Roewe's second car on the market is the continuation of
MG-Rovers RDX60 project, and it's called 550. The car was has already received
a lot more attention than the 750 has, being hailed by some as the first truly
international Chinese car. And rightly so, with it's heavily badge engineered brother
the MG6, SIAC have a car they can, and will, take around the world.
Much like the Roewe 750 the 550 is a car with strong roots in MG-Rover. Project RDX60 was MG-Rovers pivotal plan to replace the aged and poor selling 45/ZS models with a new model in what is Europe’s most competitive market segment. The project began right at the start of MG-Rover as we knew it, BMW did took their plans for a 45 replacement away with them, leaving the now independent company to restart development it-self. TWR were tasked with the development, but were later to go bust, leaving MG-R with a partially developed car and not a great deal of money to continue it’s development. Seemingly un-phased they began the search for automotive partners, so that they could properly finish the project in house, a search which would lead them ultimately to SAIC.
It wasn’t to be and, MG-R signed away most of what SAIC wanted for only £190 million, leaving them with a small bung in their financial woes and still no partner. With the production rights for the R3, RDX60 and R40, SAIC walked away ready to start the company it wanted to. When MG-Rover went under, SAIC failed to acquire its assets. Not deterred, they then set up a new euro development centre with Ricardo engineering; Ricardo 2010, and in doing so, scooped up much of the design expertise that had recently been ejected from Longbridge. They were first set to work on finishing the development of the 750, first mooted as a joint venture between MG-R and SAIC, next was developing project W261, which would become the Roewe 550.
Before all this back at MG-Rover The RDX60 went through many different looks with MG-Rovers designers repeatedly updating the cars to suit their potential suitors. Despite the fact that in Europe the hatchback was far more important, a lot of emphasis was put on the saloons, in a bid to satisfy the far eastern companies that they were seeking investment from. There are several pictures of these designs on Austin-Rover.co.uk, but the one shown above is the only one that possesses a real resemblance to the 550. Pay particular attention to wing mirrors, bonnet shut line, overall window line, roof line and the door panel relief, and you will see quite a lot of resemblance. Whether this is coincidental or not, much work was undertaken at Ricardo 2010, with more than 150 models produced before the design was approved.
SAIC was wasting no time in the development in the 550, having started in 2005. After the design was settled the cars mechanical development began at Ricardo 2010. Initial testing was done at MIRA, followed by testing throughout the world; the car is said to have travelled 2.9 million miles during its development stage, which is perfectly believable given the amount of spy shots of it that emerged. Meanwhile SAIC was doing its best to attract interest in the new model buy releasing the W2 concept at the Shanghai Motorshow, more info on that can be found on the Roewe Concepts Page. The Roewe 550 was finally launched in China in early June 2008, after a rather longer development than the 750, understandable seeing as all they had to start pretty much from scratch. The car launched with the 1.8 turbo engine found also in the 750. Packing 160bhp the turbocharged engine sits above the DVVT engine launched later, which is rated at 133bhp. Prices start at £12k for the lowliest DVVT model, rising to £18k for the highest spec turbo. All cars feature generous specification, and the chassis on paper at least is well sorted, it maintains the advanced BMW Z-axle rear suspension from the 75/750, but the track is wider.
There's so much going on in the interior, which is why it's going to get its very own paragraph. We'll start with the thing that would no doubt strike you first sitting in the car, the brightly illuminated clocks. At first you may think of them as Maestro/Montego homage, however there is an alternative theory; Roewe call them 'inspired by Silverstone' where the MG EX261 raced in the BTCC, look at the EX261's dash and you can see a slight resemblance, or perhaps I'm reading to much into it? Coming back from the land of speculation, the dials certainly grab your attention, as does the centrally mounted TFT (or mono LCD if you're buying a cheaper model), with a matching colour scheme. This will display DVD's, Sat Nav, reversing camera, information from your Bluetooth enabled phone. You can play your media via CD, DVD, iPod or SD card. There's plenty of buttons to operate all this equipment, but the remarkably good interior design manages to look pleasant and uncluttered. If that wasn't enough for you, you're in luck as we're barely half way through. The key has been dropped for the 550, instead you only have a fob which has a slot in the dash, push it in half way to activate the electronics, then further to start the engine. Having done that moving off is achieved via the quirky handbrake which blends into the transmission tunnel when not in use. A conventional gear auto gear selector sits ahead of it, though gears can also be selected via steering wheel mounted buttons. There's a full range of safety options too, Roewe are quick to boast about the Euro standard Crash systems and Engine emissions. The car received 5 starts in C-NCAP tests.
In china the 550 is doing what MG-Rover could only dream of, taking a decent shot at the Ford Focus. It's a great success in design, Roewe are giving their cars the sense of luxury that was selling Rovers in the 90's. But SIAC haven't stopped there, with their acquisition of the MG brand they've made a truly modern MG too. The 550 has sold very well, selling over 120k in 2010/11. 2012 will see the car receive a facelift, and the addition of a new dual clutch gearbox. With the arrival of the 350 the 550 is now MG-Roewe’s close second best seller, and the revamp should see that continue.