The Rover 200, the Metro that never was

By the end of the 80's, it was clear that the Metro was going to struggle with the new cars coming onto the market and it was recognised that the supermini market was changing, with cars getting bigger and having more interior room.  Rover argued for the funds from British Aerospace to create a new car to replace the now rapidly aging Metro and take Rover into the future.

Unusually for British Aerospace, they agreed, but the funds were not enough to develop a completely new platform and Honda did not have anything suitable, so an existing platform had to be used as a starting point and what better starting point that the well received and best selling Rover R8 platform.

Some alterations were needed, the platform needed to be shortened and as a result the spare wheel section would intersect where the rear axle of the R8 would be.  This meant a new solution for the rear wheels but rather than develop something from scratch, the rear H suspension beams from the Maestro were used as these could be altered to create the part needed, then the tooling could be made quickly to fabricate this 'New' part once the car was in production.

Things never go as planned in the world of Rover and despite the new car doing well in development, things inevitably changed.

Rather than have sales start to fall, the Metro was selling rather well, so rather than kill it off and replace it with the new car, the Metro would be continued and the new Rover would be positioned further upmarket to compete with cars like the Ford Escort and VW Golf instead of the Fiesta it was designed to go up against.  This was a risky move...

The new Rover

The car received good reviews, the engine was praised but its handling and rear seat room was not always up to Parr with the competition.  The Escort and Golf had more room, the Golf handled a little better but by comparison to the new Rover they did not have the looks or that engine...

But that didn't matter, in the pub a 1.6 was always better than a 1.4 regardless of the real world performance.  The new Rover 200 series sold well, but nowhere near the forecasts.  It was designed as a Metro replacement but placed in a market out of its league.  While the car fought well, it was not a competitor to the likes of the Golf.

Enter BMW

By this time Rover was under the wing of BMW, the Rover 75 was about to launch so a new look and revised plan was put forward for the 200 series. 

With a cut in price, a slight restyle and a new name, the Rover 25 was finally in the market it was intended for and sales rose as a result.  The restyling brought the car in-line with the new Rover 75 and suited the car well.  As the Metro had been discontinued the Rover 25 took the mantle as the Rover Supermini and finally got the success that the car deserved.

But nothing lasts forever.  With BMW selling the Rover and MG side of the business to the Phoenix consortium, the Rover 25 was left to soldier on past its intended retirement date as BMW took its replacement, the Rover 35 back to Munich with them.  Something had to be done, and done quick.

A new MG

With a little restyling, tighter steering, firmer suspension and a larger rear spoiler, the Rover 25 was reborn as the MG ZR, and what a car it turned out to be.  Handling was improved and the engines now included the 1.8 120 MPi and the rather mad 160 VVC to give outstanding straight line performance, though the 1.4 liter K-series engine was also still offered in the low end car.

The reaction was that this new MG became a best seller, especially with the younger driver who would look down on the Rover 25's 'Granddad car' image but would fall for the MG ZR's boy racer looks.  The 'new' car was an instant success.

But without a successor, in 2004 the car received yet another facelift and an expansion to the range.  The Streetwise was a Rover 25 with extra plastic and raised suspension, it also introduced the new dashboard that would grace the next generation Rover 25 and MG ZR.

The new look cars initially sold well, but sales soon started to tail off.  The now rapidly aging R8 platform was showing its weaknesses and by April 2005 it was all over and the production lines of Longbridge fell silent.  The Rover 200 was finally gone, so was the Rover 25, the Streetwise and the MG ZR and the last remnant of the best selling R8.

This though wasn't the end, in China the MG 3 was launched and was a slightly altered Streetwise with MG badges.  How many of these were sold is unclear but it did give the design a little more life, even after the death of its parent company.