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Published: 7th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


Buyer Beware

  • Bodies are not generally rust-prone, although it is worth checking the front subframe, the join between the sill and the rear wing, and the floor behind the seats. 
  • Many cars are used and abused on track days, so as well as avoiding any car that looks like it has been run ragged, look carefully for poor paint, overspray and bad panel gaps or filler. 
  • The bottom wishbones on the front suspension are pressed steel, and contain a bowl that can rust out. Not expensive, but check any new purchase and haggle the asking price down.
  • The original brake pipes can rust where they run around the rear bulkhead. Time-consuming to replace, cars should be checked here in case the MoT man has missed it.
  • Check the coolant pipes that run under the car between the engine and the radiator; they rust, and any coolant loss will soon take the head gasket (and the cylinder head) with it.
  • Head gaskets can go at any time. Problem signs include cloudy or muddy looking engine oil, signs of oil in the coolant or a temperature gauge that doesn’t remain steadily below halfway. Budget £750 on a repair (£850 for the VVC), or look for paperwork indicating that a professional job has already been done.
  • Gearboxes may be notchy when cold, but a whine in fourth or fifth gear spells their imminent demise. Tightening the linkages to give a tauter feel can snap them.
  • If the electric power steering pulls to one side, the official repair is to replace the whole column at £760 plus fitting. MG specialists can recalibrate your present one for around £150, thankfully. Some older MGFs can be suffering a loss of headlamp silvering, and replacements run around £150 each.
  • Water leaks should not be a problem, although some early cars can suffer in both the footwells and in the boot. Sometimes the culprit of a wet cabin may just be a failed gasket where the heater air intake enters the car.
  • Check the electric windows work smoothly and efficiently; they can get stiff and the mechanism is expensive to replace.
  • Tyres should be a decent brand, preferably approved, and matched as axle sets. If the wear looks at all uneven, budget on a four-wheel alignment check as the F in particular is very unhappy if things are not spot on.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    A world away from the MGB; mid-engined but predictable and fun

  • Usability: 4/5

    As you’d expect of a modern; good use of storage, civilised cockpit

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    Patchy parts availability and awkward engine access spoil this MG

  • Owning: 3/5

    Surprising economy but classic insurance cover is not automatic

  • Value: 4/5

    Heck of a good fun car for the money but there’s lots of dross about

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MG fans waited 15 years for a replacement to the beloved MGB – now the MGF is itself seen as a classic by some. But does it deserve this status wonders our test team?

When Austin Rover finally decided to launch a replacement for the MGB sports car, MG was determined to design a modern sportster, and not to live off past glories, as it had done with the RV8, which was launched a few years before. And, it’s to the credit of the engineers at Abingdon that, with nothing more than Metro subframes and suspension to use, they came up with an excellent midengined sport car that also looked thoroughly modern. The MGF was a car Cecil Kimber would have been proud of, we suspect – but are you one of the many still not convinced about this ‘Marmite’ MG, two decades since it was launched?

Which model to buy?

The MGF and TF name change is the most obvious changeover point between models, the earlier car running on Hydragas suspension and the later on coil springs. The general consensus is that the F is more comfortable and the TF very firm, although the very last of the line had a much better compromise between ride and handling (and kits to sooth the ride are readily available). There is a definite price difference though, with the MGF being regarding almost totally as a classic and priced from £1500-£3000, while the newer TF is more subject to the vagaries of second-hand car prices – condition, age and mileage all play more of a role in settling on a price between £2000 and £10.000 for one of the last Chinese-built cars.

Condition counts above all else with the MG and, in particular, don’t pay extra for the special editions, unless they happen to come with a trim package you particularly want. Surprisingly, the extremely rapid VVCs don’t command much of a premium over the more common 1.8i cars, possibly because their performance advantage isn’t as great on the road as the figures may suggest. A 1.6 or a Steptronic car will save you a bit of cash and the former is sort of ‘modern Midget’ in attitude, while the Trophy 160 is perhaps the most sought after – pay from £2000-£4000 depending on where you buy from (tip: use a specialist). 

Behind the wheel?

The first thing to note is that, as you approach the car, it does not have the classic MG proportions or image. There are some nice references to the past though, such as the traditional ivory backing to the dials and the famous MG octagon on display. Tall drivers may notice a resemblance to the MGB, in that they may have to hunker down to see comfortably below the header rail. The steering wheel is non-adjustable for height, sadly, and quite low set, plus there’s no room for anyone to rest their left foot.

Due to the mid-engined layout, gearstick movement is transmitted to the cogs via cables. The action of this varies from car to car – some have been likened to an early Maxi (not good!) while others feel solid and direct (on our project car it’s decidedly sloppy and horrid – ed). There’s decent oddment and storage space and while the cabin is full of Metro touches it looks quite good quality, while the trim is tastefully done.

The crisp K-series 1.8 engine (also found in the Land Rover Freelander), is universally praised. Even in standard 1.8i tune it delivers more than enough performance and loves to rev its 16-valve head off. A good one will leave a TR6 for dust and another welcome trait is a wide band of mid-range torque that makes overtaking a doddle.

The VVC is quicker against the stopwatch but needs working at; on the other hand the 1600cc MGF is quite lively. On all bar the VVC perhaps, the car would be a lot more ‘instant’ if the gearing was more sportscar like. For some strange reason the gearing is quite tall and, while 70mph at under 3000rpm aids the ears and economy, we feel it robs the 1.8i of the urge a sports car deserves. It’s also why the lower-geared 1.6 doesn’t feel as tardy as its engine power suggests.

All cars have generous-sized tyres that grip well, and which only yield slowly and progressively. Coupled to a degree of understeer that was designed into the cars, this makes them very easy even for a novice to just jump into and drive quickly – unlike most midengined cars. The flip side is that the ride may be too soft for some traditional sports car drivers, although the first of the TFs went to the opposite extreme, with a suspension that most regarded as too harsh from the outset. Tyres make a difference to the way the MG performs and some makes aren’t recommended. Toyo, Yokohama and Goodyear are regarded as the best while some are not recommended at all and should not be used – speak to an MGF specialist for best advice.

Some may say that the electric power steering is devoid of old fashioned feel but it’s preferable to nonassisted MGFs. And, as much as we are unimpressed with the gearchange on manual cars, it’s still better than the automatic models which do the car little justice, plus the auto box is heart-stoppingly dear to fix. 

The daily option?

The MGF/TF is made for modern motoring. There is always the option of a hardtop for winter use, although it has to be said that the convertible cover is a huge leap forward on that fitted to the B and should be watertight year round. It also generates surprisingly little wind noise when erected, meaning you can still listen to either your passenger or the radio on long motorway hauls. If there is one flaw it’s the way the frame sticks half way but special helper straps are available for around a tenner but are very fiddly to fit.

There is no rollover bar and no need for one either – the screen is engineered to protect you if the worst does happen, which is a nice bit of added mental security. But, if you do a lot of topless motoring, then, as with any convertible, the addition of a windstop is very worthwhile. External luggage racks are fitted by some owners, but probably more for styling reasons than actual need because, despite its configuration, the MGF is comparatively well-provided with storage space – there is a surprisingly generous boot right in the tail, as well as some stowage space alongside the spare wheel in the nose.

What about the head gasket you ask? Well, most have been done by now and with improved parts, too. Just make sure that the cooling system is always filled to the correct level and you’ll be fine. To ease the mind specialist Brown & Gammons has invented a low level cooling light which gives you vital time to pull over and switch off before serious damage is done.

Ease of Ownership?

The MGF/TF is certainly a very easy car to live with on a daily basis, with modern engine management making it smooth-running whatever the weather. The hood is relatively quick and easy to put up (aftermarket straps to link the frame avoids the hood locking up half open) and down to cope with changeable conditions too, although the plastic rear screens are not particularly long-lived and it is easy to crack them. The last cars, with their glass rear screens, are better in this respect, and retro-fitting a similar hood to earlier cars gives you one less thing to worry about, although it is not cheap. The heater is quite effective – well better than an MGB – and the air con, if fitted and working, is worth having. 

On the maintenance front, there are no grease nipples to worry about and service intervals are a lengthy 12,000 miles apart. There were some build (make that major!) quality issues, but this varies from one car to the next, and any problems should have been sorted by now. If things do need replacing, then the supply of both MG-Rover OE parts through XPart’s AutoService network and aftermarket alternatives from a raft of MG specialists ensure that both prices and availability remain pretty much okay, even though MG Rover shut up shop years ago.

That said, some items, such as gear linkages, are becoming scarce although an increasing number of specialists are having (superior) parts made. Alas the sheer cost of some repairs – such as the head gasket or slight frontal damage – is rendering many old cars scrap; the MGF Centre ‘broke up’ 10 customer cars last year for this reason alone.

And, as for rust, the cars have so far proved to be very resilient to the old rust bug, so that is one less thing to worry about. Rimmer Bros has a batch of TF bodyshells for just £950 including VAT – that’s more than a quarter of the price of a Heritage MGB shell – plus there’s plenty of scrappy cars out there to rebuild on a budget! Always have the car set up by a specialist as attention to the geometry and the gas ride height makes a world of difference to handling and feel.



Flagship Trophy 160 unveiled, using a more powerful version of the VVC motor. Other benefits include huge AP racing-style front callipers now gripping vented discs. Also released is an entry-level 1.6i, delivering a more modest but a surprisingly usable 115bhp and good trim levels.


The MGF is replaced by the TF in February. Available as the TF115, TF120 Steptronic, TF135 and TF160, the bodywork is revised, most noticeably around the nose. Most fundamental change is switch from Hydragas suspension to more conventional springs.


After various limited edition models have been built, including the Sprint (2002), Cool Blue and Sunstorm (2003), 80th Anniversary and Spark (2004), the TF is revised late in the year with a much more compliant suspension. Cars also get a new hood with glass rear screen.


The revisions are short-lived as the money runs out in April 2005 and MG-Rover goes into administration. It is eventually bought by NAC in China, which in turn is bought by SAIC on Boxing Day 2007. Production ended last year after patchy sales and dealer support.

We Reckon...

Traditionalists be warned – the MGF and the later TF can rightly wear the Octagon badge with pride. For the younger, potential future classic car fan, the MG is the ideal starter sportster because it’s modern in design yet classical where it matters. Add exceptional value and the F word is now socially acceptable!

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