The R8 – A worthy legend or lucky to be amongst such bad rivals?

From the Potato’s Sack

There is a place in our hearts here at MacDroitwich that will always belong to the R8 Rover 200/400 Series.

I have blogged previously about just how fantastic I find this glorious range of cars yet I do find myself questioning just how good they actually were.

My reasons for doing so are quiet simple really; 1. whenever we get into discussions about the R8 and talk about it’s rivals, we find it so easy to dismiss virtually every one of them and 2. despite the fact almost a million R8s were made, so few remain (and I’m not just talking about now, they’ve been disappearing massively for the last 10 years).

So let’s look at the rivals first; starting with the Escort. Ford replaced one of the UK’s best-selling cars with one of the most uselessly powered, under-developed cars seen before or since. A major bollock-dropped.

Vauxhall’s Astra, again a good seller had just been subject to a very minor facelift shortly after the launch of the R8 that did little to lift it to the same levels of quality or refinement that had been set by Rover, the Astra F that followed in 1991 felt a big step away from this, yet still struggled to match the R8.

Then there was Renault. It’s recently released 19 range had replaced the 9 & 11 and, despite being built to decidedly ‘French’ standards, rather than those that Rover had set the bar at, was a competent car, escpecially as you went up the range.

It’s a similar story with Citroen and their ZX model, the Volcane and GTI were a glorious thing, the versatility of the estate model giving particular cause for concern too, as Rover’s 400 tourer set itself more as competition for the Alfa 33 Sportwagon, BMW 3-series Touring and the like, rather than for the lower-end of the market occupied by the ZX.

Peugeot were in the unfortunate position that the 309 was beginning to feel very out-dated and the 306 was still 2-3 years away. Once the 306 did arrive however, this proved itself to be worthy competition to the 200/400, even if indirectly.

There are similar stories throughout every brand you look at; the VW Golf in MkII and MkIII form had strong followings, regardless of their obvious flaws – lacklustre performance and rust being but two; the Volvo 440/460 range was another, hampered by it’s engine range – borrowed in-part from Renault – and also held back by it’s handling and it’s price-tag.

The Fiat Tipo, Nissan Sunny, Toyota Corolla and Mazda 323 all formed part of a disappointing field of runners & riders that, it could be said, helped galvanise the image of the R8 whether justified, or not.

Now I’m not saying that the R8 doesn’t deserve it’s reputation. The K-series, at time of release, was a revelation. The build quality and fit and finish was a class above the rivals. It looked fantastic, drove superbly and evolved into a diverse range that offered economy or scorching performance, brought hatchbacks, coup├ęs, saloons, estates and cabriolets and a choice of gearboxes. A real range.

No, I’m saying that perhaps, had there been better competition out there, then maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t have felt as good.

That brings me on to the second point; is the survival-rate down to the fact that, once better alternatives DID come about, was it worth saving them anymore?

The R8 was the most successful car since British Leyland days in terms of volume, yet at a time when other brands where thriving, I hope, it was because of the positives that it possessed, rather than the flawed crap it had to compete with – I’m much happier thinking that it was.

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