19 May 2011

Did the Rover Streetwise set a trend?

When new, it was widely dismissed of being a Rover 25 with a lukewarm makeover. Ironically, the Streetwise has been an influence on other car manufacturers.

ROVER gave the 25 a makeover in 2003 to freshen it up. With unpainted matt black bumpers, flared wheel arches, a roof rack, sitting slightly higher with bigger wheels, and an utilitarian interior. An attempt to attract younger buyers to the Rover marque.

The Streetwise may look like it was designed to go off-road with higher ground clearance. Don't be fooled by that, as it doesn't have four-wheel-drive or a low ratio gear box. Forget about any differentials or winches. Mechanically, it's identical to the 25 it's based on. In short, not a car for climbing mountains.

MG Rover's marketing people advertised the car an 'urban on-roader'. Coming from a young driver like myself. I cannot see it appeal to someone who are in their late teens or twenties. That would get them to drive a Streetwise; nevermind go out and buy one. A Rover to young drivers, would generally be seen as a social stigma because their grandparents have one.

With the cars on sale from MG Rover, there was the MG ZR that appealed to younger drivers. With loud paint colours, big wheels, spoilers, bodykits, exhausts and a bit more go. That's what they liked and that's what they bought. So why did MGR make the Streetwise?

MGR may have said it was a car to try and grab younger buyers as I said at the beginning. To get more younger people leaving the showrooms in a Rover. It was really masking a bigger problem that MGR were in. They were making losses from sales on the decline and they were riddled with mounting debts. MGR were really desperate to sell more cars to make ends meet.

The 25 and ZR siblings sold well, the Streetwise didn't in its two year life in production. Rover even gave some away to be prizes on game shows. Suggesting that they didn't exactly sell like hot cakes. History will treat it as an automotive flop.

The Rover Streetwise may not have been a successful car that many people warmed to. Nor being particularly a ground-breaking one full of innovations. It did create a new niche of urban-proof cars. The Streetwise did inspire other car manufacturers to make 'tougher' more 'urban proof' versions of their bread and butter cars.

The Volkswagen Polo Dune, Skoda Fabia Scout and the Citroën C3 XTR (pictured below) to name some examples, were quite simply imitations of the Rover Streetwise. Evidence that the Streetwise was a trend setter or (dare I say it) ahead of its time.

Bit of a coincidence that Citroën's C3 XTR was inspired from the Streetwise don't you think?

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