Rover 25

Revamping the Rover 200 and renaming it to 25 is part of a program trying to stop sales decline. If you remember, the 200 was the first new Rover after the Honda era, but it was not gifted with a proper suspension and steering tuning. In terms of market positioning, obviously Rover gave it a wrong target : the larger D-segment headed by VW Golf. Now, the BMW management eventually realised that the "prestige" image would never work. They repositioned the Rover 25 against the likes of Fiat Punto, Ford Fiesta, VW Polo, Peugeot 106, Renault Clio etc., launched a dramatic price cut to stop bleeding. 

For a mid-life revamp, the Rover 25 has done quite a lot, especially is to the aspects involving driving pleasure. Sportier spring / damping / anti-roll bar combination is out of a different damping theory. Not only improves body control, but the bump absorption is hugely improved. The 12% faster rack-and-pinion steering also quicken steering response and improves feel. Obviously, BMW is pushing Rover to be the front-wheel-drive version of "Ultimate driving machine". 

Ultimately, it might not be as exciting to handle as Ford Fiesta, but it is no longer afraid of the best of the rest. At the engine compartment, a lower tuned version of the 1.4-litre (at 83hp) and the MGF’s 118hp 1.8-litre have been added. The 118hp unit could be mated with a CVT with 6 artificial sequential manual ratios as already applied to MGF Steptronic. Next year will come a 1.1-litre 16V (est. 70hp). The top of the range remains to be the 1.8 VVC unit with 145hp.  

In terms of engine, Rover’s K-series won’t let you down, no matter in terms of power or eagerness. However, in terms of packaging, there is a mixed feeling in this car. Inside, the aging plastic dashboard is unchanged, just new seats and new door trimming add a little bit freshness. Outside, the revised nose incorporating 4 circular headlights (a new company resemblance feature) plus the new grille and bumper raised the styling to new height.  

That is not enough to make the 25 a class winner. Its packaging is still out of the school of the 80s. Excessive overhangs at front and rear result in an inefficient use of space. This mean the car carry 100kg more than its rivals with comparable interior space. 

The above report was last updated on 29 Nov 99. All Rights Reserved.

MG ZR 160

During the transition period from Rover to MG, the struggling British car maker will produce a line of MG cars alongside their Rover roots. Take this MG ZR as example, it is the MG version of Rover 25, with hotter look and tuning but it will offer a full range of engines from the warm 105hp 1.4 to the high-performance 160hp 1.8 VVC. In other words, the ZR will eventually replace the whole 25 lineup.  

Given a weak basis of Rover 25, I don’t have much expectation from this ZR160. Basically, this car is derived from the old 25 GTi with the VVC engine pumped up to deliver 160 horsepower in a peaky manner while the 128 lbft of torque is simply untouched. If you remember this engine is already serving the limited edition MGF Trophy 160, you don’t need to be told that the power hike is the result of improved breathing and remapped ECU. The latter also improves throttle response, but the engine never feel as powerful as Volkswagen’s 1.8T (even the 150hp version) and the French’s 2.0-litre opponents. You need to work hard on rev with the close-ratio gearbox to extract the extra performance, which is not much. It is also very noisy. 

Comparatively, suspension tuning seems mild. If the 25 were a modern hatchback, it won’t need a magic to be converted to a real hot hatch. However, it was launched back in late 1995 (in the name of Rover 200) thus body stiffness is not comparable to today’s hatches. Without applying any reinforcing, MG Rover struggled to achieve the right balance between sportiness and ride comfort. The result is a compromise thus satisfy neither sides. Drive it at eight-tenths effort, the stiffened suspension, hardened bushing and lowered ride height do deliver spirited handling. It is chuckable, throttle steerable and it corners flat, with good grip from 205 width 17-inch tyres and reassuring stopping power from larger brake discs. However, push it to limit and its shortcomings are revealed - excessive body roll, loss of grip and instability. On the other hand, ride quality is also inferior to most rivals. On broken surfaces it fails to overcome bumps that the French rivals can do easily, discomforting the occupants and reducing grip.  

Everything else worth little mention. The interior design and materials are clearly outdated. Driving position remains poor. The exterior looks too much like aftermarket's work, especially the MG grille that looks as if attached by a poor craftman rather than an integrated part of the nose. Overall speaking, the ZR160 is the worst among the trio of hot MG recently launched (the others are ZS180 and ZT190). Peugeot 206GTi, Renault Clio 2.0 and even VW Lupo GTi need not to worry about it. 

The above report was last updated on 25 July 2001. All Rights Reserved.


Rover 25 1.4i
MG ZR 160
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Size L / W / H / WB mm
3990 / 1690 / 1420 / 2500
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT.
1396 c.c.
1796 c.c.
83 hp
160 hp
81 lbft
128 lbft
F: strut / R: torsion beam
185/55 R15
205/45 ZR17
1020 kg
1090 kg
Top speed
111 mph*
131 mph (claimed)
0-60 mph
10.5 sec (estimated)
7.4 sec (est)
0-100 mph
21.0 sec (est)
* Tested by Autocar

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