A cruiser not a bruiser

It was hard not to feel a surge of nationalistic pride when I picked up the V8 from Rover’s Longbridge factory. The sun was shining and the car, finished in gleaming black with purposeful optional 18in wheels, looked imposing. And under that Rover 75 body sat a 4.6-litre Ford-sourced V8. It’s such a British idea, to put a big fat V8 into a respectable saloon, and the Rover V8 badge has always enchanted enthusiasts.

The V8 is the same engine as found in the MG SV, but this one has a re-calibrated management system and exhales through two sets of meek twin tailpipes almost hidden under the rear valance. In the metal that Audi-esque grille works well, and the effect is only spoilt by the gaping shutline where it meets the bonnet. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission choice, and the suspension has been retuned for comfort. After all, Rover drivers like to waft, not large it.

It only takes a few miles of padding around Birmingham’s suburbs to work this car out: the way you’re inclined to limit your use of the engine to below 2000rpm, simply because the V8’s ample torque means you can, and because there’s something mesmeric about hearing the deep, chesty rumble on light throttle openings. It would be inappropriate to drive quickly right now.

It’s also an opportunity to reaffirm some thoughts about the Rover 75, and they’re almost all positive. There’s that supple quality to the ride that doesn’t come at the expense of decent body control (although the bigger wheels spoil the low-speed ride over small ridges), and the atmosphere inside the cabin is suitably hushed. Refinement is good and there’s little road or mechanical noise. Driven in a laid-back way, the auto ’box slushes through the infrequent shifts with suitable smoothness.

What soon becomes apparent is that anyone expecting the V8 to become some sort of new-age British performance icon will be disappointed. It shouldn’t come as a surprise really, especially when you consider that the more powerful MG ZT260 isn’t that fast itself. The old-fashioned V8 manages just 256bhp from its 4.6 litres, and it has to lug over 1700kg around using just four gears. Outright pace is underwhelming. Rover claims 0-60mph in 6.8sec, and at best it feels no faster, struggling to pull the long gearing. Any attempts at spirited progress are accompanied by an unwelcome jolt through the transmission as the next gear is selected. It’s at motorway speeds that the V8 comes alive, powering forward on a commanding surge of torque.

The V8 lacks the ZT260’s ability through the corners. There’s more body roll and understeer is predominant, rather than the expected oversteer. Repeated use of the brakes had the cabin filling with their distinctive aroma, but they’re effective. If it wasn’t for the soundtrack you wouldn’t drive the V8 hard.

So, at £31,995 can we recommend the V8? Objectively that’s hard, when those looking for a torquey executive express could spend the same amount of money on a BMW 530d that offers similar if not better performance, a CO2 output of 184g/km compared to the Rover’s grim 319g/km and a predicted value after three years of 60 per cent – considerably more than the Brits. 

As for fuel consumption, well, let’s not spoil the dream too much. Nevertheless, we’re car enthusiasts, not accountants, and you’ve probably guessed the V8 has one quality in spades: charisma. That’s something people will always want. Welcome back, Rover V8.

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Adam Towler

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