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Click to view picture gallery“MG’s racy-looking
  TF was voted the
  ‘Most Beautiful Car
  in the World’ by
  Italian designers.
  More importantly,
  it’s a real fun drive”

WAITING FOR YOU, top already down, the TF looks a sexy little minx. Our test car was finished in a delightful shade of light metallic blue called Monogram Mirage with a dark blue hood that complemented the TF's polished design and low stance.

Sharp 'four-slot' frontal styling with triple projector light headlamps give it a 'let's get going' air underscored by smart multi-spoke alloys on low profile rubber and red racing front callipers. At the rear there's a neat spoiler incorporated into the boot lid with an integral LED brake light. Twin chromed exhaust pipes exit through squared-off housings that echo those of the front fog lamps.

Well, it looks cheeky and fun. But is it streetworthy? Four versions are offered, from the entry-level 1.6-litre 115 through to the range-topping 1.8-litre 160 model reviewed here. All versions come with a standard five-speed manual gearbox. There is also one automatic, the 120 Stepspeed (click here for MotorBar's review).

To become an MG TF owner costs from as little as 15,812. The 160 VVC tested here will set you back 20,295 on-the-road. Standard kit includes electric speed-sensitive power steering, driver's airbag, power windows, tinted glass, part-leather sports seats, ABS, 16-inch eleven-spoke alloy wheels, MG/AP Racing front brakes with ventilated discs and red callipers, single slot Kenwood CD/radio, remote central locking and a volumetric alarm.

The TF's mid-mounted K Series engine is installed transversely and drives the rear wheels. On the road the 160 proves to be an immensely enjoyable drive, with secure handling as sharp as its nose and limpet-like grip from the wide, low-profile Goodyear Eagle F1s (195/45 front; 215/40 rear). The TF is some 20 per cent stiffer than its predecessor — which makes a good platform for its independent coil spring suspension (double wishbone front; multi-link rear) — and there's certainly no hint of scuttle shake even on the uneven surfaces of some British roads.

It's true that the TF can feel, well, lively over the rougher roads where it does tend to bounce, but it's part of the fun and it doesn't
deviate from the driver's chosen line. Don't be put off — you get used to it because one of the TF's charms is 'feeling the road'. Our advice is to go for more than one test drive in all conditions.

Noise levels with the roof down are low and even topless the interior stays particularly cosy, especially if you raise the windstop that simply flips into place whether the top's up or down. At £212 it's well worth mentioning this option. With the manual hood raised — a quick and easy task — the TF is a genuine all-weather performer. We encountered some pretty torrential rain during our test along with the sunshine and the soft-top was good looking and perfectly watertight — important if you intend to use it as all-year-round transport.

Neither wind nor road noise is noticeably intrusive with the soft-top in place. Incidentally, lowering the hood can be carried out without leaving your seat: just release the two header clamps and push it back. The optional 1,150 hard-top (with a heated glass rear window) not only enhances the TF's well-groomed lines but makes a useful winter alternative.

The 160 TF doesn't hang around: its 157bhp is good for a maximum speed of 137mph, and 60mph comes up in a pretty rapid 6.9 seconds. For most drivers this will be fast enough. More important than
top speed and off-the-line sprinting is mid-range acceleration in the
50-70mph band. The TF's 128lb ft of torque comes in handy here,
with ample power on hand for short, sharp bursts of overtaking.

The variable valve control, DOHC 4-valves-per-cylinder 1,796cc
K Series power unit is eager, revving sweetly and with a crisp throttle response that lets you exploit it to the full. It's also flexible, pulling cleanly from low down in the higher gears and it's as undemanding to drive in town as it is on the motorway.

The speed-sensitive steering responds quickly and keeps you informed of what's happening up front while contributing towards the TF's relaxed high-speed cruising. The five-speed manual 'box comes with a tight shift pattern but, as with all of the TF's controls, as long as you're precise the well-sited short-throw gearlever will snick satisfyingly into place every time. The all-metal gearknob lends weight to the throw but on cold mornings you'll need your gloves! Once it's warmed up it adds a pleasantly tactile edge to your changes.

While the TF is more than happy to pootle around town, in 160 guise
it definitely responds in kind to a hard drive, giving back as good as it gets. And if you're planning on using the horn you'd better pop down to Halfords first for a set of air-horns — something that better suits the TF's racy lines than the standard single tone that sounds so out of place.

And, unlike some mid-engined sports cars, there's not a devil lurking behind your back just waiting to catch you out if you're just a little too enthusiastic. Handling has been liberally touched by the 'faithful stick' and unless you go completely over the top the TF just shrugs its pretty little shoulders, tucks in its pert nose, squats down tight and holds to your chosen line. When you call on them, the 304mm ventilated AP Racing brakes are rock solid, pulling the 160 down from speed without penalty.

Inside there are no door pockets but the glovebox is lockable and there are two lidded storage cubbies, neither of which is lockable. But then putting the top up is quick so it's not a problem. You'll also find a limited amount of space behind the seats — enough for a very slim bag or some magazines. The engine is behind your back and behind that is the 210-litre regular-shaped boot. Although it's not huge, it is bigger than you'd expect to find in a mid-engined, soft-top sports car. So you and your companion won't have to travel too light for those fun weekends away. And you can always make use of the extra room for oddments in the nose, alongside the spare wheel and ancillaries.

Most drivers will fit behind the wheel but as it only adjusts for rake
you need to optimise your driving position using the supportive sport seat's fore/aft and backrest adjustments. Average build drivers will
find a snug driving position but tall drivers may find themselves sitting too high. On the plus side, the TF's compact dimensions benefit the car's handling and placement and there's a small but handy left foot-rest that's comfortable on motorway trips.

There's a one-shot down facility on the driver's electric window. Standard upholstery is part-leather and there's also a classic chrome ashtray you can appreciate even if you don't smoke. All dials have easy to read black-on-white graphics and are well-sited, while the Kenwood CD ensures good sounds sound good!

Another major plus-point is the fuel consumption. Even driven hard
the TF is no gas-guzzler. We saw a respectable 36mpg overall return for very mixed driving. MG state a 49.6mpg extra-urban figure and we've seen 46+ on other 160s we've tested. Given the TF's sub-seven second zero to sixty time and near 140mph top speed, that's impressive. Around town the official figure is 26.7mpg.

Service intervals are 15,000 miles or 12 months, whichever occurs the soonest, so core running costs shouldn't prove a stumbling block to TF ownership. And if you're lucky enough to run one on the company you'll be pleased to know that CO2 emissions are also low, at just 179g/km.

Safetywise, the TF boasts an excellent Euro NCAP 4-star occupant and class-leading 3-star pedestrian rating. An airbag for your passenger is an option, at £275.

There will always be buyers who are drawn to the TF for no reason other than its MG heritage. There's nothing wrong with that — the MG TF is a sports car that's worthy of the octagonal badge. A competent, fun drive and a lot of people love it. And there aren't many affordable sports cars you can say that about. But that's certainly not the only reason to buy one. Do it because the TF pleases you. Interestingly, the TF is actually bought almost equally by men and women — 51 per cent male/49 per cent female.

Decision time. Should you buy one? Well, the TF not only looks a 'quick car' but in 160 spec it is a quick car. None of its rivals is as stylish, and none wears a more evocative badge. Quick, fun and it's an MG. Makes spending your money easy, doesn't it?

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MG TF 160 1.8 VVC
| £20,295
Maximum speed: 137mph | 0-60mph: 6.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 36mpg | Power: 157bhp | Torque: 128lb ft
Visit MG's website Click to go there now

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- MG TF 160