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The timeless iconic appeal of the convertible sports car - The new MG TF is the latest in a long and distinguished line of sports cars, says Andrew Hamilton Irish Times; May 1, 2002

We have to be frank when writing about sports cars, all sports cars including convertibles. They just don't appeal to us very much. Spending so much more money for so much less space doesn't appeal to our practical nature. But, of course, sports cars have had a long and noble tradition in the motor industry, and we democratically accept that they do have appeal, even creating envy and lust when the wind is making a mess of the hair. Sports car owners are a bit like vegetarians: we tolerate, even respect, their attitudes while not wanting ever to become one of the ilk.

MG, more than most car marques, has been in the topless business for a long time and the MGB of yesteryear is still fondly remembered. More up to date has been the MGF and now it has a successor, the MG TF which we have been driving in its 160 1.8 litre VVCi form at a EUR33,560 ex-works price tag. For that sort of money you could buy the flagship Peugeot 607 or a Saab 9-3 or a 2.0 litre Alfa Romeo 156! Everyone to his or her own.

The MG TF is a consequence of the comprehensive reworking of Rover cars with ZR, ZS and ZT badges within the MG fold. Some people felt the old car didn't look or drive as if it needed a revamp: sports cars are a simple breed and once they're right, they tend to stay right. We think of the original Mazda MX-5 which stayed in production for nearly a decade. MG Rover apparently felt it needed to see off the new MX-5 and the Toyota MR-2.

It does come with striking new looks and underneath there has been a series of significant changes. Perhaps the biggest has been the abandonment of the MGF's linked Hydragas suspension in favour of conventional springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. Double wishbones remain up front, but there's a new multi-link arrangement at the rear. The electric variable power-assisted steering also stays, but has been amended to bring in more weight at low speeds, adding it progressively as the speed increases.

Our test TF 160 model used VVC variable valve timing to produce 160 bhp (hence the name). MG Rover claims a top speed of 137 mph and a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.9 seconds, so it is as fast as anyone would want a car of this class to be. On the road, we found it to be very flexible, not just in the upper rev range but below 1,000 rpm from where it pulled cleanly in top gear.

We would have preferred a slicker gearchange. On swift changes, there was a fair amount of baulking which was particularly evident going from second to third under power. As for the chassis, the difference between the old and new car is very apparent.

The TF feels much stiffer and more stiffly sprung resisting roll and feeling altogether more composed. The weightier steering is also very evident.

Handling is much improved, helped by the 195 section front and 215 section rear tyres on 16-inch rims. The turn in is as sharp as might be expected from a mid-engined car. and there's enough grip at the rear to resist or overcome snappy oversteer

The new profile of the MG TF gives it an angular look with a slatted front grille and square openings for the lower front air intake and exhaust ports. Inside, things are better compared with the old car - but only just. There's now stowage space for the mobile phone and other oddments: that didn't exist before.

We had a tall, six-foot plus passenger: he smacked his head on the stays that support the roof. There's no reach adjustment for the wheel, and even at the highest rake setting, it can still interfere with the driver's thigh. We liked the wood trim which created a harmonious note as did the silver finish of the instruments.

The roof is simple to operate and opens and closes in seconds: a matter of undoing two clasps on the header rail and flipping it back, pausing only to erect the optional pop-up wind baffle. Boot space is surprisingly good for a mind-engined car, but the front is still entirely and rather wastefully taken up with ancillaries and the spare.

Impressive fuel consumption isn't normally expected from sports cars, and we weren't scanning the fuel gauge too much during our test drive. Overall, we returned 28 mpg which is better than we expected given the performance lust of the car. The EU official figures indicate urban consumption of 26.7 mpg, extra urban 49.6 mpg, and combined 37.6mpg

We should say that there are less expensive versions of the MG TF like the 115, 120 and 135. They have respective ex-works prices of EUR29,175, EUR32,525 and EUR30,495.

The lazy, hazy days of the Irish summer are fast approaching, day s that with our luck will probably be more shadow than sunshine. Those intent on turning on the automotive style should put the MG TF on their list. Aside from smarter looks, it comes with a sharper chassis and stronger performance. We enjoyed its company, but it still hasn't converted us to sports car ownership!
 
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