Yet another British car that would die, and somehow get reborn via the Chinese underhanded car manufacturing loophole that resulted in the Mini fake, the Austin Maestro/Montego cross-breed and a myriad of other lifted vehicle designs!
The Rover Streetwise was an attempt by Rover to appeal to younger drivers. Rover had modernised the existing models in 1999 with a facelift for the 25, 45 and the Rover-designed 75 models but Rover was suffering falling sales and a tarnished brand after the sale of Rover to the Phoenix consortium in 2000 by BMW. Although new models were in the planning stages, the 25 and 45 models would be at least 10 years old before the new models were launched.
Phoenix owned the rights to the MG brand, and had marketed the ZR, ZS & ZT with reasonable success, restyling the existing 25, 45 and 75 models. This included tweaked suspension, new wheels, altered dashboard inserts, different seats, and bodykits.
With the MG brand proving popular, MG Rover Group turned their attention to the Rover brand. The Rover-badged cars had a rather staid image and were commonly associated with elderly motorists. MG Rover thus attempted to appeal to a younger market. MG Rover decided to design a car for a niche market, and chose the ‘Urban on-roader’ look, similar to the Audi Allroad, Volvo XC70 and Volkswagen Polo Fun/CrossPolo.
Indeed to my young eyes I found the Rover Streetwise worked in looking much more raunchy and off-roading, with its thick bumpers and high wheel clearance reminding me somehow of the Volkswagen Beetle Dune concept of 2000 (by the way, I wished that had worked so much!). Indeed performance wise the Streetwise was almost identical to the 25 on which it was based, being powered by a 1.8L Straight-4 producing 115hp and taking the car to a top speed of 115mph at a rate of 0-60 in 9.5 seconds.
Sadly the Streetwise and its endearment to the youth demographic was not enough to remove the brand image that Rover had made for itself with a more elderly audience, and thus sales were poor. With the failure of the CityRover to appeal to the Supermini crowd in the same way as the Nissan Micra or the Volkswagen Polo, the company went
into administration in April 2005 and production ceased forthwith.
But, like I said, the Rover Streetwise was by no means dead thanks to the Chinese, and in 2008 the car came back to life as the MG 3, a rebadged identical version of the Streetwise being built in Pukou, Nanjing. The reason for such a car was that prior to the collapse of Rover, the MG marque was bought up by Chinese investors SAIC or Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation. Since then the company has continued to build cars branded under MG. In 2011 the MG 3 was rebuilt to be given an entirely new look, but still continuing to withhold its Rover 25/Streetwise underpinnings.