All right, so you don't get four-wheel drive - or indeed any kind of offroad ability - but both would in any case be largely pointless given the urban target market. Big wheels and raised suspension do at least deliver an offroader-style high driving position. And of course the aggressive front grille, mock skid plates, grey protective cladding and roof rails also give it an authentic 4X4 look. Inside, the Streetwise has its own specially-designed seating and trim treatment, with individual front and rear storage plus individual sports-style seating for four as standard, yet it retains a practical and versatile 60/40 split folding rear seat squab.
One of the first things you'll notice in the showroom is the uncompromising Volvo XC70/Audi Allroad-style front end. The Streetwise has the front bumper and grille formed in a tough unpainted grained moulding. The same resilient material, resistant to chipping and scratches, is used for the wheelarch spats, sill mouldings, side rubbing strips, rear bumper and tailgate lift handle. Beefy roof bars, securely bolted to the roof on all Streetwise models, are similar to those fitted to the Rover 75 Tourer, and accept the same kind of cross bars and carrying systems for loads up to 65 kg. As standard, unique five-spoke 16 inch alloy wheels are available from the mid range upwards but entry models must put up with 15 inch steel wheels with drilled centres and 'kerb-proof' centre hub covers. In keeping with its extrovert character, the Streetwise offers up to twelve exterior paint choices from the strongest colours in the MG Rover palette, including the vivid Trophy Yellow and Trophy Blue finishes.
Inside, there's a 'unique' four-seat configuration, with front and rear sports style individual seats. Between the rear seat cushions is a special central console with storage cubbies. Ingeniously, the folding seat squab retains the useful 60/40 split to allow four different cargo/passenger-carrying arrangements. For those needing five seats, there is the option of a normal bench rear seat, with 60/40 split folding squabs and three lap and diagonal seat belts. 'Monaco' seat fabric is used for the first two trim levels while a 'Sebring' fabric and leather seat trim with optional red or blue accents is standard on trim level 3 and optional on the others. All models feature a 'Puma' interior environment with silver accents around the switchpack.
Other special Streetwise interior design details include a new centre console with new switchpack and improved storage plus a new floor console incorporating the gear lever, window lift switches and rear ashtray. There are distinctive blue instrument graphics, and the new circular front ashtray can be transferred, if required, to the cup holder section of the door pocket.
The Streetwise, being largely based on proven Rover 25 mechanicals has yet to show any significant failings. Check that the servicing work has been done, that there's no accident damage and you should be able to land a decent car. You'll also need to ensure that previous owners haven't taken the urban tough message a little too literally and scraped the plastic cladding to death. Likewise, it's worth having a look underneath to make sure the exhaust and suspension hasn't been damaged by mounting big kerbs.
(approx. based on Streetwise 1.4S) For most parts the prices are quite reasonable and worth the money. Expect to pay around £95 for a full clutch assembly, £485 for a full exhaust system (including the catalyst), around £80 for a headlamp and up to £115 for a radiator. Brake pads cost about £55 for the front and £50 for the rear, an alternator is around £175 and a starter motor around £140.
Rover is offering the Streetwise with a selection of petrol and diesel power units, various transmissions and three trim levels. Buyers can choose the familiar twin-cam alloy 1.4 litre K Series petrol engine in both 84Ps and 103Ps tune or a 1.6-litre 109Ps unit. Then there's the 101Ps L Series turbo-diesel unit. All these come with 5 speed manual transmissions but you can opt for a CVT automatic gearbox driven by a 117Ps 1.8-litre engine if the fancy takes you. The diesel is curiously the 101bhp unit, rather than the more recently introduced 115bhp version of the same engine. Apparently, the Streetwise's high-sided stance convinced the engineers that in terms of power, less is more in terms of safety.
But is there really a market for a car like this? Well obviously, MG Rover thinks so. The company points to an increasing trend for small car buyers to seek a more 'personalised' variation in style and configuration - a kind of 'urban on-roader'. The Streetwise seems to meet this brief - robust, versatile and stylish, a small car that's fun to drive, handy in traffic, easy to park and able to shrug off hard use by active individuals and young families. It has elements of the SUV appeal, with good ground clearance and ruggedness, but without the costs and complexity of 4x4 transmission. At the same time, it offers decent all-round performance and capability out of town, from motorways to farm tracks.
The Rover Streetwise is cheap, well built and, superficially at least, modern in appeal. The underpinnings may be a little creakier but it's nevertheless an enjoyable car to drive. One of the benefits of a very long development history is that most niggling faults tend to get ironed out. If you want family hatch space for citycar money, the Streetwise is a good looking option. One caveat, however. Don't be offended if some of your friends may not agree.