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The Undeniable Advantages in Comfort

What Rover badly needs, however, is a Cavalier rival to take over from the geriatric Montego (hanging on in tenth place). This will come in the shape of the rover 600 - though not for a year at least. Incidentally, this car- which will replace both the Montego and the hatchback Maestro - will be another joint venture between Rover and Honda and will actually be built at Honda's factory in Swindon. That will leave only the ageing Mini and Metro as purely British products, blurring further the distinction between British and foreign cars.

The present small Rover are smart but not cheap: they appeal to user-choosers and to those trading down, voluntarily or otherwise, from larger models. Like the new Astra, they typify the levels of refinement and quality now being reached in small cars. Gone are those sharp edges and brittle looking cheap plastics on dashboard and trim panels which characterized so many mid-1980s products; instead there's the 'organic look' of smooth curves and sweeps, and 'soft-feel' materials. Work to combat noise, vibration and harshness has reached new heights, too.

As a result most newcomers are heavier than their predecessors, which doesn't help economy. Nor does the need for catalysts - though the 'lean burn' alternative seems to have been sidelined for the foreseeable future. But buyers seem to be prepared to pay the penalty for the undeniable advantages in comfort and refinement.

The last of the British foursome has the thoroughly French supplied kits (shipping any of the completed cars back to France, incidentally). Despite its Coventry home, the 405 has made only a modest impact on fleet sales. In eighth place, it is the only non-Ford, Rover or Vauxhall in the top ten, but runs well behind the sector heavyweights, Cavalier and Sierra. It is, perhaps, an under-rated car; pretty in appearance with fine ride and handling characteristics. Sadly, poor initial build quality earned the 405 a bad name. It is also one of the plasticky generation, certainly not up to Cavalier standards of comfort and quality.

The Escort-sized Peugeot 309 is another car that is good to drive while feeling cheap; also, it lacks the good looks of the other Peugeots. The little 205 is certainly the pick of the pack: chic, fun to drive and with a fine range of engines for diesel to fuel-injected performance units. Joining the Peugeot ranks for 1992 is the tiny 106, which shares some engines with the 205, but is smaller than a Rover Metro. For the company operator, Peugeot's prime asset is its wide range of diesel and turbo-diesel models. These have excellent engines -so good, in fact, that Rover now uses them in the 200 and 400 diesels. Their performance and response can put a few petrol-powered units to shame.

After these four home makers, the next big share of fleet business is shared among the four largest European importers: Audi / Volkswagen, Renault, Citroen and Fiat (in that order during 1990 and most of 1991). CW has an image that every mass manufacturer in Europe must envy: solid, durable, classless and so on. It has weathered the UK recession well and goes into 1992 with a brand-new version of the Golf, just about to reach Britain.