(Image not mine)
Autumn 1998? Spring 1999?
The first thing you notice about this car is the enormous, intimidating size of it. Especially parked next to my Mum's Panda. The weight really is stupendous - 2 tons - and you have to climb up into it, like getting into a lorry. But once in place you feel comfortable and the quiet opulence surrounds you.
The accommodation is vast and luxurious - leather all round, auto climate control (with different settings for driver and front passenger), electrically adjustable seats, and a great sound system (incidentally, why on earth do people use autochangers? I found it incredibly irritating to have to fiddle in the boot to change CD; I much prefer a front-loader.). The front seats even have fold-down leather armrests; overall the impression is of a cross between a Tonka toy and a dirty great flying sofa.
And I do mean flying. While hardly the quickest car on the road - the weight sees to that - the 225bhp (and stacks of ft lb) 4.6-litre V8, even with the standard auto gearbox, gives this car a surprising amount of grunt: 0-60 is well within repmobile territory (under 10 secs) and comfortable cruising is possible at up to 110mph or so, until the breezeblock aerodynamics get the better of it. It's quite astonishing to feel this enormous old lady just pick up her skirts and scarper off over the horizon. And it astonished a couple of fellow motorists as well!
Cornering is obviously not in sports car territory, and can get a bit unwieldy if pushed too far, but is surprisingly okay in the real world where blind corners, muddy roads and slower drivers are more often the limiting factor. We spent a lot of time on the back roads of Wales and Ireland, where the Rover did not disgrace itself - and of course the 4WD was useful in a tight spot. To be honest, off-road driving is not my bag - especially in someone else's spotless fifty grand luxmobile - although we did play on some Irish beaches (anti-skid starting off and stopping meant we barely ruffled the sand) and splashed through fords, and at one point tilted it well up onto the bank to get past a traffic jam. None of these gave it a moments pause, as you'd expect from a car that (according to the experts) can still handle the mucky stuff with the best of them.
Practical limitations include 15mpg thirst (ouch - especially given the price of petrol in the UK), size when parking and in narrow streets, and of course the 50 grand (and we're talking quid) price tag to buy your own. I also hear there are some reliability issues, although ours was fine over a hard-thrashed fortnight. Some people (e.g. my Mum) get carsick because of the very long-travel, soft suspension. Especially compared to a Panda.
But in return you get huge usefulness in terms of load capacity (5 adults and stacks of luggage), luxury, performance and go-anywhere ability. And you can play with the ride height at traffic lights - great for intimidating hooligans in BMW convertibles.
Overall, bombing down potholed Irish back roads at 100mph in complete comfort, listening to your favourite CD on the superb stereo, is an experience I'd recommend to anyone. Not sensible, not cheap, but bloody good fun!
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