The cars we loved.
Austin Rover Cars of North America (ARCONA) marketed the Sterling brand in America, calling it’s only model the 800 (initially). It was actually a partnership with Honda, where the 800 was a twin of the Acura Legend. The ideal was sound, have a reputable Japanese automaker partner with a British one with a not so reputable reputation to help increase it’s sales. The ideal had worked in Britain with other Hondas that were rebadged Civics, so using Honda’s top car had to be a win win situation for all parties involved.
The Legend of the time had a 2.5 L V6 that was not used, instead Rover’s own 2.5 was installed around all the other components that were directly from the Acura. Later versions called 827, used a larger Honda 2.7 L 169hp engine and were available in SL or SLi trims. The 800 one upped the Acura in that it offered a classic British luxury car interior, with Connolly leather and real wood grain trim, all wrapped in a modern exterior. The 800 also handled better on smooth roads, giving better road feel with a sport tuned suspension.
Initial sales were comparable to the Legend untill a series of quality control issues sabotaged any chance of increased future sales. Oddly enough while the 800 was anchoring the bottom end of J.D. Power’s Customer Satisfaction surveys, the legend was on top. The 800 quickly became the high end darling of the used car lot and later the buy-here-pay-here lots, as owners, fed up with electrical, paint and corrosion turned them in. Improvements were made, even a new variation featuring a fast back hatch configuration was introduced, but the damage had been done. Rover ‘s U.S. sales began to decrease progressively, even after the initial problems were corrected. Combined with the strong English currency and declining sales, Rover decided to call it a day and pulled out of the U.S. market. To this day many still associate English cars as unreliable, a stigma that Jaguar has taken a decade to escape from. fortunately for Sterling owners, parts were and are readily available at Honda and Acura dealers.
Although the association with Honda was over, the 800 evolved in Europe where it was popular. Steady improvements in build quality, ride dynamics and even it’s appearance continued until it was replaced by the Rover 75 in 1998.