Rover 3500 S
extract of comparison
with Alfa Romeo 2000
GTV, Audi 100 Coupé S and BMW 2002 tii
As it would be
misleading, even impertinent, to divide this quartet into winners and losers,
donīt flip to the last paragraph to see whatīs best. We donīt say. Each is a
civilised performance car of redoubtable reputation, differing from the others
more obviously in character than in merit. Debriefing after our usual four-man
800-mile return convoy to Wales didnīt produce an unanimous worst or best,
underling that itīs more a matter of personal taste that counts here rather than
the accumulation of marks on a score sheet.
What we can say is that we
enjoyed and respected each and every car, though not necessarily for the same
reasons. None of them is perfect mind you, and some are a lot less perfect in
certain respects than others. As four sound but different ways of spending
Ģ2500, we found it an intriguing exercise.
The Rover is something quite
different. No sporting dashabout in the Alfa/BMW mould but no dignified sluggard
thatīs too big for its boots either. With a relatively large V8 engine and
manual transmission, the 3500 S is a real go car. Moreover, itīs beautifully
finished and appointed and imparts through its opulence a feeling of luxury and
well-being that the two more sporty imports lack. On paper, it makes the Alfa
and BMW look rather expensive, yet it wasnīt everyoneīs first choice by any
As weīve said often enough
before, engine capacity is a poor guide to performance. True, the Rover 3500 S,
with a V8 engine thatīs nearly double the size of the Audiīs and 1.5 litres
greater than that of the Alfa and BMW, has the highest maximum speed of 119 mph.
But what modest extra power itīs got is offset by much greater weight (26.1 cwt
is a lot for a car of this size) so on acceleration the Alfa and BMW, each
weighing little more than a ton, have the edge on it all the way to 100 mph. In
a straight drag race, the Alfa - aided by its better gear ratios - would reach
three figures first in a creditable 27.2 sec, fractionally ahead of the BMW with
the Rover not far behind. Although the 21.3 of the Audi is no sluggard, it canīt
quite live with this company against a stopwatch, though it had no trouble
keeping up with the other cars on the road. All four are at no more than a
canter at 100 mph - an especially easy cruising gait for the long-legged Rover
and Alfa Romeo.
Even the Roverīs massive
low-speed torque is not enough to better the lower geared BMW in top gear
acceleration below 60 mph, and thereīs precious little in it at higher speeds.
The Alfa will better them both in fourth gear and itīs not far short of them in
its overdrive fifth. Again, the Audi trails the field, its smaller engine having
the most work to do on a power/weight basis. Although itīs by no means
inflexible at low revs, you have to make full use of the lower ratios to get the
most from the Audiīs 1871 ccīs worth.
None of the fours, though, have
quite the silken delivery of the Roverīs V8 which is easily the smoothest and
normally the quietest of the group - except at high revs when its usual remote
waffle becomes a distinctly frenzied drone. Not that you need to exploit the
upper reaches of the modest rev range very often.
With the biggest engine in the
heaviest car the Rover, predictably enough, is by far the most thirsty. On our
brisk group test run it recorded a hefty 17.7 mpg whereas the sprightlier BMW,
under identical conditions, managed respectable 24.6 mpg. Just to put things in
perspective, though, remember that the Rover costs Ģ292 less than the tii,
enough for 22.000 miles even on five-star fuel.
Thereīs little to choose between
the gearchanges of the other two cars. The Roverīs is perhaps the more precise
and the movement of its tiny lever nice and short. But the lack of leverage
accentuates the baulking of the synchromesh to make the change a bit notchy,
especially when you rush it.
Gear noise was practically
inaudible in the Audi. In the Rover it was thrown into prominence by the
quietness of the engine, but was not obtrusive. You could also hear it quite
plainly in the Alfa, despite the gruff note of the engine.
Handling and brakes
The Rover is altogether
different. To start with, it is more softly suspended than the Alfa and BMW and
rolls a lot more when pushed through the turns. Hurrying some tortuous Welsh
lanes, it became very untidy indeed, wallowing and lurching uncomfortably with
its big understeering tyres, scrubbing their sidewalls. Quite safe, mind,
because the car clings on quite well long after the point when its behaviour
discourages more spirited driving. While disappointing when extended, we feel
that many drivers would rate the Rover as the easiest (and maybe nicest) car to
handle on account of power steering, thatīs very light and high-geared, the
ideal combination for effortless parking and sharp bends. Moreover, on fast main
roads where steering feel (which is poor) or ultimate grip donīt come into the
reckoning, the car feels immensely stable and reassuring even at speed on long
corners. Easy, safe and effortless: yes, all these but not very rewarding for
the enthusiastic driver.
Comfort and control
The Rover and the Audi are in
another league altogether here, both being exceptionally comfortable and well
appointed cars. The Rover, as weīve said, has a more resilient ride than the
Alfa or BMW, floating smoothly over most well-made roads without the slight
jittery motion of its two more sporty rivals. It copes less well, however, when
extended on twisty secondary roads, heaving and jolting over the bumps,
especially those it encounters in mid corner. These circumstances apart,
however, the Rover rides very smoothly.
Deeply dished seats hold you in
place well but, as weīve observed in previous tests, the cuhsions are too flat
and you tend to slide forward on them, especially under braking. As the steering
wheel is adjustable for height and reach, however, everyone should be able to
tailor an excellent driving position. As in the Alfa and BMW, the pedals are
poorly arranged for heel and toe changes (not that most Rover owners will
notice) but the major controls are otherwise well placed.
We liked the chunky easy-to-grip
switchgear knobs, too, though their location and operation is rather confusing
at first. Again, better use could be made of the column stalks. The heating and
ventilation is superb and the seat belts are easy to clasp and comfortable to
wear. Although neither wind nor road noise is especially well isolated, there is
in the Rover an almost tangible feeling of refinement and isolation not evident
in the Alfa or BMW.
Fittings and furniture
Although the cheapest car of the
group, the Rover is the most luxurious inside and, despite the use of plastic
wood on the door cappings, also the best finished we thought. The interior is
well planned, too, if not as roomy as the Audiīs: the facia design, for
instance, with its exquisite instrument cluster, and let-down shinbins beneath a
really useful facia-top tray, is still a model of how it should be done.
In some respects, the Rover is
outstanding. Itīs fast, smooth, quiet, comfortable and very well appointed. On a
long transcontinental journey, it would, by a small margin, be our first choice
- provided we could affort the heavy fuel bills. But on the twisty bits the car
is too soft and wallowy to endear it to the keen driver. It depends how - and
where - you drive.
Motor / UK