When the gates were closed at Longbridge a few years ago, it really did seem like the end of the line for Rover.
Having allegedly been fleeced and then run into the ground by four rather greedy men, Rover’s future went up in smoke and with it went all sorts of perfectly good cars, one of which was the MG TF.
But last week, as if by magic, an all-new MG TF was delivered to Autocar HQ and, having been quite a fan of the original versions, I was keener than most to have a go. I wanted to know all sorts of things.
Would the build quality be any good under new Chinese ownership? Would it be anywhere near as sweet to drive as the original versions were? And would it really feel worth the £16k its new owners are asking - as much as a base MX-5?
Mechanically and visually it’s virtually unchanged from the cars that rolled down the same line at Longbridge under the previous regime. Same 1.8 K-series engine with 133bhp, same steel suspension (the TF ditched the original MGF’s Hydragas suspension when it became the TF in 2002), same compact cabin featuring the same hilariously compromised driving position.
Within a few miles I had most of the answers to most of the key questions. In many ways the new car drives better than ever. It always did have a great ride, decently accurate steering and fine mid-engined chassis balance and, as far as I could tell, things have only got better over the past couple of years. Bottom line; give me a TF over an MX-5 any day for pure driver enjoyment.
And what of the build quality? Mostly, it’s not too bad. Fundamentally the Chinese TF feels perfectly well made. It doesn’t rattle, it doesn’t squeak, and the panel gaps are fairly consistent all round. Even the cabin seems well bolted together.
But…the indicator lens on the left wing of the test car fell out after not very many miles, the elbow console felt as if it might detach itself from the car completely within the next few weeks and, as for the new instruments, they are ridiculous.
You can’t see anything of the top third of the speedometer or rev counter, and the bits you can see have been infuriatingly over-designed. They are meant to look modern, sophisticated and cool, but they are actually all but unreadable. Which isn’t cool or modern at all.
But here’s the thing; if you can look past these small but irritating faults, the MG TF is actually still a great little sports car for the money. One with an excellent mid-engined chassis that feels as sharp on the road as it ever did. I like it, and I like the fact that it exists at all. I’m also amazed and impressed that its new owners have done such a decent job. Maybe there is still a future for Rover, after all.