Wood and leather will return to prominence across all cars in the range after survey findings showed potential customers rated comfort and a relaxing interior ambience as the features they most liked about the brand.
MG Rover sales and marketing managing director Rod Ramsay says: "What people want in a Rover is luxury, refinement, distinctly British styling and value for money – so that’s where we’ll focus our attention in future."
Announcing new, more highly specified versions of the 25, 45 and 75 models, Ramsay claimed wood trim and full leather seating were making a comeback as part of the ‘core elements’ that set Rover apart and said the luxury features would be on offer from just £8,995 in February.
He says: "This approach to packaging is probably more attractive to the older motorist, but I wouldn’t describe our action as taking Rover back to the pipe and slippers market.
"My view is that having appealing models in that sector is no embarrassment because the over-50s account for 46% of new car registration figures."
Ramsay said the research had been commissioned because the company had been dogged by lack of confidence.
He added: "We are on course to sell between 115,000 and 120,000 units this year, compared with 144,000 in 2003.
"This is not a result that delights us and it will not be replicated in 2005.
"Our intention is to move sales in the upward direction. I’m not going to make a forecast, but MG Rover is not the beleaguered or embattled company we so often read about. We have strengthened our organisation with new people and taken a detailed look at our brands.
"We have listened to what our customers say. Calling ourselves MG Rover has blurred the fact that we have two different brands, so we will make them more like separate entities both in the showroom and in promotional campaigns."
Wood and leather goes into GLi, GSi and GXi versions of the 25, 45 and Streetwise, all versions of the 75 get head airbags and heated leather seats are introduced on the Connoisseur.
Sample OTR prices: 25 GLi 1.4, including alloy wheels and CD tuner, £8,995; 45 GLi, including power sunroof and remote audio controls, £10,995; Connoisseur 1.8, £20,012.
MG Rover is cutting prices of the CityRover after 2004 sales fell short of initial targets. In 2005 the entry-level CityRover Solo will be priced at £5,995 on-the-road, with ABS and power steering added to the standard specification – items that would have put the price of the £6,495 2004 car up to £7,195.
All models will benefit from a range of minor improvements, including new interior trim and a doubling of service intervals from 6,000 miles to 12,000 miles. MG Rover has also committed to speeding up the development of a diesel variant to make the car more attractive to mainland European markets where petrol variants will be launched this year.