The headline said, very simply, “MGF-ing marvellous”. It was one of the great car magazine cover lines of the era and, although it didn’t appear on the front of Autocar but instead on the front of one of our rivals, I’ll never forget the way it looked on the shelves.
It captured all that was good and cheerful and right about the brand-new MGF. When I drove the MGF over the North Yorkshire moors for the road test, I realised that the world of sports cars had become different from that day on.
Nearly 14 years later, I found myself sitting behind the badly positioned steering wheel of another new MG sports car, made on the same production line as the original but this time under Chinese ownership. And guess what? I felt the same sense of occasion, the same range of thrills as I did way back then.
The amazing discovery is that, even today, it still feels fresh and relevant and unusual in its personality.
To be honest I’d expected the Chinese-made MG TF to feel like a car from another era, a shed from yesteryear that deserves no place on our roads in 2009.
The cheapest shot in the book would be to rubbish the new MG TF, to say that it has no more power, no more performance, no more space and provides no more thrills than a secondhand MGF.
That would be inappropriate for two reasons. One, you can do that to pretty much any new car at any end of the price spectrum and it is never relevant or interesting. Two, the new car is actually miles better than the old timer in a surprisingly large number of ways – even in the way it’s built – and so comparing them directly is a bit like saying tea is better than coffee.
Okay, there are also lots of ways in which the new MG TF disappoints. Its cabin remains a fairly dismal place in which to find yourself, the build quality is not where it should be and the price is steep, even if it does reflect an unusually high spec that includes air-con and a hard-top.
Fundamentally, though, the MG TF is still a great handling sports car with a bespoke mid-engined chassis that paints a smile from one ear to the other of whoever happens to climb aboard (so long as you aren’t much over six feet tall). That makes it unique at the price, just as the MGF was back in the day.