Of all the bits of me that didn't like the CityRover – and there were a few – my right tibialis anterior muscle disliked it the most. That's because the seating position is the worst I have ever had the misfortune to fold into, and I'm including some prehistoric vans in that.
That was the muscle most affected because the driver's seat, which is hard and shaped in a most uncomfortable fashion, doesn't go back nearly far enough and the steering wheel doesn't adjust, which for anyone over six feet tall means that you sit far too close. I can deal with the steering wheel, having that great invention called elbows.
But I don't have joints in my shins and to keep my feet on the accelerator pedal, which seems almost under my knees, causes my shin (the muscle named above is part of it) to ache constantly.
The seating position was the first problem, but soon it was obvious that the originator of the CityRover, the Tata Indica, was built for a wholly different market with a wholly different set of needs, which means that flaw-spotting is like shooting fish in a barrel.
The CityRover does have its moments though. The 1.4-litre engine is willing enough, as it ought to be in a car weighing just over 1,000kgs, and will accelerate from 30-50mph in fourth gear in 8.4 seconds. It gets a bit boomy at motorway speeds though, where its structure fails to deaden the various wind, road and engine noise, but it is bearable.
The steering is a little vague, and the gearshift is poor – long and notchy – and there's whine from the transmission much of the time. The brakes are woolly as well. That said, the ride quality is up to Rover's usual high standards, and while this will never be a fun, nippy runaround, it negotiates city streets well enough thanks to the high driving position (its only plus) and small wheelbase. The awkwardness that a tall driver will encounter has a benefit in that there is plenty of legroom for rear passengers. If the seat went back as far as most other cars though, that would be negated.
Despite many commentators' assumptions (bordering on prejudice) that its build quality standards would be dodgy, the CityRover seems decently constructed.
Materials might not be top drawer, but the car we had was well screwed together.
The interior is a mish-mash of cheap grey plastics, although the silvery-effect plastic around the centre console is better quality. Basically, it uses similar materials to a number of the Far Eastern manufacturers and is not unduly offensive.
The Sprite model is the lowest in the range to get power-assisted steering, but it doesn't come with ABS, which would cost an extra £300, or a passenger airbag which is £150. Add that to the fact that a Euro NCAP crash test is unlikely for this car because it was not built originally by Tata to withstand one (although it does conform to EU safety standards) and fleets will have to seriously consider whether to allow their drivers to get in a car which is so outclassed in safety equipment by its competitors.
As for looks, the CityRover is tidy enough without being particularly pretty or ugly. At least the CityRover badging across the length of the boot looks quite swish and it gets 14-inch alloy wheels.
Where Rover could really win though is by offering this car as the super-cheap alternative for drivers. The question remains whether it has done this, so we've pitched it against three of the best budget runabouts to see if it can beat them on costs.
CityRover 1.4 Sprite
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £7,712
CO2 emissions (g/km): 167
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 19%
Graduated VED rate: £145
Insurance group: 4
Combined mpg: 37.9
CAP Monitor residual value: 30%/£2,325
Depreciation (20.29 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,998
Maintenance (2.16 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,350
Fuel (5.90 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,042
Wholelife cost (28.35 pence per mile x 60,000): £12,390
Typical contract hire rate: £218 per month
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC DriverQuote
Three rivals to consider
The CityRover is the cheapest car for P11d, but don't let that fool you – it is marketed as a city car but it's at home with these low-price superminis. High emissions will negate the low P11d for the driver, while safety features are woeful compared to the other cars. Add the passenger airbag and ABS (Clio and Getz have EBD as well) the other cars have and the bill rises £450, making it the most expensive. CityRover, Getz and Fabia all have CD players, while the CityRover is the only one with alloy wheels.
Hyundai Getz £7,852
Skoda Fabia £7,852
Renault Clio £8,170
Over the 60,000-mile cost comparison here, the CityRover comes a distant last and would cost £1,350, which is the sort of money you would expect to pay out for a lower-medium car. The next worst, the Hyundai, is nearly £200 cheaper. We always benchmark all cars at 60,000 miles, but it's worth remembering that it is very unlikely a driver is going to be doing that in these cars, so costs will probably be lower.
Skoda Fabia 1.83
Renault Clio 1.87
Hyundai Getz 1.95
Fuel consumption is a key battleground for small cars. If you've spent eight grand on a car, you don't want it to cost the earth in petrol, which means that the Clio, Fabia and Getz are all competitive. The Clio and Fabia would cost £4,860 over 60,000 miles, while the Getz would cost £5,022. However the CityRover, which has a bigger engine and a combined mpg figure nearly 10mpg lower than the others at 37.9mpg, would have a bill of £6,042 – £1,000 more.
Renault Clio 8.10
Skoda Fabia 8.10
Hyundai Getz 8.37
There are no great winners or losers in the depreciation comparison, which often springs one vehicle ahead of the others, being the biggest slice of wholelife costs. Between the best – the Clio – and the worst – the Getz – there would be a £300 gap which any number of random variables could affect when it comes to sale time. Basically all four cars lose about £5,000 over three years/60,000 miles.
Renault Clio 8.22
Skoda Fabia 8.54
Hyundai Getz 8.74
The Clio delivers consistently efficient wholelife costs in all areas and so comes top, with a total figure of 18.19ppm. We often find that the most recently-launched cars do well in ppm comparisons because of improving engine technology for fuel and servicing and being new, resulting in decent residuals. The CityRover bucks this trend, coming last and costing nearly £1,500 more than the Renault.
Renault Clio 18.19
Skoda Fabia 18.47
Hyundai Getz 19.06
Emissions and BIK tax rates
The Skoda is the cheapest on tax here and would cost a 22% payer £259 in company car tax in 2004/05. An employee would pay £270 for the Clio and £278 for the Getz, while the CityRover comes last again at £288. And that's before you add in the £450 charge of bringing it up to the safety spec of the others with ABS and a passenger airbag. MG Rover pays the penalty for using older engine technology and offers CO2 emissions which have no place in the city car sector.
Renault Clio 143/15%
Skoda Fabia 144/15%
Hyundai Getz 150/16%
It's easy to pick the wooden spoon recipient. The CityRover comes a distant last. Its running costs are too expensive, its safety levels too low and it is not especially better-specified than the others to claw back the disadvantages. Of the other three, all would make a solid, reliable and cheap fleet runner. With the back-up of a major fleet player and leading running costs, the Clio would be the first choice.
At a glance