Road test: 2002 MG TF 160 | The Car Enthusiast |

27 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Road test: 2002 MG TF 160 | The Car Enthusiast |

Facelifts are not often worth celebrating. Joan Collins I’m sure would have one as quick as you or I would have a hair cut. MG however, has somehow performed miracle surgery on the MGF, to produce the MG TF.

Witness the transformation from an inoffensive curvy roadster to a sharp-lined sports car. Peter Stevens has waved his magic CAD workstation in the right direction.

The front of the car is completely changed. There is now a prominent grille, and the lights have serious character. Indeed, the sharp, low chin also brings the Aston Martin Vanquish to mind.

That is not a bad thing for this relatively budget-priced British sports car. The rear has also been changed extensively, though not so much to the eye. It follows the sharper lines of the front, with added aggression in the form of a deeper rear bumper.

The boot lid also juts out to form a rear spoiler – very sporty, yet at the same time, not likely to be tagged as a boy racer’s car.

So, who will buy this lovely automobile? MG is hoping that you, the car enthusiasts of this world will. You won’t be disappointed either, though the fact that I started this review by referring to the car’s looks rather than its dynamics may lead you to suspect (as I do) that the majority of MG TF buyers will be more interested in aesthetics than raw driver appeal. Now, if you have an MG TF, or an MGF, don’t bother to tell me that this is a great car, not just for posers.

I know that. I love it too. However, you cannot escape the fact that while it is a great looking car, it does not have the same driver’s car image as say, the Lotus Elise or Vauxhall VX220.

Therefore, it will attract labels.

Saying that, there are certain elements of the car that surprised me. For starters, MG had fitted stiffer suspension to the test car, and massive red AP Racing brake callipers. Correct me if I am wrong, but that could certainly be construed as cheque writing. Can the MG TF pay up? I’m afraid a simple yes or no cannot answer that.

Bear with me.

My first spirited drive in the car was on a decent B-road in Cambridgeshire. The surface was far from perfect, though not pot-holed. The most challenging part of this road is the sudden camber changes. Instantly, the TF feels tied down.

However, the camber changes highlighted a tendency to follow the undulations of the tarmac. Fitting large tyres where they are not necessary usually causes this. The wheel/tyre combination looks great, but I would personally prefer a slightly narrower set-up.

The problem also occurs on the motorway where it takes concentration not to be sucked into the grooves made by years of HGV-driving in the slow lane.

It may well be that the car is ideal for smooth tarmac. When is the last time you saw that in the UK? It is such a pity that the car was fitted with the stiffer-than-standard suspension. I suspect that the standard set-up would be better suited to UK roads. The result of this is to slow down the enthusiastic driver, as the car is almost too much work to enjoy.

In the wet, even more concentration is required. What feels like terminal understeer quickly progresses into oversteer. Thankfully it is easy to catch. In the dry, with no influence from the surface, it is possible to get the rear to step out a little when exiting corners – in a perfectly safe fashion. It is this characteristic that will lift the car above the average hot hatch.

Though, to be honest, many modern hot hatches would be better for the B-road blast. But there is something special about driving an open-top car.

Roof down, progress feels fast no matter what the speed, and buffeting is nicely contained, especially with the windbreaker in place (an option at Ј211.50). The world feels much closer as with all convertibles. The engine too, a 1.8-litre VVC-equipped K-series, sounds loud, and in this application, quite sporty. It is a buzzy engine though, even when not being pushed, which some owners may tire of.

The example we drove did not feel very quick, though having driven the MG ZR with the same engine, I now believe that the TF’s unit needed more running in. The K-series is at its best being revved, in the same way as a Honda VTEC engine for instance. However, it fails to be a smooth power plant, and may disappoint potential owners.

A bigger disappointment awaits the driver and passenger inside the car. While the cabin is a lovely shape, and design, the execution seems to have been seriously undermined by cost cutting. The gear knob itself is a handsome aluminium item, but the silver surround with fake hex-head bolts is plastic (trying too hard to emulate the design success of the Audi TT?). Admittedly it does not look too bad though. However, the silver/grey plastic on some of the controls is just awful.

I understand that it would add quite a cost to the car’s development to have aluminium items, but I don’t think MG should have tried to go half way – black plastic would have been fine. The test car did feature a tan-colour theme, which I liked a lot, though perhaps it could do with some more black to stop the interior looking like a desert. I would also light the instruments from behind, not from the top – I know I’m being picky here, but it is my job.

You might be beginning to think that I didn’t like the MG TF 160. That is not true. I liked it a lot. It is a very good car. It is a very sporty car. However, it is not a great car. Nor is it a sports car in the true sense of the word.

If you fancy a very good, sporty, open-top car that goes well, and looks great, then it may well be for you. The difference between the MG TF and MGF is certainly worth celebrating.

Road test: 2002 MG TF 160 – May 2002

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