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MG TF LE500

Click to view picture galleryLike a Phoenix, the MG brand has
  risen from the ashes. Now you can
  buy an enjoyable piece of British
  history for 16K — or just 14K if you
  have an old banger to trade in under
  the ‘scrappage package
...

BIRMINGHAM-BASED MG MOTOR UK has signed up for the 2,000 Scrappage Scheme which belatedly struggled into life on 18 May. So expect long-term lovers of the MG brand to be looking to trade in their Maestros, Metros, Midgets, Montegos, unrestored MGBs and MGB GTs, early MGFs, TFs and perhaps ZR, ZS and ZT saloons.

Of course, owners of other older non-MG cars will also be making their way to one of the 45 UK MG dealerships to buy the last few remaining TF LE500s priced at a more than acceptable 14,055 after the 2,000 'scrappage' rebate. Or perhaps MG customers will be placing orders for the new and also well-priced, attractively-equipped TF 135 which costs a tempting 13,511. Another two grand off that should definitely generate a smile. Later in the summer, the highly-spec'd MG TF 85th anniversary model will go on sale at 15,664 (or 13,664 with the scrappage allowance).

Getting behind the wheel of a re-engineered and rejuvenated MG was a trip down memory lane, although the mid-engined rear-wheel drive TF is vastly different in the handling and ride comfort department from the MGBs and MGB GTs of old.

Not knowing what to expect from the TF LE500 experience prior to its arrival I have to admit I was reasonably impressed. The TF has a classic modern sports car design, mid-engined for near perfect balance and rear-wheel drive for relatively sharp handling.

The 1.8-litre 133bhp petrol engine is very willing and very well matched to a five-speed manual gearbox. The gear ratios are well chosen to give responsive acceleration yet also serve up relaxed performance in top gear. Cruising at motorway speeds is smooth and quiet considering the engine is positioned right behind the two seats. In performance terms, the TF is more of a cruiser than a modern, needle-sharp handling sports car such as the Mazda MX-5, which quickly filled the gap in the market after the demise of the original MG TF back in 2005.

The 'new' TF's ride is much more accomplished than that of the previous TF and the new Chinese owners, through their UK-based R&D department, have done a good job on the suspension upgrades and reconfiguration. At the front are double wishbones, coil springs and gas filled dampers with an anti-roll bar. At the rear is a four-link system with coil springs, dampers and anti-roll bar. The steering is electronic power assisted and is light and easy to use at all speeds without being vague. And the brakes are progressive and well balanced.

The interior of the LE500 is very familiar and there are still control stalks, switches and the general cockpit layout to bring MG memories flooding back. The classic style MG seats are comfortable and there is even the chrome-plated centre ashtray. Instruments are modern MG and bring the car up to date in a retro sort of way. The ignition key — not one of those modern chunky ones — is old-school Leyland: very slim and thin, and was showing signs of bending and twisting from use. Mainly, I suspect, wear-and-tear from it being needed to open and turn the fuel filler cap.

The position of the pedals is not perfect and perhaps the seats are positioned a bit too high in the car but the headroom is still good enough even for six-footers. The steering column only adjusts for height, not reach, because the age of the TF's initial design does actually limit what can be done with this body in the way of modernisation. There is the usual manually-operated fold-black canvas roof with heated rear window and wind-blocker. A hard top is also available.

One of the limitations of the TF's design is the lack of luggage space. Being a mid-engine layout only allows for a pretty small rear boot with just 210 litres of space — just about enough for two small overnight bags. There is a bit more storage space provided by a rear parcel shelf and there is a secure lockable glovebox. The TF has quite a long bonnet — somewhere I would have expected to find more load space but no; this area is filled by the full-sized (good news!) spare wheel and the battery.

Other fixtures and fittings include 16-inch alloy wheels with low profile tyres, ABS braking, air conditioning, parking distance sensors, colour coded bumpers, alloy gear lever and foot pedals, a sound system with six speakers (although the unit looks an aftermarket fitting rather than the latest integrated ones), black interior upholstery and leather trim and, of course, the limited edition badge with the production number of the car.

Apart from there not being a lot of luggage space, the pedal/seat positioning and the flimsy ignition key, and the fact that there are only 45 MG dealers across the UK, the reincarnated MG actually has a lot going for. Not least is the fact that MG Lives On.

Other plus points include the 'retro motoring with a modern feel' and the classic mid-engine/rear wheel drive set-up (keen drivers will appreciate this). It also comes at an attractive price with the scrappage allowance, and is more comfortable, better to drive and better built than you may be expecting.

Overall it is a sound purchase of a modern piece of British history. And the motoring world is better off by having MG back in the market than it would be without it.
David Miles

MG TF LE500
| 16,055
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 32.1mpg
Power: 133bhp | Torque: 121lb ft | CO2 185g/km | Insurance group 14