Not the greatest hot hatchback, it’s fair to say; as you might well already have read. Nor, perhaps, is it even an anniversary worth celebrating. But if only to mark it, I spent a morning in our archive of old issues earlier this week jumping back in time 1000 tests at a time just to see what I would find.
We’re a weekly magazine and always have been, and these days, we generally publish one full road test per issue. Stands to reason that road test number 4500 should have appeared about 20 years ago, then. Back then, we were well into the habit of numbering our weekly big instrumented tests (thank heavens), and so on 4 July 2001, our 4500th road test subject was... the Rover 75 Tourer.
The test came not long after BMW had notoriously sold its ‘English patient’ for just a tenner, and MG Rover was formed. The 75 estate had already been designed by Rover’s former owners, but it became one of the first cars grandly launched under the new era in any case.
We tested the 2.5-litre V6 version, all 175bhp and 1570kg of it. Performance from the KV6 engine was surprisingly weak (0-60mph in 12.3sec) although a hesitant five-speed automatic gearbox from Jatco diverted at least part of the blame for that shortfall away from the lacklustre engine. An oddly shallow and small boot also came in for criticism.
But it wasn’t all bad news for ‘The Phoenix Four’ (remember them?). The 75 Tourer won praise for its “magnificent” ride; for refinement and composure unmatched by anything else in the class; and for handling estimated by the road test jury to be better than the equivalent 75 saloon’s. I can’t imagine satellite navigation was a popular option: it cost £2300 on a car that wasn’t quite £23k at full showroom price in the first place! Still, John Towers’ company car probably had it.
Moving back in time another 20 years or so takes us into slightly uncertain territory where numbered tests are concerned. Between the late 1950s and mid-1990s, Autocar’s road tests weren’t usually numbered in print. Evidently, someone must have been keeping a tally of them, otherwise we’d have had no idea about the milestone we’ve just passed, or any other; but whoever it was is sadly no longer incarcerated in the dungeons of Autocar HQ with only a torch, a notebook and ballpoint pen.
Sometimes, issues in the 1980s and early 1990s wouldn’t have a solo road test at all, running instead with an instrumented comparison as the headline test; sometimes, there would be more than one. But reckoning back from the closest numbered test as accurately as I could brought me to Autocar’s issue of 14 May 1983, when we ran the ruler over the E28-generation BMW 525e.