We were first to bring you a world exclusive drive of the new Rover CityRover in September, when we took to the road in a pre-production version. Now the car has hit dealers, and we have driven a showroom model to see if it lives up to the prototype's promise.
Our test vehicle was a 1.4 Sprite, which comes with alloy wheels, side skirts, a rear spoiler, CD player and remote central locking over the entry-level Solo's rather elementary equipment tally. But with a £7,895 price tag, it's £1,400 dearer than the basic version - and that puts it close to bigger and more established rivals such as the Skoda Fabia and Fiat Punto.
So does Rover's Indian-built newcomer have what it takes to spice up your life? Well, from the outside it looks promising, with sporty wheels and a bodykit, while the engineers have done a decent job of making the TATA Indica, on which the CityRover is based, appear more like a European car. Even so, TATA badges are visible on the mirrors, VIN plate and engine bay.
The interior seems fairly smart at first sight, but look closely and you'll notice a lack of attention to detail. We were prepared to forgive this on the pre-production version, but it hasn't improved on showroom models.
Our test car had several exposed bolts and screwheads, and component quality was poor. The courtesy light could be pulled out of the roof with a finger, while the plastic sun visors and flimsy ashtray didn't feel as though they would last long. When you consider that the Sprite costs nearly as much as top-quality superminis, such faults can't be ignored.
And that's a shame, because the CityRover still has promise. The 84bhp engine is more lively than that in any other car in the class, while performance is quite impressive. What's more, the newcomer is reasonably refined on the motorway, where it feels more stable than a lot of superminis. Admittedly, this is not a car for enthusiastic drivers, although it is swift and entertaining enough for most people.
The gearbox isn't great, and you have to pay extra for anti-lock brakes, but you do get excellent visibility and a comfortable driving position. Cabin practicality is good, too, with a generous boot, excellent headroom and above-average rear legroom.
Unfortunately, though, a lack of quality takes the shine off the CityRover. Ultimately, the Sprite can't compete at this price level, and there are better choices available for the canny buyer. Although the £6,495 Solo version might be an attractive option for the cost-conscious motorist, the more expensive variants are left wanting.