A year ago Rover debuted the latest version of the 75 saloon at the Geneva Motor Show – one with a specific fleet role. The Vanden Plas revives a badge associated with exclusive coach-built classics (although association with some Austin models such as the Allegro, Metro and Maestro in the 1970s and 80s took the shine off it).
Rover's new model is aimed at private hire limousine companies and local authority fleets and there is also scope for use as a vehicle for Government ministers. The standard 75 is already on the Government approved list and former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers selected one as his ministerial car during his stint in charge of the country's transport system.
Taking a standard Rover 75 2.5 V6 Connoisseur with metallic paint and an automatic transmission, the car is transformed into the Vanden Plas by Midlands-based conversion specialists S MacNeillie and Son.
The car is ordered to the owner's specification, if there is anything on top of the high-specification Connoisseur trim, which includes leather seats (heated and electrically adjustable in the front) and climate control that can be added before its transformation.
The whole range of K-series engines will soon be available with factory-approved liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) conversions, so local authorities or ministers will be able to demonstrate environmental credentials by selecting a cleaner fuel option. After the vehicle is built, it is sent to MacNeillie's where the body is separated and a 200mm extension is inserted on a jig. New, longer body components include a full-length roof panel, larger doors and rear windows, and sill finishers.
Inside, the larger doors allow extra storage space in the pockets and there is an overhead panel with reading lamps and an analogue clock.
With standard metallic paint, the conversion amounts to a price increase of £4,325 and MG Rover hopes that this £27,995 price tag will be enough to persuade people who want a limousine that does not look ostentatious to choose one. However, if you want to really show off, MacNeillie also produces a six-door version.
The Rover 75 Vanden Plas hardly looks any different from a standard 75 saloon and you need to park both alongside each other to notice the difference, which, as the picture above shows, is not obvious.
The Vanden Plas could even be considered as a company car if a particular driver wanted the extra space in the rear.
And if a council treasurer is looking at choosing a car for official duties of the chairman, the Rover does look well priced against obvious alternatives when considering how best to spend council taxpayers' cash.
The same could apply to a company boss who is usually chauffeured around and wants to set an example to other staff by choosing his vehicle with restraint. Long-wheelbase versions of the out-going Jaguar XJ were priced from £36,750 on-the- road, while the equivalent Volvo S80 Executive is £37,271.
The Rover undercuts these by more than £8,000, so there would be room to include options befitting a hard-working passenger.
Behind the wheel
ALTHOUGH our Rover 75 Vanden Plas looked stately yet restrained in Royal Blue pearlescent paint, I do not believe standard Connoisseur specification is ideal for a limousine.
Heated, electrically adjustable front seats are standard, but perhaps it would be a better idea to fit heated rear seats and manual adjustment for the front seats. Side airbags are also fitted in the front, but what about the important rear passengers? Our test car had upgraded alloy wheels, from 15-inch Comet design to 16-inch Union. The standard wheels would have been sufficient and actually achieve a more comfortable ride.
We also had an optional CD autochanger, 'projector' headlamps and wood rim steering wheel, all of dubious importance. Alloy wheels added an unnecessary £1,000 to the cost of the car.
Parking sensors (part of the driver's intelligence pack on the Rover 75 options list) might have been a more sensible choice.
However, one useful feature at £499 was the Trafficmaster Smartnav system, which is less expensive (although you have to pay for airtime) and more discreet than standard satellite navigation systems.
The system connects you with the Smartnav call centre and once you have given your destination, the route is downloaded to your car's 'black box', taking into account any congestion on the way.
You can also use the service as a mobile butler, ordering anything from flowers to hotel reservations. It also proactively monitors congestion while you are driving, alerting the driver to jams on the road and offering the option of re-routing.
MG Rover quotes identical fuel consumption and emission figures compared to the standard 2.5 V6 auto, but I can't believe the extra weight would not have an impact on mpg and performance.
However, the 175bhp motor is powerful enough to keep the car moving along, although the transmission seems keen to kick down and rev higher, rather than ride on the available torque.
Otherwise it doesn't feel much different from the standard car to drive, smothering bumps and keeping occupants blissfully unaware of poor road surfaces. There isn't much of an appetite for high-speed B-roads thanks to plenty of body roll, but the 75 grips well and despite the inherent sacrifice in stiffness that comes with stretching a car, there is no flexing, rattles or squeaks.
The rear compartment – perhaps the most important feature – is comfortable and has vast legroom, although headroom is a little tight. Anyone over 6ft tall might arrive at their destination sporting a new hairstyle after frequent contact with the roof lining.
THE Rover 75 Vanden Plas has strong appeal as a bargain limousine that looks understated and, with factory approval, has a proper warranty and sensible running costs. It delivers the high comfort factor associated with traditional limousines at a premium saloon car price.
Model: 75 Vanden Plas 2.5 V6
Engine (cc): 2,497
Max power (bhp/rpm): 175/6,500
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 177/4,000
Max speed (mph): 134
0-60mph (sec): 8.9
Transmission: 5-sp auto
Fuel consumption (mpg): 26.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 249g/km
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 65/14.3
Service interval (miles): 15,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): From £27,995