When the MG F launched in the autumn of 1995, it was met with much excitement from sports car enthusiasts. Being the first new car under the MG marque since the B of 1980, expectations were high.
On 18 December 1996, slightly more than a year on from the car’s launch, Autocar’s Allan Muir gave his verdict on 10,000 miles in the F.
“No matter what we end up thinking of the MG F, we should all be celebrating the fact that Rover has built this car at all,” Muir began.
“For years we’ve been crying out for an affordable British roadster to pick up where the MGB left off, and here it is – an all-new design with a pukka mid-engined layout, a terrifically rigid chassis, rear-wheel drive and state-of-the-art engines.”
The car’s modernity brought its benefits, too. “The MG F puts as much emphasis on refinement, comfort and user-friendliness as it does on the driving experience,” Autocar proclaimed. “No longer do you need to be a hardened enthusiast or have the patience of a saint to put up with the hassles previously associated with an open-top car.”
The F that our man had been testing was the more sporting 1.8-litre VVC-engined model, costing £19,940.
Two options were fitted to the car. Firstly, the "marvellous" pearlescent Amaranth paint, at £315, which “appeared to change colour depending on the light”, and secondly the £1095 glassfibre hard-top roof, an option that was taken up by around half of buyers.
So, how had Autocar’s long-term tester found the car after 10,000 miles?
“Apart from the inherent enjoyment to be had from driving with the roof down, it’s the 143bhp engine that really makes the MG F. It has enough power to propel the car along at a decent pace and hide the wideness of the gear ratios – both problems with the basic [1.6-litre] 118bhp car,” Muir began.
Not only was the 1.8 engine in Autocar’s F "fruity sounding", but it was also more free-revving for its mileage, and gave a respectable 33mpg average fuel economy.
It was practical, too: “Although the cabin is quite narrow, it's easy to enter and exit and is a comfortable place for two people to spend time, while the boot is big enough for squishy bags.”
Being a Rover Group car, though, there were some inevitable pitfalls.
“The main source of frustration is the heater and ventilation system, which has proved painfully inefficient,” we lamented, because “the demister is slow to clear the windscreen and the temperature control seems to consist solely of maximum heat (which soon sears the eyeballs) or cold. Visibility is restricted for too long on cold mornings.”
In fact, our man found driving with the soft-top up to be the least desirable mode.
Then it was onto the roadster’s looks.
“’Pretty’ is the adjective that springs to mind,” said Muir. “The MG F is a little effeminate and lacking in aggression for my liking. It’s at its best in wacky colours like that of our car, and on the five-spoke alloys.” The hard-top was one of the best looking of its type, too.
Two things went wrong during the car's time with us: a rattling hard-top, which had a new seal fitted under warranty, and a restrictive air intake hose on the engine, which was replaced with a harder one by MG, free of charge.
Most important for a car like the F, however, were the driving dynamics. The MG wasn’t all rosy, though: “Rover has trodden a safe path with the MG F’s handling,” we began. “It behaves more like a front-drive hatchback than a mid-engined roadster.
“By most standards, the MG F is a pleasant-handling car. Its rigid chassis resists scuttle shake to an impressive degree, while grip and poise are hard to fault.
“However, a combination of too much weight, sluggish turn-in and unwavering understeer can make it feel a little unwieldy on twisty roads. And all the major controls – steering, brakes, gearshift and so on – feel heavily damped and remote, not involving the driver enough.”
It wasn’t amazing on the motorway, either, with the driver needing to make lots of small corrections to keep it in a straight line. “Throw in the fact that the engine is working quite hard at motorway speeds and that the car isn’t as quiet as a tin-top and the MG F can be a demanding companion on long motorway hauls,” we said.
Overall, though, it was an enjoyable car, with Muir concluding: “A pleasant and mostly undemanding way to enjoy open-top motoring, but it needs more attention to detail. Rover has declared its intention to develop the MG F. Yet more good news for roadster fans.”
Develop it they did, with the car being upgraded to Mk2 guise in 1999, before its eventual replacement in 2002 with the launch of the TF.