for MGs racy
new TF roadster
FOR SIX YEARS the MG F was Britain's best-selling sports car. Then, in February 2002, MG's new generation roadster, the TF, was launched. And it is much more than just a sharp new set of clothes. For beneath the shapelier sheet metal sides, contoured rear deck and stylish projector lights, lives a surprisingly hard-edged sportster.
Eagle-eyed MG fans will spot the racy dart-like line that starts behind the front wheel arch and tracks along the profiled sill, cresting up just ahead of the restyled air intakes in front of the rear wheel arch. The rear deck has been re-shaped to incorporate an effective boot lid spoiler and built into the spoiler lip is a high-level brake lamp, with fast-acting LED illumination. Finishing off the aggressively styled new rear-end are squared-off housings for the large round chromed exhaust tailpipes that exit through both sides of the rear apron.
At the front the look is handsomely assertive with a chiselled front apron flanked by distinctive polycarbonate-covered headlamp units, each containing twin high-efficiency 70mm projector lamps and a sidelamp/front direction indicator. If you favour the looks then you're in good company: the TF was recently voted 'Most beautiful car in the world' by Italian designers.
Beneath the freshly-toned body are the sinews that give the TF its agility. At the front are double wishbones with coil springs and at the back (especially important on a mid-engined car) is a multi-link rear axle set-up. Providing the get-up-and-go is a lightweight four-pot
16-valve 1.8-litre K Series engine, sited transversely amidship and driving the rear wheels. It's a willing performer that revs sweetly, kicks out 118bhp and 122lb ft of torque, and gets from standstill to 60mph
in 9.7 seconds for some reason the Stepspeed makes it feel quicker than the stopwatch and on to a top speed of 118mph.
Given that TF buyers are almost equally split between the sexes
(51 per cent male/49 per cent female), we chose to test the mid-range TF 120 Stepspeed fitted with MG's EmCVT sports auto cum six-speed sequential 'manual' transmission.
The TF's Stepspeed sequential gear change lets you snap up and down the ratios Formula One style using either the gear selector or the up/down fingertip controls mounted on the steering-wheel. There are two small 'gumball' toggles one on each horizontal spoke of the leather-bound three-spoke wheel so you can change gear with whichever happens to be the most convenient.
Stuck in yet another irritating traffic jam round the M25? No problem simply leave the selector in D and de-stress as you crawl along. Want to rock 'n' roll? Move the gear lever sideways to the left to select manual sport mode for maximum performance, and then shift through the six sequential ratios by either nudging the selector lever forward/rearward or by using the steering-wheel toggles.
The shapely selector lever, enhanced by satin silver metal trim, is well-sited and falls readily to hand for manual enjoyment. A clear LCD display inset into the speedometer shows the mode/manual ratio engaged, and built-in safety features prevent downshifts that would over-rev the engine.
The TF's cabin is snug, with sports style cloth seats trimmed in a new 'Daytona' fabric a sports style rubberised yarn with leather side bolsters. The steering wheel adjusts for height but not reach, and the seat runner adjustment is well-stepped. We found it easy to obtain a good driving position that suits both hands and feet. Some reviews have criticised the seats for being set too high at 5' 11", I didn't find the seat height a problem and the header rail was well above my line
of sight. Visibility is good with the tight-fitting hood in place.
Controls are a cinch to use thanks to simple dash ergonomics. The black graphics on silver-faced dials are easy to read at a glance. There's ample legroom and a handy foot-rest takes care of that 'redundant' left foot. Windows are electric, with the driver getting a one-shot down facility.
The Kenwood ICE sounds good, but the quality comes at the expense of fiddly buttons. And while we're having a moan we just have to mention the horn which, frankly, just isn't in keeping with the roadster's rakish good looks. So, please, MG, give the TF the proud strident two-tone horns its looks demand.
In addition to the lockable glovebox there's a lidded oddments box behind the gear selector and a vertical lidded cubbyhole between the two seat backs. There's additional space under the bonnet, which also houses the spare wheel, battery and some ancillaries. The regularly-shaped boot holds 210 litres of luggage and will swallow a set of golf clubs not bad for a mid-engined convertible. Being right next to the engine bay, the boot does get warm. Worth remembering if you're off to do the weekly shop.
With the engine directly behind your seat, a certain amount of back-ground engine noise is with you, top up or down, although it's never intrusive. Low-speed ride is on the firm side, but then if you really wanted a floating-on-air ride you'd go for a limousine not a tuned-for-fun roadster.
The electric power-assisted steering has a 'faster' geared rack (now 2.8 turns lock to lock) together with improved weighting for quicker responses. On the move the steering feels sharp, helped by good feedback. Combined with the stiffer chassis with its superior dynamics and a crisp throttle response, it translates into more fun through the twisty bits. The TF is equally rewarding driven through peak-time town traffic and, as you'd expect, handling is uncomplicated: you point and the TF goes. It almost says with a shrug: "I'm a roadster that's my job."
The TF is fun to drive hard, with a likeable balance between comfort and thrills, and responds quickly to driver inputs. The Goodyear F1 rubber grips resolutely all the way up to the chassis' well-posted limits, and corners are taken flat and hard.
All TF models have alloys as standard, and all have wider tyres at the rear than at the front to reflect the mid-engine mass distribution. Our test car was fitted with optional 6-spoke 16-inch alloys wearing 195/45 fronts and 215/40 rears.
Handling is faithful and vice-free and there are no nasty penalties for lifting off mid-bend or getting the power back on too early. In fact,
the chassis can cope with more power than the K Series can throw at it. Brakes are reassuringly unfaltering and fade-resistant.
On ABS-equipped models (standard on the TF 120 Stepspeed and 160; optional on TF 115 and 135) the new multi-link rear suspension allows the rear brakes to work harder and reduce stopping distances. You'll also be reassured to know that the TF scored a 4-star occupant Euro NCAP and a 3-star pedestrian rating.
Apparently we Brits buy more convertibles than anybody else in Europe, although given the increasingly hot, extended summers we seem to be getting lately, that's not really so surprising.
Getting the top down is a breeze. Release the two header rail catches, then throw back the hood to disappear into the shallow well behind the rear seats. All in less time than it takes for the fastest, fanciest electric folding top (fabric or metal) to strut its stuff. Raising the top means grabbing the header rail, pulling it up and over and re-clamping the two catches.
On those dazzlingly hot days when you really can't be bothered with
a 50-factor sun-block you can leave the hood up, unzip the rear screen and drop the windows it's an enjoyable alternative approach to al fresco driving.
Top dropped, there's little buffeting even without the optional (but very effective) Windstop, and conversation is not a problem at normal motorway speeds. The one-piece, fine mesh-covered Windstop is easily attached to the hood frame and with the top down can be popped up into place in a second. Once the soft-top is in place it simply flips back down into the hood well. And for winter motoring there's the option of a matching hard top with a heated glass screen that transforms the TF into a cosy, good-looking sports coupé.
Scuttle shake once the bane of all convertibles is notable only by its absence. In fact, during our seven days with the TF, not one of our testers noticed any at all.
Living with a roadster is one of those 50 things to do before you die. The TF is an honest-to-goodness Tremendously Fun sports car, always ready to generate a smile (and a friendly wave from other MG drivers) whether you're positively hustling along B roads with the top down
or cruising the M roads and enjoying the warm self-righteous glow that comes from a socially-acceptable 43 miles to the gallon.
Overall we recorded a very respectable 33mpg. However, given our extra urban figure of 43mpg, the 11-gallon tank means a potential touring range of 473.
In the TF, MG has produced a roadster that's every bit as practical to own as it is fun to drive one that, even in standard rag-top guise, makes an admirable all-year-rounder. The cabin is pleasingly functional with comfortable seats and can be personalised with full leather and other trim packages if you wish.
A comprehensive options list should ensure that your TF stands out from all the others, although the most useful are the A/C (£1,125) and the body-coloured hard top with heated rear screen for £1,295. Our test car looked brilliant in pearlescent Trophy Blue paintwork offset by a dark blue hood which added £495 to the price. Worth every penny.
MG TF 120 Stepspeed | £18,245
Maximum speed: 118mph | 0-60mph: 9.7 seconds
Overall MPG: 33mpg | Power: 118bhp | Torque: 122lb ft
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