La Dolce (Ro)Vita
A large part of the attraction with any car is how it makes you feel. The way a car looks, the softness or supportiveness of the seats, the materials used inside, they all serve to make a powerful impression upon an interested mind. The Rover 827 Coupé is an excellent example of this. A lot of people don’t rate the driving experience – more on that later – but public opinion is almost unanimous in it’s praise for the car upon an aesthetic level. Even now as a two decade old banger, the early cars retain a kudos that the majority of elderly luxobarges seem to lack, and their following is increasing by the day.
The proportions of the car are just so right; the long nose and tail with a genuine four seat capacity. The dash, seats, every piece of the craftsmen-finished interior screams exclusivity in a way that the saloon model just does not manage to match. When Brad Bennett – a charming chap with an 800 collection recently reduced to 20 cars – let me take one of his 827 Coupés for a quick spin, I jumped at the chance to sample what is on paper one of my favourite 1990s cars.
Open the long door, settle yourself into the plush leather armchair and it feels pleasant – businesslike yet warm and inviting; a combination that few cars seem to successfully achieve. My experience was slightly hampered by the seating position – at 6’8″ Brad is some six inches taller than I am and is one of few people I know who drive whilst sitting further back than I do. Having set the car up to be ideal for himself, he disconnected the electric seats in this 206000 mile example to preserve his perfect position. As such, I was more cautious than usual in driving the car; due to distance my control of the vehicle was impaired.
The Honda V6 puts the driver in mind of an orchestra playing pianissimo, and the tactile controls leave one in no doubt that this is a luxury car. As indeed it is – when new the 827 Coupe wasn’t far short of the price of a Jaguar XJS. Slip it into gear and set off, and the purr of the V6 underlines an experience that is best described as sybaritic. Point the prow of the car towards the horizon and go, as a wafter it’s quite a car. The ride is impressive too – over less than perfect surfaces it’s fine, insulating it’s occupants from the undulations of the road.
But I’m not convinced by any athletic pretensions the name Coupé may lend it. Be under no misapprehension, it’s no sportscar. My friend Keith Adams of Octane magazine once described the steering on an 827 as ‘hide and seek’ – especially on the MK2 (R17 to anoraks) model. As my previous 800 experience was limited to a couple of MK1 (XX) cars, I hadn’t yet experienced this phenomenon properly. The problem is that whilst the steering is speed sensitive, it’s not linear in it’s approach. You can thus turn in, change speed during the corner, and the system will change the weight and steering effort that your input is providing. Add this to the softer suspension of the R17 cars, and the effect is to produce a car that is far less able as a sports machine than the XX it replaced.
But I don’t want something like this to be a sportscar. The aim is for a spacious and sensible luxobarge with style; a Bentley Continental R for those who don’t own a second mansion in the Cotswolds. And with this, we return to the point made at the beginning of the review. This car, like the Bentley, makes you feel special, seperate, apart. The effect of all that walnut, leather, the chrome grille, and the fact you’re driving a British gentleman’s express is to make you feel like your life has been a success. Cue the Elgar and relax; it is, after all, a Rover.