REVIEW DATE: 16 Sep 2010
The re-born MG TF makes most sense in basic 135 guise. Jonathan Crouch checks it out.
Though today's Chinese-sourced MG TF is little different to the old British version, it's still a fun steer if you're looking for an affordably-priced roadster. The original version offered here looked pricey but that's been rectified by the additional availability of this identically-engined TF 135 entry-level model. Can it still take on more modern alternatives? Let's find out.
The lines closed at Longbridge in 2005 and a tear or two were shed as the British volume car manufacturing industry breathed its last. Foreign brands continue to run car building operations on these shores and now MG must be grouped together with them. Following the demise of MG Rover, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) stepped in to snap up MG and now a part of the Longbridge factory is alive again, assembling the parts for the MG TF LE500 as they arrive from China.
The roots of this car go back quite a way - all the way in fact to the original MGF, which made its debut on the British market in 1995. Evolution saw the car recreated as the MG TF prior to MG Rover's demise in 1995 but in 2009, it made a welcome return to our shores. The Chinese in the shape of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) had stepped in to snap up MG in its death throws and today, a part of the old Birmingham Longbridge factory is alive again, assembling the parts for Oriental MG TFs as they arrive from China. The first cars to be offered were pricey but well equipped LE500 variants which looked rather expensive compared to more modern competitors but this TF 135 seems a much tighter proposition.
Whichever MG TF you buy, it'll have the same 134bhp Rover K Series engine, a unit that has quite a history having found its way into some diverse cars down the years. Everything from Rover saloons to trackday specials from Lotus and Caterham. There's still something to be said for it when mid-mounted in this car and it still has enough about it to take you from rest to sixty in 8.4s on the way to 127mph.
"If you didn't catch this car first time round and you want to buy a new roadster on a budget, then this one could just be worth a second look.."
Doubts have been expressed about this powerplant's long term reliability down the years but SAIC claim to have made modifications to the unit designed to stave off any problems. It's certainly a charismatic engine that revs highly and sounds pleasant in the TF with the hood down on a summer's day. The TF has always had a relatively high seating position for a compact roadster and that's carried over into the latest version. Otherwise, the weighty steering and gear change give the car a certain old-school charm. The handling of the TF has always been enjoyable and little is likely to have changed over time. The car rides quite firmly but feels nimble in its preferred habitat of twisting B-roads.
The changes made to this Chinese-sourced TF aren't easy to spot. This looks like an MG TF from the MG Rover days but that's nothing to get too disheartened about as the car's classic roadster proportions and clean lines still hold water - if that isn't an unfortunate term to connect to a car with a folding fabric roof. If you actually want to take down the TF's manually-operated hood, there's a simple series of steps to go through but putting it up again in a hurry could be more straightforward. The interior of the TF lets the side down a little as despite the addition of a few modern trim materials, it does feel dated. Build quality isn't too shabby and the car is as practical as a two-seater convertible is likely to get but the switchgear and design of the TF lags behind more modern products.
This entry-level MG TF 135 isn't as well equipped of course as its pricier LE500 stablemate but you don't lose out too much. Front fog lights, tinted glass, large diameter twin stainless steel round tailpipes, that foldable black fabric hood with its tinted glass rear screen and heated rear window, a tonneau cover and 'V spoke' alloy wheels are all standard. In fact, pretty much all you lose by not paying over £2,500 more for the LE500 model is a body-coloured hardtop, rear parking sensors and smarter alloy wheels. As for rivals, well the only comparable car at this price point is the Mazda MX-5 which has the edge on the TF in most of the areas that matter. But - and it's a big but - the Japanese car is nearly £3,500 more. That's a large difference.
Emissions and fuel economy weren't the major issues they are today back when the MG TF was in its pomp. It performs adequately from this perspective but its 35.8mpg economy and 185g/km emissions will make it relatively pricey to run.
We pointed out when we first tried this car that it still had something to offer but that it was most likely to succeed as a budget roadster competing at the lower end of the market. Which is exactly the proposition being offered by this entry-level TF 135 variant. It's good looking and fun to drive for thousands less than a comparable Mazda MX-5. If you didn't catch this car first time round and you want to buy a new roadster on a budget, then this one could just be worth a second look.
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