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Alfa Romeo 147 vs Rover 25

 

With one manufacturer receiving bad press for dated cars, and the other for reliability issues. What were we thinking when we road tested two second hand variants?

 

2001 Alfa Romeo 147

 

The Alfa Romeo 147 is a small family car produced by the Italian car manufacturer Alfa Romeo. It was produced from 2000 to 2010. In 2001 the 147 was voted European Car of the Year, beating the Ford Mondeo and the Toyota Prius.

The 147 was launched at the 2000 Turin Motor Show as a replacement for the 145/146 hatchbacks, and is based on the running gear of the larger 156 saloon. It was available with 1.6, 2.0, and 3.2-litre petrol engines and a 1.9-litre diesel engine.

The 147 was in production for ten years, making it one of the oldest small family cars on sale in Europe at the time of its replacement by the Alfa Romeo Giulietta in late May 2010.

Alfa have, unfortunately, a reputation for building unreliable cars. This is why resale prices are always so low. Reviewing the 147's past there have been a number of safety recalls:
Oct 2003: Fire risk because of engine bay wiring short circuit on cars built between Jan 02 and Apr 03.
Apr 2004: Power-assisted steering could go on GTAs made in the Nov 2000 to March 2003 period.
May 2005: Fuel leaks on cars built from May to Sept 04.
Sep 2006: Braking fault with space-saver spare fitted on non-GTAs made between June 04 and Feb 06.
Oct 2006: Clutch issues on March 03 to Oct 05 models.

A search of the internet once again pointed me to a Top Gear test. Not being a fan of a certain Mr. Clarkson, I tend to take things they say with a pinch of salt and keep a fairly balanced view. It was, therefore, somewhat of a surprise to be greeted by the "old style" top gear road test filmed in Buxton, my neck of the woods.

On the whole, the opinion seemed that the car lacked drivability at low speeds, build quality was reasonable - could be better, and certain elements wouldn't last above 50,000 miles. Great! What was I about to let myself in for?

 

A search of the internet lead me a number of concerning reports. Most were pointing the finger of blame towards India and the, then unheard of, Tata Motors. At that time my knowledge of Tata was limited to the fact that they made Tetley tea. So I undertook further research into their car making knowledge. This is when I discovered the CityRover was in fact a rebated Tata Indica. Had the Chiefs at Longbridge gone completely mad?

Although I am by no means an engineer, the Tata website lead me to believe that the Indica was ultimately designed to get India moving, i.e. a car for the masses, so surely that would mean cheap, dated, nasty, and well not a Rover? It seems that MG-Rover ignored these "qualities" and saw this as an excellent opportunity to get Britain's moving in the same way - and quickly had Tata knock out an initial batch of CityRover's. They arrived...


... to this kind of publicity.

Not being one for Top Gear (sorry Jeremy!), I took this to be the usual MG-Rover bashing. I knew in my own mind - it didn't look as good, externally, as it could have been. But surely, it wasn't this bad? I decided to take myself down to our local MG-Rover dealer to get a closer look. I found myself astonished, it looked like a badly blown up Metro, with trim quality dating back to British Leyland "everything has to be cheap" era.

I felt down-hearted and left the dealership wondering whatever would happen to MG-Rover. The rest as I am sure you know is history.

 

After MG-Rover collapsed in 2005, the administrators were careful not to flood the market with vehicles, and knock resale prices down to a ridiculous level. So vehicles were released in tranches, with some dealerships picking up large stocks of vehicles. One such local dealer, DirectCars based in Sheffield picked up numerous CityRovers and began offering new cars at silly money. Initially, these were stocks of early CityRovers - which were the rushed job lot supplied by Tata. MG-Rover had not had tight enough controls over the original order - which in turn lead to a number of niggling faults, and more serious concerns (leading later to a safety inspection for damage to tyres). Just as the company was going under a stock of "Mk2" vehicles entered the country and were left in containers at the port until ownership could be established. It was later traced that these vehicles were indeed MG-Rover assets and were therefore to be disposed of.

A second wave of, better(?), CityRover's therefore hit the market - and again were popular choices for those who could only ever dream of owning a new car.

 

So... what happened to the many CityRover's sold?

Sadly (coughs), most of them are still on the road. Fortunately there are now finding their way into scrap yards up and down the country. Why, I hear you ask...

... put simply CityRover's are now seen as "bangers". They bargain basement original purchase price now means they change hands for under 1000. A quick eBay search brought back a number of cars ranging from 700 - 1500.

I discovered this 56 (2006) plate CityRover in my local scrap yard today. Bodily it was in good condition - I can only assume it was there because the cost of repairs totalled more than the overall value of the car.

 

I decided to reacquaint myself with my old friend today, and took a seat in the drivers seat. Immediately I was immersed in those feelings of shame that overwhelmed me in 2003. The same awful trim inside, the cheap plastics, the dated sun visors, the awful cabin environment. I had to get out....

... there was just one thing left for me to do. I felt I owed it to the employees of the once mighty Rover Group - and that was remove the famous Viking Longboat from the (recycled) Rover 100 style grile.

At present the badge sits proudly upon the shelf in the shed, never to see the light of day again stuck on the front of a Tata Indica. I doubt my feelings towards this particular "product" of MG-Rover will ever change, perhaps with Longbridge playing a more pivotal role in its development, and styling for the UK market it could have been made more bearable?

CityRover must have some fans out there... somewhere?

 

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