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A Grand Monday: Rover 400

Published 27 March 2017

Make no mistake, Rover Group's collaboration with Honda turned out some good cars. Chief among them was the car known internally as the 'R8' - the original 200 and 400 Series, which for the first few years of its life was considered the absolute best car in its class.

Build quality, comfort, dynamic ability and the neatness of its design were all things that worked in its favour, as did the lively new 16-valve K-series engines, which punched well above their weight in terms of both fuel economy and performance - a fact all too easily forgotten these days, thanks to the unit's unfortunate reputation for head gasket failure.

The press waxed lyrical about the R8 range when it made its debut, and as the range evolved to include a coupe, a cabriolet and even a 'Tourer' estate, it seemed the R8 couldn't put a foot wrong.

Then, along came its replacement. Launched in 1995 - a rather rapid replacement cycle for a car that had proven so popular, but driven by the Japanese firm's desire to cycle new models quickly - the 200 and 400 were to become more distinctly separated. The 200 would shrink a little to compete with the larger superminis, and would be a Rover-only bodyshell built around an R8 bulkhead and running gear. The 400, meanwhile, would be far more closely related to the latest Honda Civic, using the same bodyshell, bulkhead, dashboard moulding, roof, doors and tailgate. 

Rover 400 (4)

If the R8 was a sea change for Rover, then in media terms the new model (known internally as HHR) was a bit of a disappointment. The interior didn't feel as special, the cabin a bit cramped, and the styling was largely considered less elegant than the outgoing car.

Viewed today, though, the HHR - especially in Rover-only four-door saloon form - is a simple and elegant machine. It has aged much better than many cars younger than it, perhaps because it looked old-fashioned when new, so has never really dated.

The interior is a bit bland, but the exterior is smart, and more importantly there's the often forgotten fact that these drive very, very well indeed. No, really. They do. Even in 1.4 format, like this one, they're adequately quick, while indepenent suspension all-round was almost unique in the sector for its day, and equipped the 400 with a ride quality that its key rivals could only dream of. Rover's engineers had gone to work on the suspension and steering, too, meaning that the 400 was a much sharper and dynamic steer than its Japanese twin.

The mature ride matched the demographic of many buyers, though, and that didn't help in the 'cool' stakes. Nor, indeed, did the demise of MG Rover in 2005, which pushed residual values through the floor.

Rover 400 (7)

For years, the HHR was one of the least popular used cars in the UK, but luckily the number that were tucked away in garages at neat, suburban bungalows meant that cars like this one still exist. It's covered 35k from new, and is absolutely immaculate inside and out - it's one that definitely deserves to be saved for future generations, and will no doubt drive like a two-year old car. At £995, it's probably top dollar for a Rover 400 HHR, but it's probably also top Rover 400 for the dollar... 

Comments

Frank Spence    on 6 March 2018

I purchased a pre-registered Rover 400iL Saloon in October 1999 and she has served us well over the years. Known to us fondly as Rosie, she would regularly cover the 244 miles between our home in South Essex and Llangollen in four and a half hours. The route was partly on motorways and speed limites were strictly obeyed. The ride has always been good whatever the distance covered. Long runs return around 48 mpg, local trips in the range of 30-35mpg. Build quality is very good. An accident when three years old involving a Hiace truck that failed to stop at a junction and struck the car causing significant damage proved the strength bodyshell and the doors still functioned normally. The head gasket failed after 11 years and an upgraded replacement fitted. The original steel spare wheel was replaced by a fifth alloy wheel. The garage maintaining the vehicle have an instruction to deal with any advisory matters that arise when the MOT is due rather than defer to latter. The only blemishes are one dimple on a door panel - caused when the air pump connector sprung out of my hand(!) and the piping around the leather driver's seat has cracked - well it is the most used seat in the car. Both are relatively minor issues. Yes, she was replaced about three years ago but I kept her and it was a wise move. Within three weeks the newcomer was seen-off and she was back in her garage. Why? The ride quality of the replacement was nowhere near the quality of a fifteen year old Rover and with spinal osteo-arthritis that is an issue for me. Value for money? Yes. Expensive to maintain. No. Current mileage 75200 miles. Is she a Classic? I reckon she's entitled. What of the future - we are growing old gracefully together.

   on 17 November 2018

I had three Rovers. 200, 25 and now 416. The best cars I ever had. Rover has a class and is made from quality materials. Far better quality than newer cars.

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