Doesn't feel new enough to challenge the MX-5

What is it?

This is the reborn MG TF, fresh from MG’s Chinese owner, assembled at the Longbridge factory from parts largely sourced from China and featuring the lightest of makeovers.

The revisions consist of a new front bumper and grille assembly, a modernised main instrument pack, an engine that’s been cleaned up to meet Euro4 emissions and modified in (yet another) quest to cure this lightweight motor of its infamously weak headgasket.

Improved hood sealing is said to reduce water leaks, another sporadic MGF/TF problem, and parking sensors are now an option.

Those radar sensors are standard on this introductory LE500 model, which comes with the bulk of the options MG Rover used to offer on the TF for more than £6000 less than they would have cost at the time. 

Don’t think that you’ll be driving a car of huge sophistication as a result, though.

Three years ago, when MG Rover went under, air conditioning was an option, as was the LE’s hardtop, leather trim, metallic paint and a bundle of other cosmetic features.

There’s an expensive stereo – an aftermarket Pioneer, whose absurdly small buttons must be the reason for providing a remote control unit in one of the smallest cockpits on the market today – the pedals are alloy and many of the decorative interior mouldings that were once silver are now piano black.

What’s it like?

If you’ve ever sat in a TF, or an MGF, this interior will seem very familiar, right down to a wheel that can only be adjusted for rake, those sunvisors extended by flimsy-looking flaps and the fake allen bolts around the gear lever.

Much of the interior looks old – which it is – and even cheaper than it did when new, partly because that was so long ago.

Still, the new instrument pack – apparently under development at MG Rover when it went down – looks good.

It includes an orange bar graph temperature gauge and even a gearlever change-up light, though the strained sounds emerging from behind your back during the final 500rpm assault to the 7000rpm limiter makes this fairly unnecessary. The absent sixth gear would be useful.

Not a promising start, then. Yet it’s hard not to enjoy actually driving the TF. With only 133bhp it’s not terribly brisk, especially for a sports car. It’s also confined inside and far from quiet. But it’s fun.

The engine, now redubbed ‘N’ Series, sounds eager - even if the only way it will torch asphalt is by self-immolating - the gearlever can be shifted with more accuracy than its rubbery movements suggest, and this compact little car darts about with the kind of zeal that goads you into pushing it harder.

The electric power steering, among the very earliest of the breed, offers more feel than plenty of modern set-ups, and you also get plenty of feedback through the (cheaply) leathered seat.

This latest TF runs the softer standard suspension of the previous MG Rover edition (a good decision; the old sport set-up was far too firm) but the car rides on the bigger, lower-profile 16in rims, producing a compromise set-up that generally works well.

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On some potholes the suspension clatter slightly, but most of the time this car rides with a suppleness that has you wondering whether its still suspended with the MGF’s Hydragas spheres.

But it’s not, and the steel suspension’s occasionally less absorptive capabilities can be exposed on a bucking B-road.

Push the TF hard and it understeers, and without kicking out its engine-heavy tail if you lift off. It’s good, safe stuff from a potentially treacherous mid-engined layout that does without the protections of ESP.

The keen will wish the tail kicked with more ease, but this disappointment does little to prevent this car being a surprisingly satisfying, if somewhat crude, steer down an English country lane, where its lack of bulk is a major advantage.

Should I buy one?

Unless you’re a completist MG collector, probably not. And certainly not with a price tag that puts it into contention with a Mazda MX-5 one generation on from the model extant when the TF fell into hibernation.

Eager demeanour and amusing handling apart, this MG has a lot less going for it now other than the curiosity of driving a car that has been reincarnated.

Its prospects might be improved if the mainstream model is significantly cheaper; a base price of £12,500 would suddenly make it very attractive.

Longbridge will need to improve quality too. The pre-production car we drove had an abysmally fitted passenger door, paint flaking from the front bumper, a rear tonneau cover that part-snapped free at 85mph, carpet quality of the kind you used to find in base Metros and possibly the nastiest key (inherited from the old F) supplied with any new car on sale today.

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MGfan 26 October 2008

Re: MG TF LE500

The MX5 is just an updated version, not a new car either, and the ride and handling not really up to the older MGTF, I would definately buy a good used MGTF, but not an MX5, the new MGTF and has some very good points, and it is not expensive compared to the MX5 . Improvements will come with production and I hope that they produce and sell enough cars, which they deserve , to establish car manufacture on a reasonable scale, I have owned and competed in MG`s in the past, and never been disapointed, unlike the Mazda`s I`ve owned

skwdenyer 1 September 2008

Re: MG TF LE500

Honest Paul wrote:

skwdenyer wrote:
I'll definitely consider buying one


How about a barely used MGTF for 6k?

A loaded '07 MX5 for the same 12-13k that you quote for a new 'base' LE500?

Or a low miles Elise, if low weight really is your thing?

With respect, by your logic, nobody would ever buy a new car. Clearly that isn't the case. The only discussion worth having is one where we compare the options available to those who have chosen - for whatever reason - to buy new. That is the market.

As to your specific points:

  • The Elise is too wide for the roads I wish to drive it on, has too poor a hood, no luggage space, and so on.
  • The '07 MX-5 is too long IMHO for the interior space provided, and is not a mid-engined car (so offers a different dynamic experience).
If they still made them, I'd have a Suzuki Capuccino or a Smart Roadster, but those are not options any longer.
skwdenyer 1 September 2008

Re: MG TF LE500

LINGsCARS wrote:

Sorry, but really... making a car in China should be substantially cheaper (than UK). Compare it to making cars in Japan or Korea.

Sorry, Ling, but why? And please ensure you consider the cost of delivering a manufactured car to a UK customer, not just the cost of making it in the first place.

The MG TF is NOT being made in China. The body-in-white is being made in China AFAIK and being transported here. Some components are being made in China, too. But assembly is taking place in the UK.

Shipping costs (by sea) are as much related to volume as to weight - the weight (within reason) is fairly irrelevant, as the sea looks after propping that bit up, but the volume of the ship is fixed.

Therefore shipping cars, or shells, from China to the UK is not a cheap proposition. Since you can't really fill up the shell with, say, wheat, you're shipping a lot of air. That makes it very expensive, even though higher-value items (such as engines) can be put in the ship, too.

Meanwhile, Chinese manufacturers are paying more-or-less world prices for steel (in fact, their demand is driving up world steel prices), so a body-in-white operation is not going to be able to save money there. Wages in China are lower, of course, but a combination of lower productivity and rapid Chinese inflation (despite the scandalous way in which "we" have allowed the Chinese government to manipulate the exchange rate), coupled with the shipping costs mentioned above, means that the labour component of a shell at the factory gate in Longbridge is not going to be any cheaper than a UK-produced shell.

Couple this to the state of sterling at the moment, and I'd be surprised if there was any real difference in price.

LINGsCARS wrote:
I would be interested to know what % of the parts (bumpers/bits etc) are still make in the UK by all the local producers around Birmingham - hardly any I would guess. I would suggest that a high proportion of the bits bolted to these cars are left-over from the UK production, still stacked high in Longbridge.

Well, I'm not sure you're on-the-money there. MGR production stopped because suppliers of key components stopped supplying. The Administrators brought in a small workforce to hand-build as many cars as they could from remaining component stocks. What was left will largely have been taken up with pilot production on the Chinese lines.

In any case, we're not talking about nailing together a handfull of spare-parts cars, we're talking about re-starting production - thousands of cars. The prices have to sustain the actual costs of manufacture.

LINGsCARS wrote:
As the production lines have been ripped from Longbridge and taken to China, I guess it is a hand-built finishing of the MG shells brought from China, using whatever pile of bits is in the corner - not a "built" car. Compare this line to Nissan at Sunderland, it will be a joke set-up.

Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story:) The MG TF line never left Longbridge. The R75 track is also still there, minus one or two finishing stations which went to China. The MG TF assembly was largely hand work in any case - IIRC the only robot was to install the windscreen. I don't know if it is still there.

MGR didn't make the MG TF shells - they were bought in from Stadco (who took over from Mayflower). The nature of the operation at Longridge hasn't changed all that much, I'd say, just the source of some of the parts.

Nissan Sunderland is a very different scale of operation. It does not bear comparison. Most low-volume "mass" producers often don't produce their own shells. Nissan Sunderland started out as a CKD operation, with local content gradually increasing over time. We can hope the same will be true for Longbridge 2.0.

LINGsCARS wrote:
I still say that the UK "production" is a glorified way of wrapping the car in a Union Jack abroad (China), maybe clever timing now the Beijing Olympic madness has transferred to UK pubicity in China. As China's luxury-goods market grows, there is a demand for anything less utilitarian than a 5 door Corsa or Polo, for middle class people with money over there. There are few affordable "sporty" cars.

I don't disagree. But you didn't bid to take over MGR, nor did I, nor did anybody else of any merit. If the Chinese are the only ones for whom this is worthwhile economically, welcome to the new world order - after all, you can come to the UK and sell us cars (and rocket launchers?), so where is the difference?

LINGsCARS wrote:
Time will tell in the UK, but dealer demos and die-hards will make up this 500 car run, then what? I cannot see a replacement on the horizon for a long time. It's a ready-made "copy" for the SAIC/NAG people, without it being a copy, remarkably it is original. But... too original for the UK? You would have expected at least a small amount of development. I will wait for contract-hire residuals. No one has offered me this MG yet, to sell, which must say something?

I don't think NAC/SAIC are really chasing your type of operation at the moment - UK production is slated at only a few thousand for the time being. After that? Well, who knows. They've committed in public to a four-model lineup. They have platforms and technology, and (most of) a production track at Longbridge to build up to 120K or so cars per year. There are designs and engineering that they inherited from MGR for a two-model follow-up to the MG TF (new midget using a variant of the existing shell, larger F/TF based on a very heavily modified platform stretch from the existing model), for instance. If they can keep the production costs down, those have potential.

LINGsCARS wrote:
Honestly, things seem to have stood still with this car. Of course they cannot sell hydragas rubbish in China, who could repair it?

Nobody, but not because Hydragas was "rubbish", but because Dunlop ceased manufacture in (IIRC) 2006 of Hydragas units and scrapped the tooling.

LINGsCARS wrote:
And the Chinese will be good at knocking out new instrument panels. Much else, not so good. They are still copying like mad, look at the Kung-Fu Panda, the "Peri", hahaha. The Italians are going beserk Mamma Mia, and X5 and Smartie car copies are rife and banned in the EU due to legal issues.

Well, Ling, you came here from China, copied the US model of selling cars, and have made good money at it. I fear you're in the glasshouse throwing stones if you criticise your conuntrymen for copying. Where is your innovation, beyond parking a missile truck at the side of the road?

If you look at the history of car manufacturing nations, the model you describe - copy, improve, evolve, innovate - is the common thread. Even BMW started by making copies of the Austin 7, as did at least one Japanese manufacturer. Hyundai started with a knock-off Ford Cortina, India with the Morris Oxford, and so on. Are you somehow decrying the Germans, the Japanese, and now the Indians (who're buying up western companies at a rate of knots) for having started by making copies?

I really am a little staggered by the whole thrust of your views here!