Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Roewe 550

A little history

Since SAIC went into administration in 2005, we haven’t exactly heard anything from the brand Rover ever since. In fact, the Rover brand name which was then owned by Ford couldn’t be used by SAIC in branding their Chinese versions of the Rover 75. So the witty Chinese men went to call theirs Roewe, or “Rong Wei” in their local mandarin pronunciations.

The Roewe 750 was the Chinese clone of the Rover 75, and in design terms it was a step back from the British retro flair that the 75 was adored for. Some say the 75 was made for the Queen and some even said there was no way to go backwards from a Rover 75. To me however, it was just an exquisite British classic masterpiece which found itself out of place in the fast-paced world.

Roewe 550

So let us step into this brand new era of Chinese cars with the little sibling of the Roewe 750 – The Roewe 550. Some might think it’s just merely a re-styled or re-shaped Rover 45, but look again. This is a all-new model penned by a British firm and produced from scratch entirely by Chinese efforts. Now let’s take a look at it’s design.

Now all we can see here is that it’s lost all it’s British-ness from previous Rovers but what the heck? It’s a Roewe! Not a Rover. Now that certainly looks good from this angle, although the grille has a little “in your face” styling but radical designs work pretty well in modern day art. Looks at all those “Bangled” BMWs and their numerous design cues cloned elsewhere. Great. I like it. The silhouette of the car screams Lexus IS, but that isn’t a bad thing. Not let us take a back angle view.

Well a departure from the radically-styled front actually translates into a very classy rear design that wraps up very nicely at the end. I like the red in-house lights and a beige Roewe 550 if I ever get one. A little drawback is that they should have used those shark fin antennas on the roof instead of the old long ones. It makes the car look cheap, even though we know its of Chinese roots.

Under the hood of the Roewe 550 is the “good” old Rover K Series engine. SAIC claims it’s improved, and complies to Euro IV emission standards. The 1.8 litre turbocharged petrol version previously found in the Land Rover Freelander and the Rover 75 delivers 150 bhp, while the 2.0 litre diesel drive train will offer almost similar levels of power. SAIC also claims to be launching hybrid versions in the near future. The car is also said to be mated with a six-speed automatic gearbox and consumption figures are hailed to be 6 litres per 100km, which is rather impressive for the 1.8l turbo-charged model(in Chinese car standards).

Above is a 3D rendering of the Roewe 550 interior. The instrument cluster is rather futuristic or rather weirdly unconventional. I think it looks cool, but the odd mix of the dark background and the bright red lightings makes it look like some third-rate Hong Kong red-light district in the front seat. Other than that, the rest is fine, although many may question on its build quality. I actually think Roewe stole many plastic pieces from their sister brand Ssangyong, and it does seem to be a good thing for the quality of plastics used in new Ssangyongs. I have to agree though, that it isn’t perfect, and often I find places where it’s easy to get cuts while accessing those plastic regions.

Most importantly, the 550 is built to the European NCAP 5 star crash test safety standards, which means unlike any other Chinese car, you actually feel safe to ride in one!

On the whole, the Roewe 550 looks like a very promising car. Although it’s not entirely perfect or well-made, and sits on a platform which will turn a decade old in a year’s time, it shows the beginning of a new era of quality Chinese cars. If it’s priced competitively to cars like the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla, the 550 would be a very good car to buy for the money.

Vital Statistics

Model: Roewe 550
Engine: 1.8 Turbocharged, 2.0 Diesel
Transmission: Six-speed Automatic
Power: 150 bhp
Top Speed: 125 mph
Acceleration: 0-60mph: 11.2sec