The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Supermini sputters on highway
- More raps than pats for Tata’s CityRover in UK
The CityRover: Bumpy ride

London, Feb. 14: The CityRover, the small Tata-built car which represents India’s bid to enter a highly competitive sector of the UK automobile market, is facing a bumpy ride with some very critical reviews.

Among the trade magazines, Autocar Magazine has come close to being scathing, but the newspapers, notably The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, have been reasonably impressed.

The consensus is that the car is overpriced by at least £1,000. Although it is roomy and handles well at low speeds, the interior finish is poor and the ride uneven at higher speeds, especially on the motorway.

The CityRover is based on Tata’s Indica model, with Ratan Tata describing the link-up with Britain’s MG Rover, which is selling the former, as “a very serious relationship, not a flirtation”.

Only one CityRover model is available in the UK, priced at £6,495. With extras, this goes up to £8,895.

Awarding the CityRover two of a possible five stars, Autocar Magazine says it is “too little for too much (money)”.

“A gamble: that’s the only way we can sum up Rover’s decision to launch a lightly made-over Indian supermini in what is currently a very competitive market segment,” say Autocar’s road testers.

It sums up its findings thus: “A small car that offers class leading space and performance, but dismal comfort, ride and interior quality. In a way, far from being just another average little car, the CityRover is a car of polar opposites: either pretty good or, more often, very bad. Some drivers will find what they’re looking for in the CityRover, but we simply cannot recommend a car that falls behind the class best in so many areas.”

The magazine complains of “some poor paint finish in places and not the best panel fit”. It says that in town the car manoeuvres well but “up the pace, however, and things rapidly deteriorate. A ride which seemed fine around town can’t cope with undulating surfaces at speed”.

It adds: “The CityRover just doesn’t have the composure that even an average small car has and, as such, can’t help but feel crude and antiquated.”

“It almost goes without saying that keen drivers should look elsewhere,” it states. “On the evidence of our test, a long and varied journey in the CityRover is not a prospect to be relished,” it continues.

“To open the ashtray is to fear it coming away in your hand and a sister magazine reported a wounded staffer who cut his hand on the poorly finished plastic under the glove-box,” it comments. “The general standard of plastics really is pretty dismal.”

On newspapers, Autocar’s road testers are privately dismissed as “boyracers who would much rather test Porsches”.

The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Hudson says: “Until the range expands, the CityRover is a first choice only if you require a five-door, 1.4 litre petrol car.”

He also comments: “Uncritical acclaim would be doing MG Rover no favours, but the CityRover is worth considering. The British public will determine its fate — there will be no second chance in this cut-throat sector.”

He found that “the interior is airy, the deep windows make it feel spacious, and any nagging doubts about Indian build quality are soon dispelled, as everything seems solid”.

He adds: “It is undemanding to drive — the gearbox is slick, the pedals nicely weighted and the steering light. But what impresses most is the cosseting ride. Rover’s engineers have done a fabulous job.”

In The Independent, Sean ’Grady compared the CityRover with the entry level Mercedes A-class, the A140 classic, which costs closer to £14,000.

He says that “the external finish of the CityRover was very good” but goes on: “MG Rover missed a trick by not having a much more thorough go at the interior before putting the converted Tata on the UK market. The indicators, for example, lack the Mercedes’s solid action, and everything feels less homely. There is lots of cheap plastic and exposed screw heads.”

He comes to a surprising conclusion: “But note the nasty gearstick on the A-class... so perhaps we should leave our prejudices behind when we discuss what’s usually called Rover’s ‘Indian takeaway’. I must deliver my verdict, which is a straightforward one: £6,000 for a couple of airbags, better plastics and a three-pointed star on the bonnet is too much. I’ll have the takeaway.”

The Sunday Times put the CityRover into a political context. Its correspondent, Ray Hutton, makes the point: “At a time when British business is concerned about the cost-saving migration of call centres and clerical services to India, it is perhaps understandable that MG Rover doesn’t advertise the CityRover’s origins. But these days it shouldn’t matter where a car is produced.”

The Sunday Times, too, thinks the CityRover is overpriced. “The difference with Tata is that it didn’t set out to make a world car. The Indica was intended as an inexpensive family model for India: simple, practical, no frills. MG Rover has priced the CityRover as if it is a state-of-the-art European or Japanese small car.”

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