Making its debut in 1989, the second generation Rover 200, also known as the Rover 200 R8, heavily altered the styling to make it look more streamlined than the original Rover 200 of 1984. Whilst the previous 200 was essentially exactly the same as the Honda Ballade it was based off of, the new 200 took styling cues from the Rover 800, with SD1 style headlampes and a much crisper body.
The original intention of this car was to replace British Leyland’s ageing and poorly selling Austin Maestro, and would be released in conjunction with a saloon version of the car known as the 400, which later evolved into a tourer estate. The 400 had a different nomenclature to the 200 because at the time many saloon versions of compact cars were positioned slightly upmarket from their hatchback siblings, often featuring higher
specification and prices, in addition to different names.
The R8 200 was the first car to be built and produced by the newly privatised Rover Group, which was formed when British Leyland was sold from national ownership in 1986 by the Thatcher Government, and placed into the hands of British Aerospace. Internally, the car is largely based off the Honda Concerto, as part of an ongoing deal between Rover and Honda to produce good, reliable cars. The deal meant that Honda could get a cut of Rover’s earnings off the 200, whilst Honda would agree not to sell the Concerto in the UK in any great numbers. The 200 was powered by a selection of brand new Rover K-Series engines, from a 1.4L twin-cam to a 2.0L M-Series unit from the Rover 800.
The 200 was later derived into a selection of other cars that were unique to Rover, including a three-door hatchback, a sporty coupe and a convertible. At first the Rover 200 was in a class of its own, being one of only a few brand new redesigns for European family cars. It would later win the 1990 What Car? Car of the Year award, and sold heavily with at least 110,000 cars being produced per annum.
Developments in the production life of the 200 came later than those of the 400 or 800. In
1992, Rover launched the R17 facelift programme to give the range a new brush of style, and thus re-introduced an iconic grille to the front of their 400 and 800. The 200 on the other hand wasn’t given such a facelift until 1993. Although the post-facelift model was only produced for 2 years, it sold very heavily, and today you’d probably find more of those on the road than the pre-facelift models without the grille.
Production of the Rover 200 R8 continued until 1995, when both it and the Maestro it was meant to replace were discontinued. The 200 however was revised into a more traditional hatchback design, with a small front end and flat tail. The Rover 400 on the other hand was rebuilt into a similar body shape as the R8 200, but with the continuing option of a saloon.