Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
What was happening to Rover in the mid 1980s? The company was remembered for being one of the first to get an experimental automotive gas turbine up and running with the T3 coupe in 1956
, and it made a big impact on world car design with the introduction of the brilliant Rover 2000
model in the 1960s, which featured de Dion rear suspension
and advanced body design.
The sleek Rover SD1
followed in the late 1970s and it sure looked like an advanced design, but under the skin it was actually less adventurous in an engineering sense than the 2000 - however it did at least remain undoubtedly a Rover
with its essential British qualities. The SD1's subsequent reputation for unreliability, in a perverse sort of way, only served to underline its origins.
British And Nippon
And then came the 825i, which you don't need us to tell you was developed jointly with Honda
. The questions on many people's minds when the car launched, however, was did this 825i address the reliability issues while retaining the qualities unique to Rover? How much Rover, how much Britain, was to be found underneath the Roy Axe-penned - but somehow un-escapable Japanese lines? The idea with the Rover, and its Honda
counterpart, the Legend
, was to share development costs that would have been prohibitive had either company attempted to bear them singly.
The story was that each partner was given the opportunity to use their particular areas of expertise to best advantage: Honda
developed the silky-smooth V6 engine and transmission
, while the body
- traditional British areas of expertise - were the work of Rover
. The outer cladding of each car - the Rover
in Britain and the Honda
Legend in Japan - were the responsibility of separate in-house design studios. The end result, whether you looked at it as a Rover or as a Honda, was - to our eyes at least - still very much Japanese.
Roy Axe explained his approach to the Rover as being one emphasizing the horizontal line, while the Legend promoted a more vertical line. Nice theory, but in either guise we think they both looked very much like a medium-size Japanese car rather than a British one. The lines, to be fair, did tend to hide the fact that the 825i was a fairly generously-proportioned car: overall interior space, particularly the amount of legroom in the-rear seat, exceeded what was available in the older SD1
. But the slightly over-cooked approach of giving the car more horizontal creases and body lines than it really needed, contributed to a fussiness not normally associated with a British car - especially a British car which was supposed to be up there among the European pace-setters.
Japanese On The Outside - Japanese On The Inside
The Japanese association continued right through to the interior - which was not such a bad thing as that meant everything was well sorted, and a lack of rattles and squeakes evident in most British built cars from this era. It was around this time that Japanese cars had gained a justified reputation for the precision with which they bolted everything togther, both visible and in the bits you could not see but would invariably cause those irritating rattles as the car put on a few miles. Despite the copious - and not necessarily unattractive - use of glossy wood capping on the instrument panel and doors, and despite the fact that the Rovers were actually built in the U.K., the ambience was not, however, of a British car. But it was not easy to define why.
It had to do perhaps with the way all the buttons worked, the way all the plastic detail was executed - perhaps with the fine attention to detail in providing passengers with a host of plastic nooks, hooks and stowage spots. The Rover had an unmistakable Japanese familiarity, the sort of thing that was in almost complete contrast with the illogical eccentricity of British or European designs - and it lost something there. Personality is not always easy to live with, and comes at a cost. But those that preferred British cars understood that (or would be quick to learn). While with previous British cars we are sure some were smitten, while others vowed to never buy one again - the 825i in contrast was about as bland as you could get if there is such a thing as car personailty.
It's The Vibe Of The Thing, Your Honour
That familiarity carried through to the way the 825i performed on the road. Even more that judging from the exterior and interior, once you got behind the wheel there could be no mistake, the 825i had a lot of Honda in it. The way the 2.5 litre V6 sounded, the way the steering was just a little too over-assisted, the way it felt. If Dennis Denuto were to describe it, "It's the vibe of the thing, your Honour." There was no doubt the 825i was all Honda engineering. The 825i may not have carried any suggestions of continuity from the 2000, or the SD1, but it was definitely related to the badge-engineered 416 models. So, to be fair to the car, you needed to judge it as it was, not as you thought it should be. Smooth, confident, a lack of wind noise and transmitting very little tyre rumble up from the road were all good qualities to have.
Rover's suspension modifications for Australia meant that the ride was firmer than the Honda Legend - which tended to wallow in certain circumstances (read poor quality Australian roads) - and as a drivers car the Rover was better too, the cornering attitude was flatter, the control confident and providing plenty of feedback. The penalty was when you got into bump-thump situations. To a point, the ride was simply firm, suspension noise relatively well-damped and the independent front wishbones and rear struts in command of the situation. Then you hit a pothole, or a sharpish bump, and the Rover no longer coped. Here, the 825i transmitted the feeling, particularly at the front, that suspension travel was simply too short as the springs would audibly crash into the bump-stops.
Simply put, the 825i didn't have the ride quality you would have expected from a relatively high-priced luxury car. In Europe it may have been able to get away with its shortcomings, but on the Aussie roads it was found lacking. The inability to absorb what, here in Australia, we would consider to be only on the lighter side of harsh treatment probably did not bode well for buyers living in the country, where poorly-maintained back roads were an every-day reality. This would have been detrimental in terms of both passenger comfort and owner confidence in the Rover's durability.
On The Road
According to motoring journalists and road testers fromt the time, the Rover 825i's handling
, with its 195/65 Michelin MXV tyres
and 15 inch wheels was "unquestionably superior to the Legend", with the 825i turning in more crisply and remaining "generally better-balanced." Of course those that drove the car referred to the over-assisted power steering, which dulled the experience somewhat. The degrading factor here was the power assisted s steering which, regardless of all the Rover marketing departments talk about progressive assistance and optimized road feel, it was simply too light and uncommunicative to give the driver any real idea about what is going on between the wheels and the road. One reputable Aussie motoring magazine politely described it as "overly assisted" - which meant too light - and in the case of the 825i this was certainly the case, if contemporary road tests are anything to go by.
But at least a good driving position went some way to compensate for the lack of feeling in the steering. The front pew was nicely sized, had plenty of rearward travel and, given the steering wheel offered vertical adjustment, allowed an almost perfect driving position even for very tall drivers. Horizontal reach would have made things even better, but when the 825i was brought to market only the very expensive offered this feature, so we cannot be too critical. The instrument layout, for all its Japanese familiarity, was strangely not perfect - but perhaps this was a case of the designers trying to add a few British quirks onto the car - which was a pointless exercise really. One example was a sliding master light switch mounted on the left-hand-indicator stalk - really?
Small quibbles aside, the main gauges were large enough, but were strangely calibrated in increments that didn't allow you to tell at a glance how fast you were travelling. That was one idiosyncrasy carried over from the SD1, which had one of the world's hardest-to-read speedometers. From the driver's viewpoint, one of the Rover's most controversial features was its Honda four-valves-per-cylinder engine. On one hand it was a surprisingly powerful, smooth and great-sounding unit. On the other, it was lacking somewhat in a useful spread of torque, having nothing of real consequence below 4000 rpm. The manual was the pick of the transmissions as you could adapt your driving style to keep the engine in the sweet spot of the torque curve, where you could exploit it's not-inconsiderable performance. Atmo versions were predictably slower as designers balanced fuel consumption and quiet driving characteristics with performance.
For pottering around town the automatic was okay, provided you did not expect any instant V8-style rush when you planted the foot. Relying on the V6's natural torque curve was only going to have you gripping the wheel trying to urge the Rover on. Provided you enjoyed frequent gear changes, the manual gearbox on the other hand would see the 825i snarling away from practically anything else on the road that was not turbocharged or V8 powered. Standing quarters and in-the-gear performance figures backed this up. Fuel consumption was pretty good too, obviously depending on how you treated the engine. If you were not in a hurry the V6 was commendable rather than great in the economy stakes.
An interesting deviation from Honda was the decision by Australian importer JRA not to use an ABS system on either of the two local models. The 825i merely had a set of four wheel discs and a pressure-regulating valve for the rear brakes to rely on. The setup worked well in most circumstances, stopping the Rover efficiently and maintaining stability in emergency situations. But while the Australian bound Rovers didn't get anti-lock brakes, they did at least get a Boge Nivomat self-levelling rear suspension, as was used in the SD1.
Summing up the Rover 825i is a difficult job - there are so few on the road today and they were born into an era when the British car industry was pretty much on its knees. Cars that landed in Australia were shipped directly from Britain, where they were built on Rover's production lines, however despite the significant amount of non-Japanese development, as we have alluded to in this review, they looked, drove and felt very much a Nipponese vehicle. The styling was cleaner than the Honda, but that was not enough to make it look like something bordering on being even remotely British. The interior, perhaps, was more inclined to represent what the Japanese then thought a prestige car should be, and the "feel" was totally alien to anything the British or Europeans had ever done in the past. So, only a long term owner can really answer the question of "was it any good". We hope some past owners will let us know in the comments field below.