TF is growing old gracefully

If it still had BMW’s billions, MG Rover would have replaced the MG TF by now. Speculating on what that car would have been like is interesting: a little four-cylinder, mid-engined roadster styled, designed and fettled with a proper budget by the guys at Longbridge with support from Munich could have been a world-beater, and almost certainly a Mazda MX-5-crusher. What would it have looked like? How would it have driven?

While speculation is interesting, it’s not as interesting as jumping into a newly revised MGTF and having a blast in it – it exists, and while it’s only an update of a very old model, it’s still a decent car. The TF has been mildly tweaked for 2005, with a new design of alloy wheel, new illuminated heating and ventilation controls and new trim colours and materials, including Alcantara seats. All TFs now feature remote central locking, CD Tuner (plus MP3 on TF 160), leather steering wheel and handbrake grip, alloy gearknob and electric heated mirrors.

But more important are the revisions to the suspension. We’ve never doubted Longbridge’s excellence at chassis tuning, and you can feel the difference immediately in the new TF. Spring rates are lowered by 20 and 30 per cent front and rear respectively, and damper settings are also changed, while the front anti-roll bar diameter has increased from 19 to 21mm.

The changes have given the TF a much-improved ride quality. Sharp ridges and potholes are absorbed with real aplomb, and the body control over larger and more severe undulations is excellent. You can comfortably drive this car over pretty much any sort of road and it will remain composed and cosseting, the inherent stiffness of the chassis helping to keep the body rigid and shudder-free while the suspension does its work.

Throw it at a series of bends and the TF doesn’t disappoint, either. It rolls a little more than before and obviously feels softer, but that’s no bad thing. You can push on and enjoy yourself, safe in the knowledge that the car will drift wide into understeer when the tyres start to give up. This they do fairly early and progressively, though grip is good. The car tends to lean its bodyweight over once, then hang on – and while a sharper, harder chassis would be more appropriate for track work, there’s nothing wrong with the way this car responds as it is.

So, softer is definitely better, and it steers beautifully, too, with an accurate, direct feel. Then there’s the sweet little 1.8-litre K-series engine behind you: a delightful unit, worked through a five speed box with an excellent, instinctive short-throw shift. We drove the 135bhp version, but even with comparatively little power, it’s always egging you on, keen to be revved. It’s smooth and punchy at motorways speeds, too.

It’s easy to see why the MGTF is Britain’s best-selling sports car. For driver feel, it does the basics very well indeed, and while the cabin is outdated and the driving position cramped for taller drivers, you can’t deny that it serves up fun in bucketloads. Who needs BMW, anyway?

Bill Thomas

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