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.
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.