MG TF LE500 (2008) review

By Guy Bird 29 August 2008

By Guy Bird

29 August 2008

You can buy a British-made MG again. The TF LE500 – a heavily re-worked special edition of the well-loved original sportscar – is now rolling off Longbridge’s production lines for £16,399, packed with extras like leather seats and iPod compatibility, plus EU4 engine emissions compliancy. The 500-run limited edition is already 80 percent sold and more importantly, it spearheads the start of a whole new MG range, more of which later…

But should I care about the new MG TF? Isn’t this just a motor with mid-90s roots re-heated for 2008?

Yes and no. At a glance it’s clearly very similar to the TF car that died when MG Rover collapsed just a few years back, but there are significant changes. It’s got a smarter new nose with a bright grille mesh, bigger 16-inch alloys wheels as standard, a de rigueur piano black lacquer interior fascia, neat new driver dials and a Pioneer stereo with iPod cable in the glovebox.

Pick the flat orange with black alloys, and the black soft-top from the six new colour options and the car looks far from ‘old news’. And as the car is launching in the autumn MG has also thrown in a hardtop as standard.

The changes aren’t just cosmetic either. The suspension and brakes have been updated and the engine re-worked to meet new emissions regulations while keeping the perky performance intact.

Surely the driving experience is off the pace?

In terms of refinement, compared to a current Mazda MX-5, yes, but in terms of overall enjoyment it’s still genuinely great fun to drive. The chunky steering wheel feels right and gives reassuringly direct feedback, the mid-engined layout assists the solid feeling of the car through quick twisty lanes and 0-62mph from the plucky 134bhp 1.8-litre seems – and sounds – way more exhilarating than more powerful cars.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our MG TF LE500 first drive

…And with those rose-tinted specs removed?

The changes can’t fully hide the fact that this car isn’t all new. The dash might have a new fascia but the switchgear is plasticky and basic, and the air-con is not much more than a flash blower. Driver elbow and left legroom is cramped, the soft-top is still manual and its separate cover is a leatherette button-down affair. Oh and don’t expect to hear the stereo or your passenger with the top down on the motorway, but it’s still really fun and it’s raw edges are somehow acceptable for a sub-£20,000 roadster in a way they wouldn’t be for a prestige saloon.

When’s the really new stuff coming then?

The TF LE500 will be followed by 3-4000 sales of more basic, sub-Mazda MX-5-priced MG TFs across Europe in 2009, expanding up to a full range of cars within five years. This range will include an upper-medium family car based on the China-only Roewe 550 by 2010, a compact Ford Focus rival, a new supermini and an all-new sportscar.

Selling in these segments with many more rivals, and to customers who might not already be MG enthusiasts will be the real test of MG’s prospects. But don’t underestimate MG’s new Chinese parent company SAIC. It is a Fortune 500 multi-billion automotive dollar operation, has joint ventures with VW and GM and a desire to make MG a global brand again. It could just get exciting.

Verdict   

The MGTF is still fun, and fully loaded at £16,399. But matched up against modern competitors, that are not only cheaper but better to drive too, the TF really does feel its age. Without your patriotic British badge on, it doesn't make sense.

Statistics

How much? £16,399
On sale in the UK: September 2008
Engine: 1796cc 4-cyl, 133bhp @ 6750rpm, 122lb ft @ 5000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 8.4sec 0-62mph, 124mph, 35.8mpg, 185g/km CO2
How heavy / made of? 1105kg /steel
How big (length/width/height in mm)? 3943/1628/1261

Ratings

Handling 4 out of 5
Performance 3 out of 5
Usability 3 out of 5
Feelgood factor 4 out of 5
CAR's Rating 3 out of 5

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  • MG TF LE500 (2008) CAR review
  • MG TF LE500 (2008) CAR review
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  • MG TF LE500 (2008) CAR review
  • MG TF LE500 (2008) CAR review