Roewe 550

Debut: 2008
Maker: SAIC
Predecessor: no

The ghost of Rover 75 is revived in a new heaven...

Since MG Rover bankrupted in April 2005, the intellectual property of its Rover 75 and K-series engine were bought by SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation), the largest car maker in China. SAIC built as many as 1.5 million vehicles in 2007 through its joint-venture with GM and Volkswagen, but so far it has yet to develop its own passenger car. The availability of Rover 75 platform gave it the best opportunity. Two years ago, SAIC started producing a long wheelbase version of the car in China. It even got a badge and a name close to the original, Roewe 750, very much in the same way as most Chinese fake goods. To the management of SAIC, that was the beginning of a new era.

The next stage would be to develop a new car base on the Rover 75 platform. Called Roewe 550, it was conceived to be a smaller, cheaper and more mainstream car than the 750. The problem was, SAIC did not have the expertise and R&D facility to fulfill that task. Therefore it hired ex-Rover engineer David Lindley as its technical director and contracted the development work to British engineering firm Ricardo, which had some guys worked on the original Rover. As for design, it employed an all-British team led by Tony Williams. The Brits can proudly claim they have built a successor to their Rover, albeit with a Chinese name and a small print "Made in China".


The Brits can proudly claim they have built a successor to their Rover, albeit with a Chinese name...

The British design is certainly very successful, especially up front. It has an elegant T-shape grille laid beautifully on the curvy nose. Either side of which is a peanut-shape headlight that resemble the last Rover design. The body profile is more compact than the old Rover, with fast angle windsceen and rear screen, a wide stance and a sporty waist line that draws towards a high-set boot. In contrast to the classical Rover, it looks thoroughly modern. Aerodynamic drag coefficient is a good 0.30.

The underpinning is derived from the Rover 75 platform, but the UK engineering team altered its hard points. Wheelbase is shortened by 40 mm to 2705 mm. Overall length is shortened by 120 mm. On the other hand, the Roewe 550 is considerably wider and taller than the old car. Its luggage space is a competitive 452 liters.


The clean and solid design looks as if made in Germany...

The new body feels solid and well built like overseas products. From the padded surfaces of the luggage compartment and the hydraulic struts supporting boot lid, you can see SAIC is serious to make a quality product. The interior also seems up to the job. The clean and solid design looks as if made in Germany. The color scheme is tasteful. The materials are decent - the black upper dash is made of soft-touch plastic, the steering wheel and seats are trimmed with German leather, the door handles and gearshift paddles are made of real aluminum, even the faux alloy and wood trim would be decent on a Japanese mid-size car. However, small details still reveal its nationality. For example, some switch gears seem fragile, the gear stick looks cheap, the steering wheel rims blocks the view to instrument panel etc.

The digital instrument panel is not my cup of tea, as it looks ugly and cheap. Unfortunately, SAIC is very proud of it and even named it "Silverstone". In the center of it is an analogue rev counter. When you start the engine, the needle will turn one round to welcome you. At the left side of it is a cheap digital speedometer. Right side is a small monochrome display of trip computer. Above the center console is a 6.5-inch color LCD monitor, which is part of an upmarket infotainment system. The latter provides satellite navigation, Hi-Fi, DVD, rear-view camera, SD-card and Bluetooth connectivity, all are controlled through a BMW i-Drive-like rotary switch on the center console.


"Silverstone" digital instrument is not everybody's taste...

Because of the long wheelbase, the cabin is roomy for four 6-footers. Roewe 550 is a big car for C-segment (e.g. Ford Focus) in which it competes. To steal sales from foreign brands, SAIC knows it should provide more car for less dollar, sorry, less RMB. So far this strategy seems successful.

Performance is not a strength of Roewe 550. Its power comes from the outdated Rover 1.8-liter K-series 16-valve four-cylinder engines. Ricardo re-engineered them to comply with Euro IV emission standard by using Siemens engine management system. The naturally aspirated version has replaced its unique Rover VVC system with a more conventional dual-continuous variable cam phasing by German supplier Schaeffler. Its maximum output is 133 hp at 6000 rpm and 125 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm, or in other words, nothing spectacular. The turbocharged version also came from the Rover era (it was introduced late in the life of Rover). It pumps out 160 horsepower and 158 lb-ft of torque. Ricardo could not increase its output any more because this is as much as the thin-wall K-Series 1.8 can take. Remember, this engine started life 20 years ago as 1.4-liter unit.


Aerodynamic drag is a good 0.30

As expected, the base 1.8 lacks punch to pull the 1.4-ton Roewe 550 with the necessary enthusiasm. The 1.8T is better. Once its turbo awake, it provides a solid and linear pull while producing a sporty growl. However, compare with newer generation turbocharged engines like Volkswagen's 1.8 TSI, its turbo starts working too late and has more noticeable turbo lag. Its fuel consumption and CO2 emission are also well behind nowaday's standard.

The Japanese-made Aisin 5-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission provides manual shift through either paddles (mounted behind steering wheel) or conventional gear stick. Neither are deemed to be responsive. Mate with the 1.8 turbo engine it needs as long as 10 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph. The gearshift is also far from seamless in auto mode. I suspect this problem has more to do with the software matching between the engine and the gearbox instead of the Aisin box itself.


Its chassis works like a typical European product...

If you can overcome the outdated powertrain, you will be pleased with the driving manner of Roewe 550, because its chassis works like a typical European product. Rover 75 donated its good suspensions consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a Z-axle (multi-link) setup at the rear - the latter was originally developed by BMW. The suspension tuning is firm by the standard of Chinese cars while slightly softer than most German cars. It corners with little pitch and roll, and the chassis feels solid. The hydraulic power steering is heavy, quick and accurate, if not very feelsome. Should you abuse it, it will save you with stability control, traction control, ABS and 6 air bags.

Unquestionably, Roewe 550 is a much better effort than the first Chinese car Brilliance Zhonghua. It looks good, drives well, is solidly built and well equipped. Only the old engines and that digital instrument panel deny it from success. Following the merger between SAIC and Nangjing Automobile, the former got the rights of MG brand, so in the future we may see this car on European roads under the MG name.
The above report was last updated on 26 Dec 2008. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

Roewe 550 1.8
Roewe 550 1.8T

Front-engined, FWD
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
Mainly steel
Length / width / height 4624 / 1827 / 1480 mm 4624 / 1827 / 1480 mm
Wheelbase 2705 mm 2705 mm
1796 cc
1796 cc
Valve gears
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
DOHC 16 valves


Other engine features

Max power
133 hp / 6000 rpm
160 hp / 5500 rpm

Max torque
125 lbft / 4800 rpm
158 lbft / 2500-4500 rpm

5-speed manual
5-speed automatic

Suspension layout
F: strut
R: multi-link (Z-axle)
F: strut
R: multi-link (Z-axle)

Suspension features
Tyres front/rear

Kerb weight
1380 kg
1450 kg

Top speed
117 mph (c)
127 mph (c)

0-60 mph (sec)
12.5 (est)
10.2 (est)

0-100 mph (sec)

Performance tested by: -

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Roewe 550
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