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Introduction to the Rover 800

The Rover 800 was first introduced in 1986, and was a replacement for the much maligned SD1 range. It was initially available in saloon form only with a 2 litre ‘M’ series engine (of Rover’s own design) or a 2.5 litre 24 valve V6 which was sourced from Honda. The 2.5 was replaced by the torquier 2.7 a couple of years later, the fastback version being introduced at about the same time.

The floorpan and running gear for the car was all of Honda origin, being used also in their Legend model. The bodywork was designed by Rover, and the 1986 car was a very angular design which although good looking at the time now looks rather dated and tacky.

1991 model year saw a major facelift, with most of the panels being restyled in a better looking roundier fashion. The ‘M’ series engine was replaced with the much improved (although still rather less than perfect) ‘T’ series. In an attempt to save money, Rover management decreed that the doors should be retained in order to minimise tooling changes.

This of course compromised the whole restyling excercise, and ironically, it later transpired (once the development had reached the point of no return) that the door pressing tools were worn out and needed replacement anyway. Thus the stylists could have had their way after all!!

The 2.7 Honda unit was much loved by all (esp. the Police!) and the fact that Rover had virtually no warranty problems with that engine is testament indeed to its durability. But it was an expensive engine to buy in and in 1996 Rover launched the in-house designed 2.5 litre KV6. It is possible also that with the mid 90’s BMW takeover the Honda engine became a poor option for reasons of corporate politics.

On paper the KV6 looked brilliant, 24 valve, quad cam with variable length inlet tracts, multipoint sequential fuel injection and distributorless (DIS) ignition. Fuel economy was better than the Honda unit as well, I acheived 31 mpg in a prototype (manual transmission) over about 500 miles of reasonably hard touring type driving. There were, unfortunately, one or two flies in the ointment.

First was the fact that only part of the engine was built on the new machining line (built for the original 4 cylinder K series), the remainder being produced on the rather ancient machinery being used to make the T series. The other one was that the tiny K series block seemed to be being stretched way beyond its orginal design capacity.

As things have turned out, the fears re. the KV6 have been vindicated, and in marked contrast to the unburstable reputation of the Honda V6, the KV6 is regarded as an expensive breakdown waiting to happen. Interestingly, the larger capacity 4 cylinder K’s (e.g. 1.8 VVC) seem to suffer similar problems i.e. head gasket failures, cylinder blocks warping etc. etc.

Even when the KV6 was introduced, the 800 was long in the tooth with a serious image problem, which along with the reliability issues desribed above, means late model 825’s can be had for peanuts. They are still a very risky buy though, if V6 power is your bag then what you really want is an 827. The 2.0 litre T series is gutsy enough but is rough and noisy, whereas the silky Honda V6 more than compensates for some of the cars other flaws.

On the plus side, the 800 handles well, is very roomy, and well equipped; my late 1995 car is a basic 827i (ex. police) yet has ABS, twin airbags, 16inch alloys, electric windows front and rear, as well as remote central locking with a decent factory fitted alarm/immobiliser.

The bottom line though, is the 800’s are worth having, if nothing else they are cheap, reasonably easy to service and in the case of the 2.7 V6, rapid and smooth. Also, now that the Rover 75 has become firmly established, prices of 800’s are on their knees, and the earlier of facelifted models can now be bought for little more than bargain banger money. You can’t help feeling however, that if the designers of the Rover P6 had been been able to look into the future and see the shape of things to come, they would have been rather disappointed.

Brief Description

Suspension

At the front there are double wishbone with telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar. Rack and pinion steering with speed sensitive power assistance. The rear suspension uses transerse links and struts with anti-roll bar.

Probably one of the nicest things about the 800 is the vari-PAS steering, which is one-finger light at parking speeds but firms up as the speed rising thus presenting the driver with plenty of solid feel when cornering. As mentioned above the ride is not brilliant good compared to other cars in the same class, but on the plus side its quite straightforward to work on and replacement parts are reasonably priced.

Body

This is steel monocoque jointly developed with Honda, the floorpan being used on their legend model. Four door saloon, Five door hatchback or two door coupe bodies available. Whether down to japanese theory NVH techniques, or overly low profiles tyres, but on later models with 16 and 17 inch rims there is quite a lot of transmitted road noise inside the car.

That said the later 1996 on cars had a very expensive sound deadening pack, so these should be better in this area.

Generally the car is very roomy although it is quite narrow for its class; I’ve heard this had something to do with a japanese tax law relating to vehicle width! Boot is shallow on pre-facelift saloons but later saloons are much deeper and even have folding rear seats.

Brakes

These are discs all round with ABS on later models. Pedal feel on the ABS cars is a little spongy; even new cars are like this, maybe this is due to the longer pipe runs needed for this system.

At least the pedal feel is progressive though, and their is plenty of stopping power available when needed. As with many other rear disc equipped cars, the handbrake is a complete pain, and if the self adjusting mechanism fails then the only solution is to replace the rear caliper.

Engine/Transmission

Early 2.0 litre cars had the M series which was developed into the T series on facelifted vehicles. They are pretty gutsy although all 2.0 litre cars are a bit rough. Common fault seems to be oil leaks from the cylinder head gasket, and it sounds as though lasting fixes for this are hard to achieve.

The V6 honda engine feels far more suited to the character of an (allegedly) exec. class car and these provide smooth and effortless performance with almost unburstable reliability. Later V6’s are the Rover designed 2.5 litre KV6; sadly these seem to be an altogether unworthy successor to the Honda unit, although they are more economical.

Manual gearboxes are of Honda design and are all OK, but can lose synchro on 5th as well as going a bit whiney in the lower gears. Auto gearboxes are a 4 speed ZF or Honda unit, these of course use more petrol and cost mega-bucks if they fail.

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