It’s interesting how the evolution of this car went from a four-door family saloon car under British Leyland, to a five-door family hatchback similar to the Ford Focus. But that’s the journey the Rover 200 and later 25 went through to get to this point!
The original Rover 200 was a continuing development through the partnership of British Leyland and Honda. The car, based largely off a Honda Ballade, was launched in 1984 to a slew of confused opinions and modest reviews, many citing it as an upgrade because
British Leyland were finally able to give us reliable cars, but at the same time a downgrade because there was very little to differentiate the 200 from the Honda off which it was based.
In 1994 when Rover Group was acquired by BMW, the company set about reorganising their portfolio, and thus the Rover 200, which at this point was something of a mediocre but modest saloon car, was downsized into a trendy hatchback.
The new Rover 200, codenamed R3, was smaller than the Honda-based R8 cars, based largely on the need for the company to replace the ageing Metro, which by now was 15 years old. Although some elements of the previous 200/400 were carried over (most notably the front structure, heater, steering and front suspension), it was by-and-large an all-new car that had been developed by Rover. Honda did provide early body design support as a result of moving production of the Honda Concerto from Longbridge to Swindon, freeing up capacity for 60,000 units at Rover. At this point, the car had a cut-down version of the previous car’s rear floor and suspension and was codenamed SK3. The Rover 200 even took a few leaves out of British Leyland’s book, and re-engineering
the rear end to take a modified form of the Austin Maestro rear suspension to address the old 200’s lack of boot space.
A facelifted version, renamed the Rover 25 (internal codename Jewel) was launched in autumn 1999 for the 2000 model year, adopting similar frontal styling to the larger 75 model. The chassis had been uprated to give sportier handling and the front end had been restyled to give it the corporate Rover look first seen in the range-topping 75, a number of safety improvements and interior changes were made, but the 25 was instantly recognisable as a reworked 200 Series.
Cars were powered by a range of engines, including 1.4L, 1.6L and 1.8L petrol engines as well as the 2.0L diesel. CVT automatic gearboxes were carried over from the R3 200, with ‘Steptronic’ (later ‘Stepspeed’ post-BMW demerger) semi-automatic system available from late 2000. R65 manual gearboxes were again carried over but were later superseded by Ford ‘IB5’ units in mid-2003.
The Rover 25 was actually Britain’s best selling new car for the month of April 2000, due to a brief surge in sales among buyers wanting to support the company at the time of their sell–off by BMW. However, sales quickly settled back down to normal levels, and the 25 was never able to seriously compete with the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa in terms of popularity. It was even outsold by the likes of the Peugeot 206, Fiat Punto and
Renault Clio. Although reviews by motoring press were favourable, dubbing it a trendy little number, this was not enough to save both the 25 and its ailing company.
The 25 would soldier on until April 2005 when the Rover Company eventually ran out of money and production ceased forever. Spiritually however, the 25 continues in its derivative Streetwise variant, which was reproduced almost identically by Chinese based SAIC as the MG 3. Although the body has changed, the general underpinnings of this car are still largely identical to those of the Rover 25, even though its been 20 years since they first left the factory!