There’s now a video version of the ZX collection capers. See how it all unfolded. Apart from a bit in the middle that I forgot to film…
Drive and Test
Driving the interesting and the obscure. And occasionally dreadful.
Road Test: MG3
The latest HubNut road test review is now live, as I spend a week getting to know the MG3. Cheap Chinese rubbish or is it actually well worth a look?
Honda S-MX: 2000-mile review
Er, I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I seem to have clocked up 2000 miles in the S-MX already. About 2300 in fact. Blimey.
So, how has it gone? Seeing as I’m just back from yet another trip to the South East of England, I’m well placed to give a report.
Not entirely smoothly is how it’s gone. I’ve had to spend a fair bit of time, effort and money on improving this car, though the good news is that it feels like time, effort and money well spent. As already reported, the collection caper included fitting a new timing belt and water pump, as well as giving the poor thing a much-needed service and an optimistic transmission fluid change. That’s because these Honda gearboxes can be a bit weak. I found it was flaring, or revving up on downshifts, and also on upshifts when cold. I can’t say the fluid change has greatly improved matters, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you can only drop about half the fluid in the gearbox. I plan do it again and this time, remove all the solenoids and clean the gauze filters underneath. Hopefully that’ll speed up the changes. When I got the car home, I changed the thermostat, which got the torque converter lock-up working again. That does seem to have improved economy – it varies quite a bit between 32 and 36mpg on the previous two fills – I suspect because different pumps click off at different points. 32-34 is my gut feel. Not bad.
I also had to get both track rod ends replaced, which then allowed me to get the tracking set correctly. It was way off, which destroyed a tyre and left it feeling exceedingly uncomfortable on wet bends. The local garage did this work, and I’m happy to report that it is much improved. That said, the steering is still hideously light – it seems they’re like that. This is not a car for hooning. It handles like a wardrobe on the Cresta Run.
That work included fitting a full set of Nokian Weather Proof all-season tyres. I’ve not tried all-season rubber before, so I look forward to seeing whether they really do work well in all conditions. Typically, it has been pretty much drought conditions since they went on, but they certainly grip well enough in the dry. They’re pretty quiet too.
At the same time, I liberally applied Bilt Hamber’s excellent Dynax UB anti-corrosion wax to the underside, having already treated the rear wheelarches to a dose of Vactan rust converter. None of this stuff was blagged by the way, this is all honest appraisal of stuff I paid for (though if I ever do blag stuff, I’m honest about that too!).
I was sent Autoglym’s Headlamp Restoration kit to try on my hideously ruined headlamps, and I can honestly say I’m very impressed with the results. I’ll do a more detailed report on that at some point, as it definitely deserves it. It’s so nice to have an actual headlamp beam pattern again! Night vision has been improved immensely. It’s quite a scary kit to use, because you make things a lot worse before making things better. Worth persevering with.
One small thing I did was paint the wiper arms using some matt black paint. That’s improved the looks no end, along with using Autoglym’s Bumper and Trim gel on the scuttle trim. Sadly, the paint on the roof remains terrible. I think it’s a combination of sun bleach and salt from surfboards. LIFESTYLE YO!
I also had to replace the rear washer pump, which became a bit of a farce. I discovered that the front washer pump was also leaking – huge globules of sealant hinted that someone had already tried to fix this one. A new pump sorted it out, so I ended up replacing both pumps in the end. Screenwash consumption has dropped dramatically! A drop or two of Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure seems to have cured a small leak at the rear washer jet itself. Water was dribbling down the inside of the rear window.
There’s still stuff to do though. The rear anti-roll bar drop links are utterly ruined. I’ve no idea how they got through an MOT to be honest. Thankfully, replacement looks easy, and they’re shared with an Accord, but I’m still waiting for another pay day to pass before sorting them out. It’ll be nice to banish the constant rattle from the back end. I wonder about a fresh set of dampers too, as it is really quite bouncy! Being a Lowdown model doesn’t help – it has shorter, stiffer springs from the factory – but firm doesn’t have to mean bouncy. Given the pitiful level of car this poor car has received in the past, it wouldn’t surprise me if the dampers are the originals.
Then, as mentioned earlier, I need to do another transmission fluid change and see if I can get the gearbox to behave. It’s generally fine, for a good 99% of the time. In fact, it’s a rather pleasant car to waft around in. It sailed back from Sussex with no bother at all. It’s like driving a cosy armchair. I’ve even got deep pile carpet mats, so I drove home in my slippers.
I really like this car though, which has surprised me. Hopefully that means an end to the frantic flurry of car changes during the latter part of this year.
NSX – I didn’t like it
Earlier this year, I achieved a dream! I drove a Honda NSX – the all-alloy masterpiece with suspension tuned by Ayrton Senna himself. In fact, he had once driven this very car! A short distance…
A fantastic experience then? Er, no. Really, not at all.
Things didn’t start well when we collected the car, hitting rush-hour traffic as we desperately tried to get from Bracknell to Santa Pod for a photoshoot. A super-quick supercar is not much use if the traffic is barely moving. Not that it was really super-quick. This one had an automatic gearbox, which meant a drop in power to just 252bhp and a 0-60mph time of around seven seconds. Hardly supercar stuff. It really is a dreadful gearbox too, far inferior to the one in my S-MX, though it did at least take the sting out of the seemingly endless jams. There’s no sport mode, which seems shameful on an alleged supercar. It was also reluctant to kick down, changed up too soon and thumped through full-bore changes – when we got the opportunity (Milton Keynes).
The biggest problem isn’t really the car itself though, but the overall experience of driving a supercar on public roads. I surely can’t be the only journalist who’s felt uncomfortable in such a situation, but you absolutely cannot enjoy what this car is all about without getting up to some very naughty speeds. I’m not the sort of person to get up to very naughty speeds, whether I’m in a Chevette or a Corvette. The Honda’s zingy engine doesn’t deliver maximum power and torque until over 6000rpm though, so for the most part, it just felt sluggish and unexciting – punctuated by very brief bursts of ‘WOW!’ as the engine screamed and before I decided that was quite quick enough for the public roads thank you very much.
I did a full-bore acceleration test at Santa Pod, and that highlighted the difficulty. It got quite exciting once we reached about 80mph – in second gear. By which time I’d started running out of space.
After all that, we then had to fight our way back to Bracknell, where the super-firm suspension really did get quite annoying. I’d covered 180 miles in the NSX and I was bloody glad to get out of it, with my hopes and dreams lying shredded on the floor. Getting out is a good idea, because it really does look bloody stupendous. It is a fantastic looking car. I think it is a car best enjoyed via the medium of a poster. How pleased I was, though, to jump into my soft, floaty XM – its turbo diesel engine provides plenty of performance for public roads thank you very much, even if it doesn’t even sound one tenth as pleasant.
It feels like sheer rebellion to be a motoring writer and conclude that a drive in something like an NSX was anything other than ridiculously fabulous, but that’s the truth. I’m not Chris Harris, I don’t have access to a race track and even if I did, I’d probably crash. I just can’t relate to cars like the NSX. It’s telling that when I arrived at Honda’s fleet storage facility, I got quite excited about the Mk1 Civic they also have. “Not available for drives,” I was told. How depressing. When it comes to motoring heroes, I think I shall stick to the real world variety. There’s a lot more joy to be had in a bland, family hatchback than in a car you can’t even exploit. Driving a supercar on the road is like winning the lottery, and being told you can only spend your winnings on soap.
Here’s a video of the NSX (and some others). Great fun! When not on public roads.
Brilliant, and also, terrible.
If someone offers you the chance to drive a race 2CV, then it’s hard to say no. After all, this was a car I had helped nurture through 24 hours of racing in August 2015. I had spent much of the time trying to imagine what it must be like to drive. Very different from a normal 2CV I thought. These ponderings were useful as I attempted to overcome the very strong desire to actually sleep during my pit duty.
Roll forward to 2016 and the owner of the car, Chris Yates, offered me the chance to actually drive The Blueberry Muffin. Well, I was hardly going to say no was I? I originally wrote a feature on the experience for Classic Car Buyer, which was published prior to this year’s 2CV 24-hour race – one I sadly couldn’t attend. Here, I’ve re-written things for a slightly different audience. HubNutters!
Chris had got the car road legal to assist with engine-running-in duties. Well, that’s what he told me. I reckon he just wanted to see if he could make his race car road legal. An awful lot had changed since this 2CV last saw the highway!
So, what makes a race 2CV so different then? For a start, it actually has more in the way of interior appointments than it ever had before. Far from being stripped out, it’s actually packing a lot more kit. There’s just the one seat, a proper race one of course, and a rather impractical roll cage. The seat is placed further back, and lower. From it, you can’t see the bonnet, and you look sidewards pretty much straight out of the rear side door glass.
The steering wheel is smaller and lower, and the column stretched to place it in your hands. The gearlever is extended and the dash-mounted handbrake has been replaced by a proper floor-mounted one. You’d never reach the original.
Then there’s a generous smattering of gauges, a fire extinguisher and a bank of resettable fuses.
Outside, the 2CV sits much lower, on shorter, stiffer springs. The ride height is terrifyingly low, with the axle bolts almost skimming the surface of the road. The windscreen is glass, but all other glazing is polycarbonate. The front windows still flip up as normal.
The canvas or plastic roll-back roof is gone, replaced by a sheet of aluminium, while the rear wings and entire front bodywork are amended 2CV items designed to be removed in double-quick time. The bonnet already slides off in seconds – standard fitment.
Under the bonnet, rules dictate that you must use a 602cc 2CV engine and standard gearbox, though modifications are allowed to the exhaust and carburettor – a Weber DTML is used here, along with the compulsory club specification camshaft. The heat exchangers are gone, with the two exhaust pipes merging neatly into one near the bulkhead. Power output is somewhere around 45bhp at the wheels, compared to 29 (at the flywheel) in road trim. The standard crankshaft is used, which is good for a 6800rpm rev limit – a standard 2CV engine produces maximum power at 5750rpm. These engines are used to high revs.
I go about the difficult process of clambering aboard, and strap myself in. A quick press of the starter and the engine fires noisily into life. It has a purposeful snarl to it. I find the gearlever a little tricky to use – it seems to have some extra play as a result of several extension pieces. I pull away and my ears adjust to the sheer volume. A normal 2CV is hardly quiet, but this is very much louder.
Let the revs rise and it gets noisier still. It never feels all that quick, which is probably my fault for having driven a 2CV with a 100bhp BMW motorcycle engine in it, but it’s certainly entertaining. It may be loud, but it’s a good noise. It isn’t unpleasant and encourages you to go rev-limit hunting.
Do passers by find it all amusing or just annoying? I’m not sure, but they certainly take notice.
The cornering experience is very strange. There’s not a hint of bodyroll! I’m sure that’s great on a track, but must concede that I find it all a bit wrong and disappointing for road use. Worse, the ride is terrible! I actually ground the car out at one point, all because of a pothole. It doesn’t take long for me to miss a normal 2CV’s ability to go charging over speed humps with nary a whimper. That’s not the case here. I’m having to work very hard to avoid undulations and bumps.
There’s certainly a novelty value to driving something quite so ridiculous, but getting in and out is a right faff. I must concede that there are better vehicles for pottering to the shops – though perhaps it’s still better than a 4×4 pick-up…
Honda S-MX: Settling in video
Honda S-MX: Life on the road
The Honda has responded well to a dose of TLC. On Friday, I changed the thermostat, and this has fixed the gearbox. Brilliant! But how?
It turns out that the Honda’s electronic brain will not allow the torque converter to lock-up if the engine is not at full operating temperature. The lock-up feature is a major improvement to the world of automatic transmissions, and effectively bypasses the automatic bit by locking the engine to the road wheels, just like a manual transmission does. Without the lock up, the transmission relies on the torque converter, which in simple terms, is like a fluid turbine. The engine spins the fluid, which acts on the stator of the gearbox to create forward movement. This means you don’t need a clutch, because if you stop, the spinning fluid can’t overpower the brakes.
Anyway, with the torque converter locked up, engine speed is reduced (by around 250rpm) and, because transmission and engine are now physically linked together, it improves efficiency. The torque converter loses efficiency because all that spinning motion generates heat. Heat demonstrates the lack of efficiency, and indicates why automatics usually have a transmission cooler…
Changing the thermostat was pretty easy. There’s a drain tap on the radiator to drain the coolant, and just two 10mm bolts holding the ‘stat in place. Not that accessing them is all that easy – ratchet spanners proved ideal.
This all means that I wafted along the M54 on Saturday in a rather more relaxing manner than my run up the M5 after collection the car. The new thermostat, of course, also means quicker engine warming first thing, and that it maintains that temperature on the move. All this means better efficiency and hopefully, better mpg. Sadly, this hasn’t yet been borne out by the figures – the second tank of fuel seems to have returned 28mpg rather than the 32 of the first. That did include rather a lot of motorway driving at or around the speed limit, whereas the first tank involved some of that, but also rather more 60mph limit single-carriageway.
The trek along the M54 was the start of a 600-mile trip that saw me end up in Kent, then driving all the way back to Wales. The news is generally good. I’ve now covered 1000 miles in the S-MX in total and I still like it a lot. I’ve improved the bed situation with a self-inflating mattress, and while it’s still a bit uneven, I managed two nights of pretty good kip in it.
I do need to improve the headlamps though. They’re a bit dim at night. I’m hoping the newly-arrived Autoglym headlamp restoration kit can help here (see next update, probably). I do also still need to sort the alignment out and fit some new tyres. It makes embarrassing squeals on some surfaces, and just does not feel planted.
It must be said though, I still like it a lot. It may corner with all the grace of Boris Johnson in a thong, but unlike BoJo, I just want to spend time with it. Could this be the start of Good Times?
Honda S-MX: Time for TLC
Having awoken in Cornwall, it was time to head to a friend on Autoshite who happens to run a garage. The seller of the S-MX claimed there was no history of a timing belt change in the service history. This turned out to be lies, but I didn’t realise it at the point of sale. Thinking the timing belt was probably in dire need of replacement, I’d booked it in to be done, and my pal had offered a very good rate.
It didn’t take him long to get cracking. He’s a bit of a Honda fan boy, so I knew the car was in good hands. I opted to replace tensioner and water pump as well, having been let down by a cheap water pump on the RAV (fitted by a previous owner). I’d rather know everything is ok.
I also decided to change the oil and filter while we were there. With the oil filter buried down the back of the engine, this turned out to be a wise move. Much easier with the car raised several feet into the air. The filter looked quite old.
The amount of Japanese writing was slightly worrying. Could it be the one fitted to the car when it arrived in the UK in 2008?! Having since gone through the hardly-comprehensive history, there is no mention of basic servicing. A timing belt change and alignment checks yes, but not a sausage about a basic ‘oil and filters’ change. In fact, the timing belt change included a transmission fluid swap too, yet apparently not an engine oil change! Worrying. The state of the air filter also confirmed sheer ignorance of the basics.
The air filter (red) was quickly ordered up from a local factors at short notice. You’ll note there was no trouble locating one. Thankfully, a lot of items are shared with other cars.
I don’t really understand this level of neglect. Yes, a Honda should be a reliable car, but any car needs looking after to give its best! I can’t comprehend this level of sheer ignorance.
I also decided to replace the transmission fluid. It turns out that this had been done three years ago, but it still looked pretty horrible.
That’s the sort of condition that I tell people to run away from when I’m writing buyer’s guides. I never was one for following my own good advice…
The fact that it had already had a fluid change three years ago suggests this is not a gearbox in the best of health. The slipping into gears simply confirms the fact. Hopefully, it’ll keep soldiering on…
My friend also replaced the melted headlamp connectors, so hopefully my headlamp woes have now been banished. With fresh fluids (including fresh antifreeze), I was ready to continue my journey. I refuelled just before crossing the border back into Devon again having finally used up the ‘free’ fuel that came with the car.
After an overnight halt in Bideford, I drove back today. It was a pretty blissful journey to be honest, with little traffic and a very pleasant halt at Gloucester Services.
By the way, note how neatly the rear fog light has been fitted. Far better than a lot of grey imports, where a square, dirt cheap aftermarket job is hanging by its wire after the bracket inevitably failed. This is a lot smarter. Though it doesn’t actually work…
The services marked the end of the motorway section, which the S-MX dispatched with great merit. It sails along very nicely at motorway speeds. Still not sure about the torque converter lock up, but fourth is a lot taller than third. No idea what’s going on to be honest, but it feels very comfortable at motorway pace, and excellent, large door mirrors are a big boon.
It does lose its composure on more minor roads though. Generally, it’s fine bar the light steering, but if a bend tightens, it feels slightly like it’s going to fall over its outside front wheel. The Nippa does something very similar. The RAV4, despite a notably tall stance, does not do this. You do have to accept that it is going to kickdown a fair bit too. Top gear is so tall that it runs out of puff, but third gear is so short that it’s immediately up at 4000rpm. Generally though, it’s not bad at all. Respect its limits and it’s fine.
After 285 miles, I had to stop for fuel again. This allowed my first fill-to-fill calculation. I was quite pleased when the sums revealed a figure of 31.95mpg. My hope was that it would do 32mpg. My hope was not in vain.
Now, 32mpg is perhaps not that impressive by modern standards, but it’s pretty good for the time given the boxy dimensions, the engine size, the automatic gearbox and the fact that the engine is not running as efficiently as it might due to the stuck thermostat. Certainly not diesel economy, but then it runs on less smelly fuel and sounds a lot nicer too.
In conclusion then, this one is far from perfect, but doesn’t seem a bad base for further improvement. Certainly, it seemed nicely solid when it was up on the ramp, though I’ll need to protect it with anti-corrosion products aplenty to keep it healthy through a Welsh winter.
I’m going to boldly put this one down as a good buy then. Let’s hope it lasts longer than the Rover…
1200 miles in a £230 car
Now with video! (scroll down)
I’m quite rubbish at buying cars. I was going to buy a Lexus, but somehow ended up with a Mitsubishi Colt 1500 GLX automatic. This was clearly not going to be the ideal vehicle for our upcoming holiday to France, so panic measures were resorted to.
That meant heading to Ebay to see what was actually suitable for such a trip, and what was cheap. The Rover 600 was an obvious contender, the purchase of which I’ve already covered. Now, it was time to find out how it would do on the trip.
Firstly, I decided to investigate the air conditioning. It wasn’t working, and a heatwave was forecast. I decided to ask my local garage to investigate, and they found a failed hose. There was no time to source a new one, but they reckoned a local agricultural firm could make a new hose with the existing connectors. All was going well until, the night before we were due to depart, the new hose blew apart. One of the connectors had not been sufficiently crimped. This was especially annoying as I’d actually dug my bicycle out of the storeroom and ridden it 4.6 miles to collect the car! The hose was swiftly removed and the garage offered to try and get it remade the next morning. I decided to take the gamble, even though that meant collecting the car on the day we were due to leave.
The day of departure arrived and I got to the garage just as the new hose had been fitted. It was time to fire it up! Thankfully, the new hose held, and beautifully chilled air came out of the vents (after I’d previously fixed the blower motor). Fantastic! I said my thanks, drove back home, we loaded the car and headed off to our overnight stop in Sussex.
It was already pretty sweltering, so I was glad of the air con. It truly transforms a motorway journey in the summer, because you can keep the windows up. That makes it much, much more peaceful. We even managed to listen to music at a reasonable volume. Perfect.
However, our joy was not to last. During the latter stages of our trek along the M4, I began to notice that horrible hot-electric smell that suggests all is not well. It reminds me of model railways, when dirt is making it difficult for the voltage to get through to the wheels. Sure enough, when we hit traffic on the M25, it became apparent that the fan was not actually spinning – the cool air had merely been a result of the ram air effect of travelling at speed – or perhaps that ram air had been helping the fan to spin. Either way, it was back to windows down.
I did briefly consider trying to strip the motor out at my sister-in-law’s house, but decided eating dinner was a better idea. I also didn’t fancy having a car in bits hours before our chunnel crossing. Noisy windows it was then – at least it was cool on the eurotunnel train!
We then had several hours of French autoroutes to contend with, and it was noisy going. Until I decided to just run the air con with the ram air effect. At 130kmh, this worked very well and we were kept at a comfortable temperature. It only fell down whenever we stopped.
There followed a few days of family, too much delicious food and much sitting around before I got a chance to get the fan motor out.
Removing the fan quickly revealed that all was not well. It was reluctant to turn and indeed, was refusing to do so entirely without a little assistance. I recruited my father-in-law to investigate, as I knew he’d enjoy the project. With the motor apart, we could see the problem pretty clearly.
That’s some pretty drastic wear on the commutator. That step at the end of the brush should not be there. The brushes too were pretty worn. We were hardly going to find replacements in the middle of rural France on a Sunday afternoon, so a bottle of meths was provided, and we settled for just cleaning things up as much as possible. That included using a cocktail stick to clean out the carbon muck between each of those segments to reduce the possibility of short circuit. The brushes act on each of those segments in turn. I also cleaned out the nose bearing and the guides the brushes sit in, to ensure they could move freely.
With that done, I then reassembled the motor and a bit of machine oil was added to the nose bearing. With some scepticism, I plugged the motor back into the car’s loom and prepared to turn it on. Well, I was glad I’d got a firm grip of the motor housing, as the difference was staggering! It had gone from a lumpy, reluctant rotation to generating so much torque that it threatened to rip itself from my grasp! I looked all dramatic as the huge movement of air blew my hair backwards. This was a proper little wind machine.
Now all I had to do was reassemble everything, which I did with only one screw remaining. I’m clearly getting better at this lark. The next day, we went sight-seeing and enjoyed beautiful air conditioning once again. Lovely!
Of course, it didn’t last. The next day was even hotter, and having left the car parked all day, I moved it to a better position for loading up, prior to our long drive home. I turned on the air con, but the vents resolutely refused to chuck out air that was very cool. Sadly, that continued for our drive home. The pump was kicking in, but the air conditioning unit merely made a wheezing sort of a noise and no cold was forthcoming. Bother!
Things got even worse at the Eurotunnel entrance, where British security checks were causing a major hold up. We queued for ages, at the hottest part of the day, with not a cloud to be seen.
It was pretty much unbearable, though things improved when we opened both front doors. There was hardly a breath of wind though. Seriously sticky. At least the train was a little cooler, and it was also a fair chunk less scalding in Dover too. Phew. It got a lot hotter soon enough though, with the M25 being pretty bad. I knew there was a weather front heading along the M4 though. If we kept going, perhaps we could meet it!
Having refuelled 45 minutes from Calais, I certainly didn’t need to stop for fuel, but we eventually reached Cricklade in Gloucestershire, where it was decided that tea was most definitely needed. It had been 400 miles since our last brew! Seconds after we sat down, there was a power cut, but it was ok. We had tea. And possibly scones…
As we headed towards Wales, things became cooler still. We eventually arrived home at just after ten pm, having covered well over 500 miles that day, and some 1200 miles in total.
And here’s the thing. While the air conditioning certainly played up, the rest of the car just did what a car should. I drove it at 70-80mph (80mph=130kmh on the Frenchside) for hour after hour. It had to queue in major jams (Calais and M25). It never overheated, it never needed a drop of fluid. It was all quite boring really. In fact, if it weren’t for the air con related woes, it would have been a thoroughly boring experience that would hardly have been worth writing about. It just proves that £230 really can buy you an entirely capable vehicle. I still reckon it looks superb too. It may not be a Lexus, but it might just be the best value car I’ve ever bought.
New Rover: What’s it like?
Apologies for the radio silence. Things have been rather busy of late. However, the new Rover has been collected. It didn’t make for a particularly exciting collection caper though. I handed over £230, drove it to London, stopped the night, actually had to put some fuel in it, then drove back home to Wales. The only problems were both indicator related – the offside side indicator fell out of the wing (it had obviously been glued in after failing before) in the final few miles, and the nearside front indicator bulb fell out of its housing (and then into the lamp where I couldn’t retrieve it) somewhere around Gloucester.
So, what of the car? First, some boring geekery. The Rover 600 is very much a Honda Accord. No surprise there, as most of Rovers cars at this time had shared development with Honda. Here’s the thing though, of all the Rondas, the 600 was the one that Rover had least say in, under the skin at least. Honda didn’t want to mess with a successful formula, so Rover were pretty much restricted to styling tweaks. What tweaks they were though! Here’s a Honda Accord of this period.
Bland is the key word. The rear end is even worse. A featureless rump that has absolutely no design interest whatsoever. Now, Rover had a challenge. It had to use the same basic structure as this, with the same windscreen, roofline and even the front doors. Yet somehow, designer Richard Woolley came up with this marvellous design.
Frankly, I consider the 600 one of the best looking Rovers of all time. I rate it ahead of the 75, which always looked a bit bulky to me – and the front indicators were always odd, or even ugly. I may concede that a P4, 5 or 6 win it, but move into the 1980s and 1990s and there’s simply nothing to touch it. In my opinion.
Under the bonnet, there’s a further step away from Honda as Rover’s own L-Series turbo diesel is fitted. This is a rather fine evolution of the old Perkins Prima, as used in the Maestro and Montego, but now with electronic control of the throttle – albeit with a cable still involved. It’s a bloody marvellous engine, with practically no turbo lag at all. It pulls very smoothly indeed from just 1000rpm. Honda actually started to use this engine in its own cars. It is very good – I’d rate it as even better than the 2.1 turbo diesel in my old XM. It isn’t as powerful though, a shade over 100bhp in quite a large car. It never feels slow though, just not neck-snappingly brisk.
The steering is good too, though it was some hours and well over 150 miles into my ownership until I really got to exploit it on entertaining terrain – ie Welsh border country. It turns in very nicely and doesn’t have the worrying nose-heavy feeling of the XM.
It ambles along beautifully at motorway speeds too, which is good. Frankly, the only reason I have bought this car is because I need something good at motorway speeds. I’ve only used quarter of a tank of fuel so far (65 litres, 15 smaller than the XM), so I’ve no idea what the economy is like. Pretty bloody good is my best guess.
Downsides? Well, naturally, there are some. For a start, the suspension is rather on the firm side. Pity the poor Rover engineers who must have wanted something rather more supple. Instead, they got Honda’s short-travel, double-wishbone suspension. It makes the handling superb, but at the cost of ride comfort. It does crash a bit over broken terrain (ie London streets), and never really feels like it’s settling. It’s always jiggling about. Mind you, I’ve driven many modern cars that behave in exactly the same way, so maybe it was just ahead of its time…
I must concede that I’m not entirely won over by the colour either. These cars actually work well in lighter shades. I would have liked a sunroof too, and that was made even more desirable by the non-working fan blower motor and therefore non-working air conditioning. I’ll include something about that in my next report.
The gearchange isn’t the best either. I know bits on this one have been replaced, so it feels nice and tight, but it is also heavy in operation. It’s not great for quick changes.
But mostly, this story is all about the positives. The Ti-spec seats are a touch firm perhaps, but I got out after six hours at the wheel with no notable backache. There is a flick wipe feature. I can listen to Test Match Special on long wave radio. There is a foot rest (something I always longed for in the XM) for your left foot. I also got a ton of history with the car, including the owner’s handbook.
Frankly, it seems utterly ridiculous that such a good looking, competent car can be bought for so little money. Rover 75s attract plenty of enthusiasts, but the 600 remains overlooked. Having owned both, I know which I prefer already.
The next report will contain fault-finding and even some eradication! After that, I’ll be putting 1200 miles on it in a week. Let’s hope it really is reliable…