Facelifts are becoming rarer. Our thirst for the next big thing means that many manufacturers replace cars with no freshening at all, so the fact that this is the second major facelift for what was the 1995 Rover 200 underscores its age. So does the fact that Rover has shifted some 772,000 units, if you include Streetwises and MG ZRs. This car is popular.
MG Rover must maintain this popularity, because there’s no replacement in sight for the car. This latest update will have to do. It includes a new dashboard, new bumpers, a new grille and a fresh tailgate. All this makes the 25 look usefully more contemporary, particularly at the rear.
Revised rear suspension geometry and bushings are claimed to have sharpened its steering, and the repositioned clutch pedal, with footrest, is an improvement, although tall drivers still sit high. Brake response is improved, and there’s a sports suspension option.
Other than that, the mechanicals are unchanged — which means a range of 1.1- to 1.6-litre K-series petrol engines, and a 2.0-litre diesel. We tried the higher-powered 1.4 with 101bhp in Si trim, costing a steep £11,045 and including neither air-con nor a passenger airbag. You do get Trafficmaster’s jam alert system however: a useful aid.
The engine’s output is promising, but it must be worked hard to yield the zest its performance figures imply. Yet the 25 is not an unenjoyable drive.
Being older helps its case. Its major controls are free of the artificial mush that afflicts so many moderns, and it darts about with some zeal. It gets a bit frisky at high speeds on bumpy roads, but there is a pleasing honesty about the car, and it’s a relatively quiet cruiser, too.
The new dash is no different in terms of functionality, but it is now made of hard plastic – apart from the soft-feel cover over the (optional) passenger airbag – and its faux wood is risible. While we’re carping, the gearknob digs at your palm, and the doorbin cupholders are truly nasty.
However, it’s not impossible to ignore all this — in which case you are left with a dated supermini with friendly road manners that are mildly (but only mildly) endearing. If it cost £2000 less, it might be worth a punt.