The old Rover hierarchy turned its back on commercial vehicles the day it ditched the Maestro van in 1994.
These new models are a welcome addition to the arena as it promises to spice up the light end of the market.
The Commerce is available with either a 1.4-litre petrol engine offering 82bhp at 6,000rpm and 81lb-ft of torque at 4,500rpm or a 2.0-litre turbodiesel powerplant with 100bhp at 4,200rpm and 177lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm. Prices are £7,072 and £8,264 respectively ex-VAT.
The MG Express models come with a choice of three engines – 1.4-litre petrol with 101bhp at 6,000rpm and 90lb-ft of torque at 4,500rpm, the same turbodiesel as in the Commerce and a blistering 1.8-litre petrol with 160bhp at 7,000rpm and 128lb-ft of torque at 4,500rpm.
This van has the honour of being the highest powered commercial vehicle on offer in Britain today, just sneaking past the Volkswagen LT and the Renault Master, which offer 158bhp in special versions.
For fleet testing purposes, we chose the Rover Commerce 2.0 turbodiesel as the most likely choice for company use. Drivers may lust after the Express 160 but few fleet managers are likely to buy such a beast. These fast models will be bought mainly by owner-drivers. Our test variant weighs in at £8,264 ex-VAT.
First thing to notice is that although this van is very much the 'cooking' version, it by no means lacks style and grace, especially clad in metallic silver paint as ours was. It's a £276.60 (ex-VAT) option, but well worth it, as the van will more than make up for that outlay at selling time.
There are plastic side rubbing strips and the body-coloured bumpers have small rubber protectors at each corner, which should mean the van will stay clear of annoying knocks and dents during its life. Meanwhile this vehicle proudly shows off its British heritage with a small Union Flag badge on its rear end.
In the front
Entry to the cab is via standard remote central locking and the front area proves simple but pleasant. In the dash, the background to the dials is a classic parchment colour and the centre console boasts a curious strip of wood-effect plastic, which looks suspiciously like something left over from the old Morris Marina and seems terribly out of place here.
Among the list of standard goodies are a driver's airbag, Trafficmaster alert system, auxiliary power take-off, immobiliser and alarm, stereo radio/cassette player and power steering.
Fleet managers who fancy giving their drivers a treat can opt for ABS brakes at £276.60, electric windows at £276.60 (is there something magical about this figure?), electrically adjustable door mirrors at £191.49, Becker Traffic Pro satnav system at £846.81 and air conditioning at £591.49. All figures are exclusive of VAT.
Standing 6ft 3in in bare feet, I was expecting conditions to be pretty cramped in the front, but even with an optional bulkhead fitted there was plenty of room for me to sit comfortably, thanks to the height adjustable steering wheel (a £127 option).
My test vehicle also had electric windows, whose controls are mounted on the floor behind the gearstick. MG Rover also rather thoughtfully added the satnav system, which was wasted on me as I steadfastly refuse to have any truck with such new-found fangle-danglery. I can't see any cost-conscious fleet manager forking out more than £800 for it when you can buy a map book in Woolies for £4.99.
In the back
The rear hatch opens to reveal a load area of almost one cubic metre, putting the van on a par with the Peugeot 206 van at 1.1 cubic metres and the Fiat Puntovan at one cubic metre. Payload is 485kg, just behind the Puntovan on 510kg and 206 van at 526kg.
Warranty is three years/60,000 miles.
On the road
Firing up the 2.0-litre powerplant reveals a fair amount of rattle and clatter – this is not a common rail diesel unit – although after a few miles the engine settles down to a muted growl. The unit is a heavy one for such a small van and the power steering could do with being lighter – there is a noticeable amount of pull on the corners.
However, gearchanging is slick and smooth and the clutch action is nice and light. And there is certainly no shortage of power – this van is a flyer. 0-60mph comes in just 9.1 seconds and the Commerce will pull right up to 112mph.
It also seems to enjoy being thrown into corners with gusto – something the driver will revel in but the fleet manger may well blanche at. MG Rover puts fuel economy at 51.5mpg on the combined cycle, but of course that could well alter with a lively style of driving.
THE Rover Commerce is a comfortable, powerful and practical vehicle at a keen price. If the company can get its marketing act together, this van could well prove a popular fleet alternative from the more obvious choices.
|Rover Commerce fact file|
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