Rover 45 1.8 iXL Road Test - The car your grandfather secretly fantasises about?

15th July 2002
Rover 45 1.8iXL. The car your grandfather secretly fantasises about? Road Test Report by John Switzer.

The Rover 45 has been referred to variously as the car your grandfather secretly fantasises about and an also-ran in a class where there is much excellence. However, despite being an update of the Rover 400 which originally appeared in 1995 and being left in the shade by the much hyped MG ZS the Rover 45 continues to appeal to a suprisingly large number of private buyers in particular. So where does the appeal lie?

Take a step inside the Rover 45 and its Rover 400 / Honda Civic ancestry is immediately apparent - despite an upgrade when the Rover 400 became the Rover 45 in late 1999. Yes, the dash is logically laid out, but theres no escaping the fact that the 45 dash area is in dire need of upgrading.

However, look beyond the superficial and the 45 is actually a rather comfortable driving environment. Just like the 25, all the 45s key controls are sensibly located and in particular the radio is actually located at a sensible height unlike in its little brother. The dials and warning lights are easily visible and do not suffer from the same degree of clutter as in other cars in this class. However, the front and rear fog lamps are hidden behind the steering wheel and it is very easy to select front fogs instead of rear fogs and vice versa.

The driving position is lower than the 25s as one would expect in this class of car. Getting comfortable isnt a problem with the drivers seat featuring height and lumbar adjustment. The seats share their frames with the Rover 75, so therefore supreme comfort is assured. On the model I was driving, the front seats also featured in-built heating elements, as part of a Winter Pack, specified at additional cost. These were a real boon first thing on an icy Winters morning. Indeed, I have promised to ensure these are fitted to the next car I buy.

Moving back from the dashboard and the door casings are tastefully inlaid with wooden veneer. The execution of the inlays in the 45 as with all Rover cars is beyond reproach. They manage to provide the 45 with a level of sophistication normally only found in cars with a much heftier price tag. Interior door inserts are cloth just as they were in the 400. However, in the evolution from 400 to 45, the tasteless paisley style patterns were mislaid somewhere along the way. Good news indeed! Todays inserts can best be described as minimalist and complement the air of mature sophistication that characterises the 45s interior.

Interior space in the front is class competitive. However, the new front seats do seem to eat into interior space in the rear and when it comes to accommodating grown adults, the rear is firmly staked in two seater territory. Perhaps this is why on the hatchback MG Rover only supply a centrally mounted lap belt instead of the three point assembly installed elsewhere in the MG and Rover ranges? Another limiting passenger carrying factor in the hatchback is a tapered roof line that seriously impinges upon head space.

Equipment wise, this 45 is very well appointed. Four airbags, CD unit, electric windows, air conditioning (albeit of the manual as opposed to climate control variety), tinted glass, electric windows, electric door mirrors and much more.

Moving outside, the 45 retains Rovers aggressive corporate stance, first witnessed on the 75 with the quad headlamp and grille arrangement. On the 45, the headlamps are flanked by clear indicators. Personally, I feel that aesthetically, these provide the car with a much more balanced look than the orange coloured units fitted to the 45s ZS sibling. The chrome inserts set into the front and rear bumpers look especially well and imply a sense of understated elegance and maturity. Surprisingly, this 45 despite being near the top of the hatchback pecking order does not have a rear spoiler, which personally I would add to make the rear of the car more balanced and less like a BMW 3 Series Compact! The 15 alloys are pleasing to the eye, but my preference would be to replace these with 16 Cosmos units, which I feel fill the 45s profile much better. Turn the key and youre immediately impressed by the sound of the 1.8 litre K series engine the same engine as used in the MG ZS120. On the road, the amount of lift in the 120Ps unit is immediately apparent and there is a pleasing induction gurgle when advancing through second, third and up into fourth.

The gearchange from the PG1 box somehow doesnt seem as well oiled as in ZS guise possibly due to the long (hollow?) lever inherited from the 75. However, changing gear is not a painful experience, even if its not a particularly pleasant one. Like the 25, ZR and ZS the gearing in the 45 seems particularly low. And out on the motorway, that sensation of trying to select that imaginary 6th gear comes to the fore as it does on almost every PG1 equipped MG or Rover. In short, there is nothing inherently wrong with the ratios on the 1.8 litre 45, as they ensure rapid progress just the car requires and deserves an extra gear!

The ability to soak up long journeys over uneven surfaces was always a strength of the 400 and so it is too with the 45. Indeed, I know of one 400 owner who traveled for 15 miles with a flat tyre and didnt notice until his wife pointed it out to him! As a refined cross-country cruiser, the 45 has few equals in this department however it is at the expense of high speed handling. Attack a corner at serious speed and the resulting feeling can only be described as both bizarre and disconcerting. The front end seems glued to the road, whilst it is difficult to determine exactly what the rear end is doing as it feels especially wayward. Quite simply, the 45 is not a car I would enjoy pushing to the limit, for fear of unintentionally overstepping it. However, as a regular ZS driver perhaps I am expecting too much of the 45? And as a family car, it perhaps figures that comfort is more important than extreme handling prowess.

Fuel economy is as one would suspect affected by the 1.8 litre lump. However a very credible 36 mpg was returned over a combination of motorway, cross country and urban driving. This compares favourably with similarly configured contemporaries including the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. And interestingly fuel consumption was better than I regularly obtain from my ZS though that is perhaps explained by the ZSs overtly rakish nature that encourages the driver to continually press on.

As a family car, the 45 has much to recommend it especially now its pricing equates to more mainstream rivals. Indeed, second hand it is a compelling buy. In 1.8 litre guise, effortless performance is combined with unsurpassed comfort. A revised cabin and tweaked handling would go a long way to making the car class competitive again.

The only major concern must be residual values especially in the light of the arrival of the ZS and the 2004 launch of the TCV inspired 45 replacement. As a qualifier however, 45 sales have slowed over recent years and on the second hand market, Rovers enjoy a loyal following. Hence in the event of any shortage, it may not be unrealistic to expect that residual values may indeed rise slightly.
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Article Last Updated 26th April 2009