A turbo in a Rover 75 might seem as likely as a bondage and spanking night on a Saga package holiday, but nevertheless, Rover has gone ahead and done it, and the reason is to be more tax attractive to company car drivers.
The 1.8-litre turbocharged engine is a solution to the problem that existed in emissions for the 75 - jumping from 185g/km of CO2 in the 1.8-litre normally aspirated four cylinder engine to 228g/km in the 2.0-litre V6.
The V6 ends up in the 27% benefit-in-kind tax band, when four cylinder 2.0-litre models in competitors like the Ford Mondeo are graded in the 22% sub 200g/km band.
So what is now on offer from Longbridge is a 147bhp version of the four cylinder K-series motor with emissions at 193g/km, putting it in the much more attractive 20% tax band. It matches the similar thinking Volkswagen Passat 1.8T closely on all counts.
In fact, such are the numerical improvements over the 75 V6 there seems little point in continuing with that engine. Can there be that many dyed in the wool V6 enthusiasts out there? Rover says the V6 is still available, although indications are it will be phased out over time.
And here's why. The 1.8T will do 35.3mpg on the combined cycle, while the 2.0 V6 manages 29.5. The turbo 75 is also half-a-second quicker to 60mph at 9.1 seconds and a second-and-a-half faster between 30-50mph in fourth at 7.1 seconds.
The saloon range starts at £18,295 on-the-road for the 1.8T Classic and finishes at £22,120 for the Connoisseur SE. For the 1.8T Club SE tested here, that would mean a 40% taxpayer being charged at 20% on a P11D value of £19,535 for benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax purposes, which amounts to £1,563 this year.
The 75 2.0 CDT Club SE, with a P11D price of £19,095, taxed at 18% for emissions of 163g/km, would cost the same driver £1,375, which works out at about £20 a month less.
On that basis, I'd have the petrol over the diesel. So this new engine is an all-round winner then? Well, not totally. While the 2.0-litre V6 does have the reputation of being very smooth, the 1.8T has a couple of foibles.
Although in general cruising, gentle acceleration and deceleration it has plenty of power and feels very unruffled, press the throttle hard suddenly or lift off, and there is a discernable shockwave through the car. It is not huge, but feels as though the engine has shifted slightly under the impromptu change in force applied to it.
Possibly it is an engine mounting problem not ironed out during one of MG Rover's now legendary short-term development periods, or that the 1.8-litre unit is not at home with a turbo bolted to it.
It might also have been just the car we had. We would be glad to hear about any similar experiences. But on the bright side, turbo lag is imperceptible and the rest of the time the 75 is typical of the range.
It is not the sort of engine to throw you back in your seat, but suits the languid style of the 75. The 1.8T is an improvement on the 2.0-litre V6 and is cheaper to run. If the refinement issue we had was a one-off, then this is worth serious consideration against the Passat 1.8T, or any of the bigger engined Mondeos and Vectras.
Three rivals to consider
Just under £20,000 gets a lot of car if you go for the Vauxhall Vectra, which is specced to the hilt with leather seats, climate control, cruise control and loads more.
The Mondeo and 75 are not as good value in equipment terms - the seats are cloth covered for a start - while the C180 lags further behind.
The C180 does have a Mercedes-Benz badge on its bonnet though, and a smaller engine, and that outweighs its gadget shortcomings for some people.
Not surprisingly, the Mercedes is the most expensive car here by a distance, with the other three very closely matched in terms of overall service, maintenance and repair costs. There have been doubts cast about the size of Rover's spare parts bin recently, with talk of supply problems, although this would not be reflected in these figures. The Ford is the cheapest, despite running on expensive 17-inch rubber, while the others manage on 15- or 16-inch wheels.
The 75 has the most powerful engine here at 147bhp, although the others are all within three or four bhp, all using different sizes and configurations of engine. The C180K, with its supercharger and six-speed box is the most efficient, and the larger volume 2.2-litre Vectra cannot compete against the Mondeo and 75, which take a normally aspirated and turbocharged route respectively to get to exactly the same ppm figure of 10.81.
The C180K has taken a pounding in running costs against the others right up until this point, where it claws it all back by depreciating much, much less than the others. In fact, CAP thinks the Mercedes will retain 41% of its price new after three-years/60,000-miles, while the others scrabble around at about 30%. Rover should be pleased with its showing here though, being marginally slower to lose value than the brand new Vectra, and the older Mondeo.
Despite being considerably more expensive on service, maintenance and repair costs, the C-class is the clear winner because of a brilliant residual value forecast and much lower fuel costs, illustrating the importance of looking at costs at the front and back end. Nothing really splits the Vectra, Mondeo and 75 throughout the cost analysis process. What it does show is that the 75 can slug it out as a fleet player alongside two heavyweights of the sector.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
Any advantage the Vectra had with its lower P11D price is offset by its larger engine and resulting higher emissions, taking it up to the 22% benefit-in-kind tax band. A surprise is the new Kompressor engine in the C180K, which is a star, and gives the cheapest tax bill of the cars here, despite having the highest front end price. Both the 75 and the Mondeo sit comfortably in the middle, falling into the 20% of P11D price band for tax in 2002/03.
The world's gone mad: if a driver wants a low spec car with a cheap tax bill, go for the Mercedes-Benz C-class. The fact that the C180K Classic is the cheapest car here to run over three years and 60,000 miles only reinforces its fleet argument. And let's face it – drivers will always opt for a Mercedes-Benz if it is on the choice list.
standard car (P11D value): £19,535
CO2 emissions (g/km): 193
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 20%
Graduated VED rate: £155
Insurance group: 11E
Combined mpg: 35.3
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,950/30%
Depreciation (20.68 pence per mile x 60,000): £12,408
Maintenance (2.79 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,674
Fuel (10.81 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,486
Wholelife cost (34.28 pence per mile x 60,000): £20,568
Typical contract hire rate: £364 per month