My first drive in a British Car

I have just had my first blast in a Hot Hatch, it was very enjoyable, and as it turns out, has become my first car review...

1y ago

This time last year, we acquired our 1994 Rover 220 GSi in order to complete a school A-Level EPQ project on. The project was on the subject of the best methods of horsepower recovery in an engine. An issue arose the moment we drove the car home however: It was simply the best 2nd hand car we had ever bought!

It was not without fault, but it was a genuine, effectively 1 owner car that had been in hibernation for over a decade. Indeed, the drive home from the West Country was the longest drive it had completed in 13 years by a huge margin.

Nevertheless I proceeded with the project, this involved dyno testing the car a couple of times, one pre service and one post service, which was really interesting to see. Its maximum power output on the test was 123bhp, the specs say it should have 134bhp. However the tester explained to me that it would have never had that at its disposal as the factory specs are what the engine outputs at the bench, rather than when it is put through the drivetrain, thus, the car was given a clean bill of health.

During the summer, and after having finished the project, *I tried to move the car on, but I was asking too much and didn't shift it, but to be honest, I am glad it stayed around as it has always had a connection with me, not as strong as with my **Volvo 480ES or family WR quattro, but it is there. I will probably want move it on at some point, but some fun is to be had first, and only if I can find someone to look after it.

The Rover 220 GSi - What is it?

The Rover R8 is one of, if not the best car from the ill-fated marque. A car that really showed what could be done, at last a car that was not just competitive, but wiped the floor when it was released, heralding a new era that had the competition scrambling to catch up. A true testament to what Britain can produce; almost...

I can't talk about this car and not mention the Japanese aspect, and it is very important. However this car was far from a badge-engineered special. From the outset this car was jointly developed equally between Austin-Rover and Honda. Rover worked on the interior and road manners and Honda worked on the mechanics. Each model was styled similarly, but still distinct from each other.

My car is the 220 GSi. This model has the 2.0 Twin Cam T-Series engine. The GSi by the time of my car's manufacture was the top of the line (bar the lethal turbo) performance model. It had replaced the GTi badge due to the soaring insurance costs, as if that would stop a half competent thief. Hence, this car is a GTi just 'subtleised'.

First Impressions

The car is certainly attractive. The XR4i style C-pillars draw my eye, one of my favourite pieces of eccentric styling. The alloys are intricate but not delicate, and look solid. The British Racing green paint and the body kit make it look like a junior touring car. Panning round to the front of the car the controversial chrome grill is apparent. I personally prefer the pre-facelift front but I find I don't actively dislike the grill, as it is nicely proportioned to the rest of the car (if only BMW had taken that idea when they asset-stripped Rover). One does notice the chrome pin stripes running down the side, when it was a GTi, these would have been red.

The rear lights are pleasingly arranged, with a well proportioned rear end in general, making you realise just how wide modern cars now are.

When you open the door and get in you are greeted by the smell of leather, my father commented that it smells like a Rover should, so take that as you will. Inside the only overtly sporty bit is the steering wheel, with the chunky but not quite uncomfortable hand grips. The interior is a dark affair, but is well lit which prevents it from being sombre. My car is outfitted with the 'Silverstone' interior, which has smooth leather and cloth seats. The cloth has an attractive tyre-tread pattern to it which gives a heritage feel. This is a grown up hot hatch, but a hot hatch nonetheless.

The engine fires on the key, almost instantly, and the ear is greeted with a fast whirr from the Twin-Cam unit. It is not the guttural purr of the 5 cyl quattro, nor the solid and dependable chat from the 4 cyl single cam Renault unit in my 480. It sounds very clean and smooth, with an air of refinement that only gets more apparent the more it is driven.

The control stalks are good, if a little spindly in contrast to the rest of the ergonomics, and the indicators have a satisfying click to them when activated and the controls are nice to operate. The mirrors are nice and big, and I can see a lot each side, vital for motorways.

The Interior has an air of luxury and quality about it, but the ergonomics leave much to be desired. Lots of glass is very nice however and give a great sense of speed.

The Interior has an air of luxury and quality about it, but the ergonomics leave much to be desired. Lots of glass is very nice however and give a great sense of speed.


The Rover has a Twin-Cam T-Series engine. This engine has a very sharp power delivery, but is very pleasant once you pick up how it should be driven. The engine is quite revvy, and as such it delivers it's torque in a way that is quite unlike my single cam 480. Pulling away and the engine can rev quite highly in 1st without sounding very stressed at all. Change up into 2nd and power delivery is smoothed over a little, but still highly responsive to the throttle. I find 2nd and 3rd are easy to get mixed up with this car as it is a lot quieter than the Volvo to which I am accustomed. This is because the engine can cruise at 30 in 2nd, even though 3rd is the right gear, the revs don't really reflect that too much. 4th and 5th are also very alike, and 5th is only really needed when cruising at 55+Mph, although I would say that 4th is suitable for those speeds, but it starts to feel a little busy.

When it comes to an open road however the Rover really comes into its own. After checking no one is around to be endangered, I open the throttle out, 'pour the sauce' as the French say apparently, and the car lets fly. As I rev the car through the range, the speed increases, but not in a way which I would describe as uncontrollable, this is after all a naturally aspirated engine and as such the deadly turbo lag of the GSi-Turbo is not present. As the revs go up I do fumble a bit with the floppy gear stick, and coupled with my not perfect clutch use (more on that in a moment) I would say that this is the biggest let down. The handling is sharp, and it feels like a car that is set up for a B-Road Blast. Despite this, the car is not a car that overtly encourages you to drive fast, and I feel it is more of a Q-Car, even with the spoiler, and I feel quite relaxed and totally in control, although the steering could benefit from being slightly heavier.

The steering and clutch are the two biggest issues with how the car behaves. The steering is very light and makes the car feel easy to drive, however one always has to make sure of where they are pointing the wheel as it is heavily assisted. I haven't got enough experience yet to say whether this is a point'n'shoot car for sure, but the feel I get from the wheel is very much along those lines. Speaking of the wheel, it is a very nice shape, however it feels a tad too small and the grips look more comfortable than they are, but this is only a minor issue.

The clutch is very much the hardest part of this car to adjust to, and even then it is not too bad. It feels very much on/off, and there is very little warning when you are about to stall. The biting point is precise and footwork must be neat in order to get the best out of it. Compared to the Volvo, which is very forgiving and has a wide travel range, this clutch feels 'tight.'

Visibility is good, with a huge windscreen and lots of light filling the cabin, that being said, I was nearly taken out when the rear quarter window was proving difficult to see out of at a junction, luckily I had a window open and could hear the car coming, saving my trousers a clean.

In day to day driving however the Rover is well mannered and relaxing. You never feel down on power, nor do you feel obliged to use it all. The handling is sharp so long as one respects the steering weight. The clutch is fine and just takes getting used to. There is wind noise in the cabin, and the gearbox tends to have a soft whine that is most notable in 2nd, however the engine itself is quite quiet.


The interior is a very nice place to be. There are good helpings of smooth leather and 'Silverstone' cloth. The Recaro seats are very comfortable and quite upright. There is lots of light from all the glass and the sunroof.

The central console is a little low down, and the radio is dangerously low. While this does mean view of the road is unrestricted, it also means the driver will have to avert their eyes if they need to adjust the heater settings.

Speaking of averting one's eyes, the placement of the sunroof control, hazard lights and fog light switches are appalling. When driving they are completely obscured by the steering wheel meaning that in the event of an emergency they would be hard to reach. The window switches on the drivers door are nice, but the passenger switch is placed in a highly awkward position. Overall the ergonomics of the controls just feel really poor, the only thing that feels comfortable to use is the electric mirror adjustment pad.

In the back the seats are again very comfy. They are able to sustain an adult with my 6ft 2in frame quite happily over long distances, with the usually 3dr quirks applying when entering and exiting. The rear quarter windows are the characterful 'gill' kind that pop out allowing air to flow in.

The car is very useable, with a big boot for lots of luggage, underneath there is a spare wheel.

The only car I have for reference is my Volvo, and that feels very snug, but comfy inside. All the controls are in easy 'touch reach' and it feels like you are in a pod, with plenty to rest your elbows on. In the Rover it is a much more conventional experience, but it really feels like there should be a console in-between the seats where the handbrake is to rest you elbow on while stationary. This coupled with the poor ergonomics is biggest issue with the interior, and perhaps the car.


Running the car is generally hassle free. The T-Series engine does need to be looked after and it does not tolerate missed services. On my car the battery keeps draining which is annoying, and it keeps using coolant, again annoying but those are limited to my car, I can't speak for the model as a whole on that front.

The most noticeable thing that the car has on this front is the fuel tank. The needle seems to drop quick enough to notice after one journey. Granted this is no diesel sipping super-miler, but I would expect this to not use that much fuel. A fill up to full usually costs around £40, which is similar to my Volvo.

Conclusion - Should you get one?

This is a good car. I do not know how it compares to its hot hatch rivals, but it is definitely a highly competent car. It can be used everyday no problem at all, and has really good driving dynamics for a B-Road. It feels powerful, but the delivery is not as torquey as the car I know already. This however means the car feels fun to drive but also quite relaxing, and is happy catering to a range of driving styles depending on your mood. You are very aware of your surroundings and a good sense of speed is conveyed through the glass, meaning that hooliganism is discouraged.

The good car theme continues on from just performance, and the interior is very comfortable in all positions, and has a quality feel to it from the materials used, and the wood veneer gives a 1930s retro sports car feel.

However the car is not faultless. The clutch and steering do leave things to be desired, although they are more a case of the driver having to change rather than the car. The biggest issue I find is the ergonomics. Given how good the car is to drive, and how nice the interior is, the placement of the controls is so awkward as to give the impression they were put there to deliberately wind you up.

I think this car is very suitable for the connoisseur of the unusual. At time of writing there were 13 on the road in Q2 of this year. It has very distinct looks, and definitely has a character. I can't decide if it is a Modern Classic, or a Classic Modern car, because it fills both those categories really. Its ease of use (ergonomics aside) and performance are everything I would come to expect of a car of most recent generations, while it has bags of character that sets it apart from the cars of today. In addition, you do get people walk up to you and reminisce about ones they had back in the day. Either way I recommend this car if you are like me and are fan of the unusual, like a bit of performance, but most of all character. Sure it isn't a fire breather nor am I sure the best hot hatch of the era, but it definitely isn't bad.

But hey what do I know, I am just a 17 year old lover of Automotive Tat, who has accidently written his first car review

I have no idea if I am right, but I definitely know I have been honest😊


- Good looks

- Decent performance

- Comfy Interior

- Highly practical

- Rarity


- Some aspects of the interior feel cheap or poorly designed

- Gearchange feels floppy

- Engine needs to be carefully looked after

- Steering is a little too light, but can be adjusted to

- Fuel Tank could be bigger

- Apathy and doesn't really get noticed as a classic (not the car's fault)

*Just to be clear the car is not for sale

**I'm comparing it to the Volvo as I have nothing else to compare against

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Comments (8)

  • I would buy it if I could. The best people to get the car in safe hands is the Rover 200 owners club they would advertise it to the genuine people who want to have a pristine un riced car.

      1 year ago
    • Already tried with them and it seemed a bit lukewarm if I am honest, but I will try again

        1 year ago
    • Other places to advertise it might be on specific websites or in magazines like Practical Classics or Classic car weekly. I know that these era cars are becoming collectable due to so many being scrapped or written off throughout the 1990's...

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        1 year ago
  • I wouldn't mind buying one of these, probably because they are rarer than most supercars and I love the unloved obscure cars

      1 year ago
    • Well this one may be coming up sooner than I thought, I have a few interested but I can keep you informed if you want

        1 year ago
    • Yeah there are loads the Austin, MG Metro and the Rover 100 are also steadily becoming classics as they were once £100 laughing stock second hand cars now they are increasing in value some great condition ones are fetching £1,000-£4,000 now

        1 year ago