The forgotten British V6 you need to drive

If you seek refinement, class and rarity without the expense there’s only one car to fit the bill; Rover’s underrated 45 V6 Connoisseur

The Rover 400-series didn’t so much as throw each owner’s dignity out the window, rather it jettisoned all self-worth straight into the sun. If you bought a 400 new, especially the diesel, the action broadcast two things about your substance to judgemental tarmac socialites.

You were either unable to afford the larger and better-equipped flagship Rover 75, or you were headed straight for a midlife crisis and would soon have a Crimewatch special dedicated to your up-and-coming conduct.

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Rather aware of this, Rover had to do something drastic. Ultimately, ‘image’ sells regardless of build quality. The perfect case in point at the time was Mercedes-Benz; their cars were largely crafted with the structural rigidity of brittle leaves and offered the dependability of Lidl’s special aisle. Yet, the three-pointed star sold cars by the bucket load on past reputation for reliability alone.

Therefore, it was time for Rover to capitalise on heritage and, regardless of how the uneducated masses currently perceive Rover’s legacy, the Viking emblem held an age-old repute for indulging the masses with comfort and refinement without earth-shattering cost.

To ensure the Rover 400 disposed of its lackluster persona and appealed to more than the mild Conservative and Dickensian hysteric, head management opted to give the unloved saloon a name change and facelift. Boasting an upgraded front end and new badge – the 45 – a new engine was also made available; Rover’s rather thirsty yet oh-so-refined V6.

The Rover 45 V6

The end result didn’t prove popular. Offered in showrooms from 2000 until 2004, only 455 Rover 45 2.0 V6 Connoisseur 24-valve examples were built. Those of a younger demographic made a bee-line for the smaller, less mundane Rover 25; whereas the retiree or patriotic social climber sought the company of a top-whack 75. The Chairman of the Rotary simply couldn’t be seen in anything less.

Even though the 45 V6 offered sublime levels of sophistication and finesse, the vehicle appeared to be designed for people who no longer existed. The humble and aspirational individual from yesteryear had morphed into Autobahn-hungry consumerists.

If the millennials wanted a big engine, they wanted it in a vehicle worth shouting about. If the thrifty middle manager sought out-and-out economy they purchased a French sedan running on Devil’s fuel. If the youngster wanted something with street credibility, the final resort was a Rover 100 hatchback. The 45 V6 simply didn’t have a market. As a result, sales were slow. Then glacial. Then extinct.

With rock-bottom values upon descending into the secondhand market, what few numbers of 45 V6 models made dramatically fell away. Wearing price tag values normally found on kitchen utensils, nobody wanted to maintain a car worth so little. Quite simply, most were driven to death before falling into the oily palms of Britain’s scrap merchants.

A true sin, for these timid beasts offered substantial merit. Not only was ride comfort well beyond any rival, but the V6 engine injected a huge dollop of persona that no BMW 3-series could match. In a world drowning between plastic dashboards and post-millennium dissolution, the 45 V6 brought a calmer 1960s’ mantra to the party.

Driving a Pre-Production 45 V6

To prove our point, I borrowed a rather healthy example from fellow Rover apologist Craig Cheetam – he’s also the custodian of the Rover 800 Coupé we tested earlier this year. Craig truly suffers for the cause.

Cheetam’s example remains a true survivor. One of only 12 known stayers from the first year of production, this 45 V6 was originally registered to the Rover Group in March 2000 – four months before the model was officially revealed.

Residing with Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations in Canley, evidence within the car’s paperwork file points to an interesting conclusion: this was a development car. Shouldering early marketing purposes and possibly used as a press vehicle, the trim and specification make it a true one-off.

Besides sporting ultra-rare Celadon Green paintwork and showcasing a ‘Personal Line’ interior, with green leather seats, green carpets and matching door cards, the 45 vaunts a curious level of equipment.

All 45 V6 Connoisseurs were listed from new with a sunroof, reverse parking sensors and CD autochanger as standard, none of which is fitted to this car. This adds to the speculation that W813 LDA was a pre-production demonstrator.

Craig discovered the Rover on Gumtree in February 2018, looking sorry for itself with a dented boot lid, two broken door handles and tired looking alloy wheels. A replacement rear panel was sourced from a scrap Rover 45 and painted, along with both bumpers. While the car remains a work in progress, it genuinely drives with the finesse of blended scotch.

You blip the accelerator to yield a gruff, almost disparaging, exhaust note. Surrounded by green leather and laminated wood, you could be forgiven for transfixing on the notion that you are piloting a Governmental cabinet room. But, just like a politician, nothing much happens unless you provoke a reaction with your right foot.

For boasting such a large engine, power delivery is flatulent and unexciting. You plant the accelerator and momentum gathers pace with the gusto of wind erosion. It’s not that the powerplant lacks grunt, but rather the gearbox only seems to function at half speed.

Transmission for the 45 V6 came courtesy of ZF Sachs AG in the form of the cautiously pronounced CVT (continuously variable transmission) system . Previously employed in the MGF, this particular design consists of an oil-cooled and laminated steel belt running on variable pulleys. Without putting you to sleep, the system allows you to jump between automatic and manual settings – allowing complete control when it counts. If you can use it properly…

Nearly getting myself killed

While traversing the traffic of the A605 towards Bicester, I went to overtake a slow-moving truck. Accelerating hard while languishing around in automatic form was close enough to certain death as anyone would want, so I knocked the gearstick into manual and booted it. Braced for a power surge, instead I barely matched the truck’s speed. While stuck on the wrong side of the road.

The revs slowly built up, but not before oncoming traffic grew ever closer. Panic set in, yet I was too far into the manouver to back out. The looming SUV flashed the lights and blared its horn, brushing past with only a breath between us upon finally slinging the Rover beyond the truck, almost clipping the bumper on my way past.

It took a long while to figure out that I had done wrong; I had stuck it in 5th gear. The fact that the car hadn’t killed me was testament to the torque on offer. Learning my lesson, I set about working the gearbox correctly and keeping the rev needle well beyond 4500rpm. This resulted in a boost of adrenaline. The Rover could fly, all 147bhp keen to devour tarmac and well-heeled German rivals.

Drawing the Rover to a standstill, with hard acceleration and a long, straight road, the 60mph beacon was breached in little over 9 seconds. However, there was a price for all this high-rev action. I was averaging around 12 miles to the gallon.

The temptation to continue tackling corners with hell-bent determination was too much to ignore, despite the low fuel warning. Weighing little over 1260kg, but with a heavy front end and steadfast front-wheel drive, the 45 dealt with fast cornering without protest. It screeched around a near-hairpin bend without losing balance or poise. Tucking the car’s nose down a steep undulation riveted with potholes made no difference. The car remained planted.

I’m no racing driver, but the Rover’s grip and flexibility encouraged all manner of racing lines and bad behaviour. The brakes were sharp enough to lull you out of your comfort zone and clip the imaginary apex with true force. Negotiating a tight, up-hill right-hander didn’t faze the running gear, either.

As a V6 manual, the 45 had proven itself as a real hoot. Dare we say it – and whisper this quietly – but it felt like a proper driver’s car. Then, for a gentlemanly and sedate cruise home, the automatic transmission leads you away on a crest of smooth, resolute contentment. Right up until the point you run out of fuel…

Boiled down, the 45 V6 offers all the elegance of an entry-level Jaguar with the zest of BMW’s smaller offerings. It handles well and even boasts practicality like no other mid-sized saloon. The boot can easily swallow even the largest of objects for fun.

It might not be the fastest, and it sure isn’t the most frugal, but as a rarity from the respected British automotive stable, the Rover 45 V6 ticks the boxes for comfort, agility, pragmatism and class.

Our verdict? If you can source one; go for it. The Rover is far from a speed machine, but as a truly unique proposition at a bargain price, the humble shape, elegant fine-tuning and smooth V6 takes some beating.

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