What is it?
This is the second limited-edition version of the reborn MG TF from SAIC-owned Nanjing’s MG Motor; the first was the TFLE500 that marked the rebirth of this ageing sports car and the resumption of car production at Longbridge.
The 85th anniversary being celebrated is of the MG marque itself, which continues to survive despite the traumas experienced by its multiple former owners and periods of dormancy.
A quick glance at this new TF, complete with fashionable stripes, assorted decals and new alloys is likely to have you concluding that this is yet another cynical limited-edition dress-up, but in fact, there’s a little more to this 50-model run.
What you get besides the stripes is a chassis that’s been revised to a surprising extent, this the key surviving element of a now-abandoned TF makeover that would have seen it receiving all-new skin panels, a new interior and very probably a relaunch as a new car.
Sadly this programme was killed by the recession (the only MG Motor project that Chinese owner SAIC has canned as a result of the downturn - but there are others under way) and the view that it would not have been possible to price this revised car high enough to recover the development costs. That’s a pity, because the TF still has strengths.
But what we are seeing are quite extensive chassis changes, which start with a switch to rear wheels that are an inch wider than the front pair, the first time the TF has run in this configuration.
The 215/40 16 rear rubber compares with 195/45 16 tyres up front, and combines with roll stiffness that has been increased by 40 per cent with the aim of improving the TF’s (already good) on-the-limit progression. Reducing roll better controls a quirk of the MG’s suspension geometry, its roll-centre migrating more than is desirable when body-roll builds up. So when it gets to the limit, says senior engineer Ian Pogson, ‘It strokes your cheek rather than slapping it."
Thicker Eibach anti-roll bars and upgraded Bilstein dampers generate the extra roll resistance. There are no changes to the TF’s electric power steering, but the chassis alterations are claimed to improve feel, while SAIC’s Longbridge engineers reckon that the TF’s supple ride has largely been preserved.
What’s it like?
Better and worse, in truth. The MG’s primary ride over big bumps is tighter and more fluently controlled and its responses are a little sharper, but its previously above-average ability to soak up sharp shocks has been compromised.
So over the typical British B-road, where it has always excelled, there’s now some patter and crash over small bumps, and a bit of kickback through the steering wheel that wasn’t there before. These disturbances aren’t uncomfortable, but they do damage its refinement.
On the positive side, this TF is a sharper weapon in fast-charged bends, and on a track it's likely to be more responsive, more progressive, better controlled and more fun. The steering responds more consistently too, although turn-in could still be sharper.
In other respects this is the TF that we know so well, with its odd and (for the tall) cramped driving position, low-rent furnishings, and lack of sophistication. That said, the feeling that you are conducting a machine, rather than a highly insulated transportation device, is part of its appeal, and a key reason why it provides surprising entertainment, especially given its grippy, capable handling, and willing engine.
Should I buy one?
Sadly, it’s too easy to dismiss this 14-year-old car for its age and faults, especially at a price some £2000 more than you’d pay for the just-as-fast TF 135 and only £700 less than the cheapest MX-5.
Apart from the sharper chassis you do get the special paint, stripes, stickers and alloys (which modernise it quite effectively) air conditioning, a passenger airbag, leather trim and the rarity of having one of 50 cars, but those extras take the TF too close to the chill winds of modern competition.
For MG fans it will appeal, but at this price it’s very hard to make a robust case for it. Still, MG will be offering the revised chassis in a new model next March, when TF production resumes. Hopefully, that will be more keenly priced.