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Rover launches the CityRover - crucial new small car. Image by MG Rover.

Rover launches the CityRover - crucial new small car
Trevor Nicosia went along to the launch of the crucial new car from Rover - the CityRover.
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The Car Enthusiast was invited to Longbridge, home of MG Rover, for the launch of a new small car - the long awaited Metro/Rover 100 replacement.

A small introduction from the bigwigs at MG Rover served to reinforce the message (in light of some recent press comments) that MG Rover are in good health, that their cost and profit positions are on target (as set back in May 2000) despite the difficult trading position the industry finds itself it. MG Rover is relaunching in Japan next week and has taken over sales in Sweden from BMW (who sold just 18 cars in 2002), where it is expected that 1,500 cars per annum will be sold.

We were introduced first to the new interpretation of the Rover Viking longship logo being phased in as from now to reflect changes in technology and branding since the old logo was first used. The untrained eye will miss the change entirely. On showing the new badge to my four-year-old son he immediately said "Rover" - so either a success or money not well spent depending on your viewpoint.

We were also told about forthcoming models, such new derivatives of the MG ZS with 1.6-litre 110 PS and 1.8-litre 120 PS engines. Finally we were assured that the MG ZT 260 V8 is on target and would be with us soon.

And so to the launch of the new small car. The importance of this car to MG Rover is hard to understate. The small car market throughout Europe is currently running at some 4.5 million units per year, with 1.1million of these being the so called "city" cars - those smaller than the Rover 25 such as the Ford Ka, VW Lupo, Peugeot 106, etc. Since the demise of the Rover 100 (nee Metro) in 1998, MG Rover dealers have not had an offering for this market. Even in the last days of the Rover 100, sales for this model accounted for approximately one third of the company's sales - so the dealers will be hoping the new car will prove good for business.

The lights were dimmed; the dry ice machines started bellowing their smoke, the fanfare music played and two hidden turntables on the stage rotated to reveal the new car, and its new name - CityRover. The new Rover is a name, not a number. Whether future Rovers will be named MotorwayRover, OutofTownRover, etc. remains to be seen...

We already had the knowledge that the new car is based on the Tata Indica and would be built in India. We also knew that the Indica, which has been in production since 1999, was plagued with early quality problems. Strangely enough, during the introduction of the CityRover, its country of origin was omitted, as was any mention of Tata. The only veiled reference was that the car had been thoroughly tested in hot and humid climates.

Initial impressions were good - we had already been told that the car was about the same size as a Peugeot 106 in terms of length and width, but is as currently becoming fashionable, CityRover is taller than the norm, enabling the passengers to sit more upright and enjoy more interior space. I thought it looked a little like the Toyota Yaris with Fiat Punto taillights - smart without being avant-garde as the Ford Ka had been. Conservative but modern - just what a Rover should be.

A closer inspection showed panel gaps to be reasonably even, the paintwork deep and lustrous on the metallic silver and metallic silver-blue examples shown - hopefully the production models will exude the same quality. Inside, the dashboard resembles the Ford Ka with a little of the funkiness taken out, but the quality of plastics, trim and fittings are no worse than the Ka. This is reassuring given the Tata's problems. Whether the quality is up to the expectations that Rover used to bring is another matter. Perhaps the optional leather trim, which we did not see, will help to reinstate the 'Roverness'.

Opening the doors, I was surprised by their lightness - MG Rover have yet to release details of CityRover's weight so it is hard to gauge whether they will prove flimsy, or modern design has made them lightweight. Alas I suspect the former will prove to be the case, certainly any decent breeze will see them snapping shut on the unsuspecting passenger.

Sitting in the CityRover, the benefits of the upright seating positions were evident. A comfortable driving position was easy to find, although the view through the rear window from the interior mirror reminded me of looking through a letterbox. Sitting in the back there was legroom aplenty although at first I though headroom might be a little marginal. At 5'6" I felt that my hair was perilously closer to the headlining than I might prefer. A colleague (5' 8") sitting next to me reinforced that opinion. But then another journo claiming to be 5'11" sat in the back and her hair seemed in no more danger than mine!

The boot is of an adequate volume for the size of car, MG Rover claim it will take a baby buggy, or a week's normal shopping from the supermarket - whatever that might mean. Certainly it looked bigger than a Ka boot by a long way, although the quality of the back of the rear seat rest looks a bit suspect.

CityRover will come in four levels at prices to be announced between 6,500 and 8,500. The entry level model - Solo - features driver's airbag, radio/cassette player, tinted glass, remote releases for tailgate and petrol filler, but surprising omits electric windows which are pretty much a given these days.

The sporting model, Sprite, reusing a name from the past in a way which might upset a few Austin Healey owners, includes alloy wheels, leather sports steering wheel, front fog lamps and a rear spoiler.

The luxury model - Select - brings in front and rear electric windows and air conditioning. Both Sprite and Select gain power steering, remote central locking, tachometer and a CD/tuner over the Solo.

Finally, the top of the range model - Style - features all the additions of Sprite and Select, and also benefits from anti-lock braking and a passenger airbag.

The CityRover will be available in two solid paint colours and eight optional metallic colours.

All in all though, the CityRover looks attractive - in this sector where many cars are bought as second cars for the family - which will go a long way. If the loyal Metro/Rover 100 buyer can be tempted back into the showroom, then MG Rover should have no difficulty in selling the 40,000 units a year that they are hoping for. A downer might well be a poor performance in the NCAP crash tests - NCAP rules mean that only safety options available as standard throughout the range are allowed on the test car, and very few of the competitors will go into that test without a passenger airbag.

The CityRover is due to go on sale in the UK and Eire on 6 November with European sales following on shortly after.

Trevor Nicosia - 16 Jul 2003

2003 Rover CityRover. Image by MG Rover.2003 Rover CityRover. Image by MG Rover.2003 Rover CityRover. Image by MG Rover.  

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2003 Rover CityRover. Image by Trevor Nicosia.

2003 Rover CityRover. Image by MG Rover.

2003 Rover CityRover. Image by MG Rover.

2003 Rover CityRover. Image by MG Rover.

2003 Rover CityRover. Image by Trevor Nicosia.

2003 Rover CityRover. Image by MG Rover.

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