plushness by the Select, the Sprite and finally the Style. This top of the range version was saddled with a price tag of £8,895 upon introduction. If MG Rover could have carved around £1,000 from the prices of each model, the CityRover may well have shifted the numbers they were initially looking for. As it stands, a CityRover will remain a rare sight on British roads. Production ended with the end of MG Rover in 2005.
What You Get
The interior isn't especially beautiful, but Rover have specified decent quality seating trims, while the full leather option on the range-topping Style variant is an unexpected touch. The lowest priced Solo variant is a little sparse but features a driver's airbag, front seat belt pretensioners, a radio/cassette with four speakers, tinted glass and remote releases for the tailgate and fuel filler. Pay a little more and you get the Sprite model which features alloy wheels, a leather-trimmed sports steering wheel and gearknob, front fog lamps and a rear spoiler which together give it a pleasantly dynamic look and feel. A more luxury bias is evident on the Select version, which incorporates front and rear electric windows and air conditioning. Both Sprite and Select are fitted as standard with power steering, remote central locking, a rev counter and a CD-based stereo. The plush Style version features all of this as well as anti-lock brakes and a passenger airbag. Paint choices include two vibrant solid colours and eight optional metallic hues. There's no getting away from the fact that trim quality and finish isn't what you'd expect from a European car and all models seem to be infused with a heady petrochemical smell that will require an industrial strength air freshener to dispel. That said, the materials used look rugged and easy to clean.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The engine is a tough little unit with few reported issues. Interior quality isn't the best but the rather crude plastics used do tend to be correspondingly tough. If you manufacture a car for use on India's roads it will stand up to British tarmac without too much of a problem. Check the electrics over as these can occasionally betray a few gremlins (no Prince Philip jokes please) and also check the back for any kiddie destruction but otherwise there's not a whole lot to go wrong with a CityRover. Check that essential servicing work has been done, that there's no accident damage and you should be able to land a decent car.
(approx. based on a CityRover Solo) For most parts the prices are quite reasonable and worth the money. Expect to pay around £115 for a full clutch assembly, around £85 for a headlamp and up to £135 for a radiator. Brake pads should cost about £45 for the front and £40 for the rear, an alternator is around £155 and a starter motor around £160.
On the Road
There's only one engine choice available, a Peugeot derived 1.4-litre 84bhp unit, and you'll only be offered a five door body shape, though that's in positive contrast to many rivals which charge a premium if you want unfettered access to the rear seats. Access to the car is easy thanks to doors that swing open through a ninety-degree arc and a high seating position. The rear seats are mounted slightly higher than the fronts to give improved passenger visibility and the rear bench splits 60/40. With a carrying capacity of 220 litres with the seats in place and 610 litres with the rear bench folded, the CityRover Sprite is a citycar that can do more than just a light shop. Although the engine is undoubtedly unrefined, it's gutsy enough to punt the CityRover up the road with quite some verve. In fact a CityRover is capable of dispatching the sprint to 60mph from rest quicker than virtually any comparable rival. It's also good fun to drive, albeit in a rather crude fashion. Rather ironically, the sort of mature customers the car is targeted at are least likely to appreciate the outer limits of the car's acceleration and handling!
MG Rover had great hopes for the CityRover and, by and large, they've been dashed on the rocks of buyer apathy. Much of that has been caused by a combination of optimistic pricing from new and the basic unrefinement of the product itself. As a used buy, the CityRover makes much more sense. As long as you're not expecting the last word in interior sophistication, this car has a lot going for it. It's not only quite good looking, it also has five doors, a zippy engine, a rugged interior and a sensible price tag. Let somebody else swallow the steepest part of the depreciation curve and you could be left with a surprisingly attractive buy.