The Rover 800 series was an executive class automobile introduced by the Austin Rover Group in 1986. It was also marketed as the Sterling in the United States.
The Rover 800 was intended as a replacement for the aging Rover SD1. The car was collaboratively developed with Honda in the early 1980s under the XX codename; the corresponding Honda version was known as the Honda Legend, and was codenamed as HX. Both were produced in the former Morris plant in Cowley, Oxfordshire.
The sharp sedan styling (a sleek hatchback (800 Fastback) version appeared in 1988) hid what was a less mechanically adventurous car than its predecessor. The basic versions of the 800 used a 2.0 L 16-valve development of BL's stalwart O-Series engine, dubbed M-Series. The top versions used a Honda designed V6 unit in 2.5 L capacity. The American-market Sterling was only available with the V6 unit, whilst the Sterling badge was used in Europe to denote the top-of-the-range versions (hence Rover Sterling).
Very much a compromised design from the start, the 800 was hampered by Honda's dogged adherence to its complex double-wishbone front suspension which could never give the 800 the executive car ride qualities which were necessary for it to compete. The 2.5 L engine lacked torque, which severely dented its driveability, whilst the 4-cylinder cars suffered from reliability problems, thanks to the fragile Lucas fuel injection systems which Rover persisted with.
Rover 800 Fastback
Early build quality of the 800 was indifferent, with disintegrating trim, malfunctioning electrics and poor paintwork. Where the car did score however, was its roomy and luxurious interior but this did not save the car from gaining an early bad reputation from which it never really recovered. A reputation for corrosion would also mar the reputation of the early 800s in later years. This also led to the second demise of Rover in the United States: the Sterling fell to the bottom of the J. D. Power survey lists there, while ironically, its twin, the Acura Legend, was found at the top, in their first year.
Things gradually improved, and by 1989, the 2.5 L engine had been enlarged to 2.7 L, the unreliable Maestro-derived instrumentation had been ditched in favour of Honda gauges and build quality had improved markedly. But it was too late to prevent the American-market version from being withdrawn after poor sales. In an attempt to field a credible contender in the smaller "repmobile" class (a class in which ARG's own Montego was struggling to compete), a budget version of the 800 using the 8-valve O-Series engine was introduced. However this model was short-lived owing to its sluggish performance.
In 1992, the 800 was given a major restyle, with a traditional Rover grille and more curvaceous bodywork. This changed the car's image overnight, and sales enjoyed a renaissance. A handsome coupe version — originally developed with the American market in mind — followed later that year. Although the 800 had fallen behind the opposition considerably (few mechanical changes were made, apart from the introduction of the KV6 engine in 1996), it was a steady seller until 1998, when it was replaced by the Rover 75.