Despite changing little from the previous 200 series, the Rover 25 range's engines are more efficient, particularly the new 84PS 1.4-litre 16v unit. This powerplant has accounted for the majority of sales. For buyers with a little more to spend, the 1.4 also comes in 103PS form, plus there are also 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol options as well as a 143bhp 1.8 VVC unit (borrowed from the MGF) for the range-topping GTi.
Arguably the most significant under-bonnet changes have been reserved for the 2.0-litre turbo diesel. It features a new high pressure injection system that does little for the 98bhp power output but much for the crucial torque curve, giving extraordinary pulling power through the gears. Even in high gears at low speeds, acceleration is instant, a match in fact even for the 2.5-litre V6 used on the 75 luxury saloon. A diesel, in other words, to convince even die-hard petrol buyers - or at least that's the idea.
Inside, the changes are relatively minor, though there's a new-style three-spoke rake-adjustable steering wheel with remote audio controls and a larger 45-litre airbag. Extra storage spaces are welcome, as are the redesigned seats, fitted with height adjustment for the driver in most models. At the back, there are rear head restraints and three-point seat belts for three passengers - though to travel five-up, you'd need to be pretty friendly with your companions. Still, this is a supermini. Not that you'd know that from lifting the tailgate. The 25's 10.7cuft with the split-folding rear seats up is class-leading, though access to the boot area is slightly hindered by a rather narrow opening. Not that it's such practical issues you'll remember after taking a test drive. Class and quality, as we suggested at the beginning, are what this car is about.
Which is why the dashboard plastics are a grade above what you would normally expect for a car of this class. It's why there's wood trim in the cabin of even the cheapest models. It's why the interior trim has been styled with such care (a choice of two-tone fabric or fabric/leather combinations). There's a range of pretty alloy wheels too, plus a selection of fresh colours (Wedgewood Blue, Sienna Gold and Alumina Green), with availability depending on your choice between trim levels that vary through i, iE, iL and iS to plushest GTi. On the safety front, there are seatbelt load limiters and new airbag deployment sensors, plus larger door mirrors. Moreover, the new headlamps develop 60% more illumination and the new, bigger bumpers offer much better impact absorption. All-round crash integrity is also said to be improved and ABS is standard on all 1.6 and 1.8-litre models to stop you losing control in the first place.
The Rover 25, being largely based on proven Rover 200-series mechanicals has yet to show any significant failings. It's a truism that it has also been bought by a large number of more mature customers, racy GTi model notwithstanding. Given that this clientele are less likely to drive the 25 in the manner in which a Fiat Punto or Peugeot 206 is often driven, which might waste the chassis development work that BMW undertook, but means good news for the used buyer. Check that the servicing work has been done, that there's no accident damage and you should be able to land a decent car.
(approx. based on 25 1.4 E) For most parts the prices are quite reasonable and worth the money. Expect to pay around £95 for a full clutch assembly, £485 for a full exhaust system (including the catalyst), around £80 for a headlamp and up to £115 for a radiator.
Brake pads should cost about £55 for the front and £50 for the rear, an alternator is around £175 and a starter motor around £140.
A change in product positioning makes the Rover 25 one of the most impressive offerings in the supermini class. Whereas when it campaigned against VW Golfs and Ford Focuses it felt slightly underwhelming, moving down a weight has made a lot of difference. The 25 always was a good drive, but now it brings its talents to bear on more lightweight opposition. The impression of solidity ids helped by the firm steering and well-planted ride. The K-series engine thrives on revs, but the engine note is never intrusive, except in the GTi, a car whose aural accompaniment justifies the badge.
The gearchange on all models is very smooth, and handling is safe and compliant without ever feeling boring. It doesn't offer the same chuckable joie de vivre of a Fiat Punto or Citroen Saxo, but it's still better than its rather staid image may suggest. The most popular 1.4 16v model reaches 60mph in 9.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 115mph, whilst the GTi will cover the sprint in 7.8 seconds, topping out at 124mph. Even the 2.0-litre turbo diesel models manage a sub-10 second time to sixty mph.
The Rover 25 was initially vilified as a Rover 200 with a big grille. Whilst that point of view is understandable, it ignores three crucial facts. Firstly, the Rover 200 series had developed into a very fine range of cars. Secondly, additional chassis work had taken place on the 25 to bring the cooking models up to the old 200vi's handling standards. Thirdly, Rover's repositioning of the car had propelled a middle-order family hatch to somewhere near the top of the supermini class. A used Rover 25 allows you to take advantage of Rover's aggressive pricing policy to land the most distinguished supermini around at a knockdown price. Look for low-mileage nearly new examples and see how much you can save.