The R8 was an undoubted success for Rover but by the time of its launch Honda had already decided that future collaborations would follow a different path - Honda would design the cars and Rover would work “their magic” around the base car.  This route was largely a success on the Honda Accord/Rover 600 collaboration but when it came to the replacement of the successful R8 things got a whole lot more difficult.
 
The R8 Rover 200/400 was always going to be a hard act to follow, and this time Rover would have much less influence in the design of the car. The replacement car was being designed by Honda and Rover would put their interpretation on the car along with its own “K“ and “T” series petrol engines and new “L” series diesel. The HHR was slightly bigger than the R8 in 5 door form and Rover’s own 4 door version was markedly larger than the outgoing 400. To cover the gap between Metro and the HHR 400 was to be a new smaller 200 (R3).  These were two of the three “Portfolio” models (the other being the MGF) all to be launched in 1995.

Honda’s long-term sales strategy in Europe was to build sales through production of their vehicles by Rover, which it achieved through the Ballade and Concerto models, before starting their own production. The Honda UK Manufacturing centre (HUM) in Swindon was initially a PDI centre for Rover-built Honda vehicles but the 1995 Honda Civic 5 door was the first vehicle to be built there. Rover continued to produce its HHR vehicles at Longbridge on the same production line in CAB1 that had been used for R8 with the remaining R8 vehicles moving into CAB2.

The Rover 600 had already been launched and was again being pushed upmarket with ambitious pricing and was quickly encountering stiff opposition from Ford’s impressive new Mondeo. Richard Wooley had worked his magic on the bland Honda Accord to create the stylish Rover 600 and it was expected he could do the same on the Honda Civic 5 door; but this time the proportions were much more difficult to deal with. Rover’s answer was to produce a Rover only 4 door that would distance itself from the Civic based 5 door.  With the smaller R3 following alongside, the HHR began being pushed further upmarket - both because of the R3 and in search of higher margins.

As HHR development was nearing completion in early 1994 there was the major announcement that BAe were selling Rover to BMW.  BMW reviewed the “Portfolio” models and because they were so far advanced decided to continue with them. BMW had aspirations of pushing Rover further upmarket and so when the HH/R Rover 400 was launched in March 1995, initially as a 5-door only, it was priced to compete in the “C” segment and was therefore considerably more expensive than the outgoing 200/400.  Despite its improved refinement and ride quality, the press were underwhelmed by the new car.  This was not the leap forward from the R8 that had been expected.  Rover responded by saying that the soon to arrive 400 saloon was “the real new 400” and sure enough when the saloon was launched it looked a more classy and coherent car.  It was however, still lacking in rear legroom (due to its relatively short wheelbase) and expensive.  Sales never met the level of the R8 and with the ever strengthening currency making imports cheaper the 400 struggled to maintain market share.  Its styling quickly looked dated, not just against the opposition but also against Richard Wooley’s elegant 600 and David Saddington’s sporty looking 200 (R3).

Following the launch of the Rover 75, both the 400 and 200 were revised with R75 styling cues and their names changed to 45 and 25 respectively.  Shortly after this BMW announced they were selling Rover controversially to the Phoenix Consortium and the 45 would go on to be further developed initially as a MG (the ZS) and finally a further revamp of the 45 in 2004.  A car that was always compromised in its package and styling eventually went on to far outlive its design life with a 10 year production run only ending with the demise of MG Rover in 2005.    

 

 

By the early 1990s Rover’s owner, British Aerospace, were going through a difficult period with their core aerospace business and did not have the capital required to invest in an “all new” range of cars.  Honda co-operation continued and the Metro had recently been “Roverised” but a replacement for the Metro was required.  Superminis were getting larger and the major deficiency of the Rover Metro was its small size. A decision was made to use the platform of the R8 as a basis for a replacement. This was an uncertain time at Rover due to severe financial limits being placed upon it by their owners BAe and it was recognised that three new mainstream models could not be funded.  Therefore Rover had to decide how best to replace the 100, 200 and 400 ranges. With the HH/R project in place this left just the 100 and 200.  As the design developed it was noted that the Rover Metro was selling considerably better than anticipated, and so it was decided to again push the R3 upmarket.  The initial 200 replacement project, SK3, had a 3 inch longer wheelbase than the final R3 but was shortened during its gestation to move it away from the already agreed size of the HHR.  Styling proposals of both the SK3 and CB40/Freelander were shown to Honda with a view to collaboration, but Honda decided not to be involved with either project although they did gain valuable insight into the future plans of its partner.  Amusingly the initial ‘SK3’ codename came from a part of the set of Honda component part numbers used on R8 but was changed later to R3 to align it with other Rover project code numbers.

With the reduced wheelbase and by shortening the front and rear overhangs the car’s length was reduced significantly compared to the R8. David Saddington styled a modern looking body onto the structure of the R8. To cut costs most of the front end of the car was carried over from the R8 and the rear suspension was simplified by using a twist-beam from the Maestro/Montego but much modified for improved handling. It also enabled the packaging of a spare wheel, as well as saving over £100 per car when compared to the complex rear suspension of the R8.  The whole project was delivered in a very cost effective manner but compromises were needed and some older parts were obviou
sly carried over from the previous generation vehicle. Overall this was a stylish, youthful car that retained links to the recently launched 600 and 400.  


The new Rover 200 was previewed at the 1995 London Motor Show for launch the following month in Rapallo, Italy. The confusion over the new car’s original target market were very nearly revealed at the press launch with an early styling drawing having to be hastily modified the night before the first press event to remove ‘100’ from the numberplate!

The new car was well received by the press and public alike.  The whole feeling was far more upbeat than at the launch of the 400 earlier in the year.  Pricing was ambitious, competing with the larger Golf and Peugeot 306.  It would be the pricing that would hamper sales at the start.  As well as the standard 1.4 & 1.6 "K" series engines there was a sporty “Vi” model and the very capable (and quick) "L" series diesels.  The “Vi” name was chose to avoid the awkward looking “VVC” badge and no derivative number was used to avoid advertising the fact that the engine was ‘only’ a 1.8 when many competitors had a capacity of two litres, even though the "K" series was amongst the most powerful.

Despite the positive launch, and probably because of the ambitious pricing, sales would never match the figures it deserved.  Following the launch of the Rover 75, the 200 was treated to an update to bring the styling in tune with the 75. At the same time the pricing was realigned to make it more in line with the super minis (the Rover 100 was discontinued in 1997 following falling sales after poor results in early EuroNCAP crash tests); but by now rumours were circulating that BMW were considering pulling out and sales nose dived.

Following the sale of Rover to the Phoenix consortium, further development took place to create the MG ZR. This proved to be a great sales success for the newly formed MG Rover and helped maintain interest in the marque.  MG Rover also sent the R3 into another direction by creating the “urban crossover”, the Streetwise.  This predated other manufacturers such as Skoda with the Yeti and was a concept ahead of its time.  The car’s understructure and petrol and diesel powerunits were carried over from the R3 meaning it was able to developed at a low cost.

The final development prior to the untimely demise of MG Rover was the 2004 facelift which gave the 25 new front bumpers and lights, new rear tailgate and a new dashboard.

 

 

Rover 200 Mk1 (SD3)
Rover 200 Mk1 (SD3)4 Door (1984 - 1990)      

Rover 200 Mk2 (R8)
Rover 200 Mk2 (R8) 5 door5 Door (1989 - 1995) Rover 200 Mk2 (R8) 3 door3 Door (1991 - 1995) Rover 200 Mk2 (R8) CabrioletCabriolet (1992 - 1999) Rover 200 Mk2 (R8) CoupeCoupé (1992 - 1999)

Rover 400 Mk1 (R8)
Rover 400 Mk1 (R8) Saloon4 Door (1990 - 1995) Rover 400 Mk1 (R8) TourerTourer (1994 - 1999)    

Rover 400 Mk2 (HHR)
Rover 400 Mk2 (HHR) Hatch5 Door (1995 - 1999) Rover 400 Mk2 (HHR) Saloon4 Door (1995 - 1999)    

Rover 200 Mk3 (R3)
Rover 200 Mk3 (R3) 3 door3 Door (1995 - 1999) Rover 200 Mk3 (R3) 5 door5 Door (1995 - 1999)    

Rover 45
Rover 45 (HHR) Hatch5 Door (1999 - 2005) Rover 45 (HHR) Saloon4 Door (1999 - 2005)    

Rover 25
Rover 25 3 door3 Door (1999 - 2005) Rover 25 (R3) 5 door5 Door (1999 - 2005)    

Rover Streetwise
Rover Streetwise 3 door3 Door (2003 - 2005) Rover Streetwise 5 door5 Door (2003 - 2005)