When the Rover 75 was launched at the Birmingham International Motor Show in 1998 I was massively underwhelmed at seeing it. However, its looks grew on me as I began to see more on the road and having driven a number of the 75 models now, my views have changed.
What the fleet manager and company car driver are getting for less than £19,000 on the road is a well-made British car, underpinned by German quality standards. Rover may be renamed MG Rover and no longer a BMW subsidiary, but to get quality levels right, staff were flown in from Germany to help their British counterparts.
So what you have is an excellent Rover 2.0-litre diesel engine pumping out 114bhp at 4,000rpm. Admittedly, it is a bit sluggish on pick-up from a standing start, delivering 192lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm, but once up and running it is a quiet cruiser. I say sluggish, but perhaps that is a tad unfair, as I swapped the 75 for our long-term Peugeot 607 HDI TD, which from its 2.2-litre engine pumps out a fantastic 235lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm.
Returning fuel consumption at more than 40mpg is not great in today's rapidly-rising diesel market. The official figure on the combined cycle is 46.3mpg but I recall achieving more than 50mpg in the Volkswagen Passat 1.9 TDI PD a few months ago. A carbon dioxide emissions figure of 154g/km puts the 75 in the 18% P11D tax bracket including the 3% diesel penalty for both 2002/3 and 2003/4, rising to the 19% tariff in 2004/5. This places the car among the best-performing CO2 vehicles on the market.
Space both inside the 75 and in the boot is plentiful and specification is good, with standard equipment including temperature-controlled air conditioning, 15in eight-spoke alloy wheels and an array of airbags. However, our test car is fitted with an optional six-CD autochanger located in the glovebox, which must rank as one of the most ludicrous places to house the machine. It renders the glovebox useless for anything else, the glovebox lid, when lowered, attempts to amputate the legs of the front-seat passenger and, if the driver is loading the CD player, he or she has to be a contortionist.
That gripe apart, in clocking up around 1,000 miles in the model, our 75 has yet to put a wheel out of place. Despite the vehicle's abilities, it is having a rough ride finding a top spot in the increasingly-popular UK fleet diesel market. Last month, the 75 was the 19th best-selling fleet diesel car, behind such diesel luminaries as the Ford Galaxy, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Avensis.
While MG Rover is right to crow about it being on the way back, it has a long way to go. It is imperative to convince fleets the 75 2.0-litre CDT is a viable company car. It succeeded with me . . . and I'm not that old yet, am I?