MG has announced details of two new versions of the relaunched TF roadster, including a standard model and a special edition 85th anniversary model.
The standard specification TF135 is expected to be priced around £13,500, less than the £16,055 LE500 launched last year and making it a more affordable option for MG enthusiasts. It will be equipped with the same revised 135bhp K-Series engine found in the LE500.
At the same time, the 85th Anniversary model is due for launch later this summer, priced around £15,750. It will be available in a choice of three exclusive colours featuring special graphics and a bespoke interior trim.
The cars were unveiled to MG enthusiasts at the Royal Windsor MG Heritage Festival last month.
Reports have suggested a new MG saloon and hatchback – the MG6, shown in Shanghai last month – could join the TF as early as next summer, as the company seeks to expand its model range.
MG is back in business with the TF LE500, a revised version of what used to be Britain’s most popular sports car. But can it and the now Chinese-owned brand succeed in the modern world? Peter Hall reports
Do you recall the story of Rip Van Winkle? Lovable but lazy bloke falls into dubious company, gets drunk and sleeps for several years. Returns to find the world much changed, his friends long gone. Resumes a life of idleness and eventually dies of old age.
We can only hope that the fate of Britain’s most popular sports car is more inspirational. Thirteen years have passed since the car you see here made its debut as the MGF, the first genuinely new model from the venerable MG marque since the demise of the MGB GT in 1980, although it was another seven years before the MGF was transformed into a sports car worthy of the brand’s sporting heritage. Sadly the revised TF lived only three years before the collapse of MG Rover, the rump of a once-great industry abused by British governments, trade unions and management, picked up and discarded by BMW and preyed upon by vulture capitalists before the bones were thrown to the Nanjing Automobile Company (NAC) and the Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation (SAIC).
Now, after a hiatus of three years, the MGTF is back in production. But the world has changed a great deal in that time. What hope can there be for what is basically a 13-year old car (albeit revised) from an 84-year old marque that once epitomised a British tradition and is now owned by the Chinese?
As a nation we might now be more cynical than complacent, but let’s not rush to judgement before we’ve covered a few miles on what the revitalised MG concern describes hopefully as “a new journey”.
First, the corporate status of the marque needs some explanation. MG and MG Rover’s Longbridge factory were originally acquired by NAC, which among its other activities can claim to be China’s oldest car maker. In a recent deal brokered by the Chinese government (signed off on April 8), NAC’s automotive sector (including Longbridge) was acquired by SAIC, China’s biggest vehicle manufacturer and the owner of Rover (or Roewe as it is called there); in addition SAIC owns a 51 per cent stake in SsangYong and is involved in joint ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen. It has worked with Shoreham-based Ricardo to develop new cars, and established the Shanghai Motor Technical Centre (SMTC UK) at Leamington Spa (plus a design studio at Coventry) to provide engineering and design skills for both MG and Roewe; the “new” MGTF was re-engineered here and chief designer Tony Williams (who previously worked under Peter Stevens) and his colleagues are now working on a range of forthcoming MG and Roewe models, pending their move later this year to a new facility at Longbridge, which will also be the headquarters for R&D, marketing, sales, distribution and training. A UK network of enthusiastic independent dealerships is being established, with almost 50 already signed up and more to come.
No fewer than four new SMTC UK-designed MGs are expected within the next five years. An upper-medium- (Mondeo) sized car based on the existing Roewe 550 platform will roll off the old Rover 75 line at Longbridge in 2010, followed by a mid- (Focus) sized model, a supermini and an all-new replacement for the TF.
MG is SAIC’s flagship brand for Europe and all the above will be assembled in the West Midlands in order to satisfy European quality expectations, although they will also be manufactured in China (where the bodyshells are made) and go on sale first in that fast-expanding, right-hand-drive market; for the next five years at least there are no plans to import finished cars from China to the West. After the UK and Eire, MG has its sights set on Germany, France, Italy and Spain; it has US ambitions only for the first of the brand-new models.
Will all this come to pass? Notwithstanding NAC’s £50 million investment at Longbridge, the development of a mass-market car usually costs something like £5 billion, against which SAIC’s UK investment of tens of millions on a project-by-project basis seems minuscule. SAIC’s investment in China is much greater, of course, and the British operation can probably survive and prosper for as long as its design and engineering skills are still seen as crucial by the Anglophiliac Chinese. Even when amalgamated at Longbridge, the MG workforce will number a few hundreds rather than thousands – small comfort to the 6,000 MG Rover workers who lost their jobs three years ago and remain understandably bitter about their fate, but surely better than nothing.
Much depends on satisfying the customer. MG retains an enviable heritage and reputation among its devotees worldwide, but it’s important that the new cars live up to expectations. With the revitalised TF, the omens are generally good. The first 500 are being sold in LE500 limited-edition form, equipped as standard with what were previously optional extras – leather upholstery, piano-black trim, sports seats, detachable hardtop, MP3 audio, air-conditioning, parking sensors and so on, plus a numbered plaque and certificate – but all TFs feature a number of significant revisions.
It’s the roadster revival of the decade! Auto Express can exclusively take the wraps off the car that’s sure to get British fans hot under the collar: the new MG TF.
Emerging from the ashes of the famous company, the roadster is the first sign that the spirit of MG is alive and well, even though the brand is in the hands of Chinese owners.
This stunning model is set to replace the existing TF – production of which is back on track at MG Rover’s old home of Longbridge in the West Midlands – and will go on sale around 2010. And there’s not only a convertible planned, but a coupe, too!
The new TF is based around the Roewe 550 compact hatch, which made its debut at the Beijing Motor Show. It will feature a rear-wheel-drive version of that model’s platform – and this should ensure it has plenty of appeal for enthusiasts.
Although it will be slightly bigger than the Mazda MX-5, the MG will be targeting the Japanese convertible, as it’s likely to carry a similar price tag. However, also in its sights are the likes of the Alfa Romeo Spider, Audi TT Roadster and Volkswagen Eos.
If it looks a little familiar, that’s because the new TF takes some of its styling inspiration from the MG SV supercar and X80 concept. Those models were both based on the Mangusta – a sports car from Italian maker Qvale, which MG Rover bought in 2001.
As you can see from our pictures, produced using insider information, the new TF updates that shape with a striking front end incorporating a deep-set four-piece radiator grille and quad headlamps. At the rear, the curvy tail completes the look.
Under the skin, the TF features a chassis based on a design that was created by MG Rover – one which would have underpinned a replacement for the 45/ZS, had the company not gone into receivership.
When Shanghai Automobile Corporation (SAIC) bought the rights to the 25 and 75, it also acquired projects such as the unfinished 45. It has since produced the Roewe 550 and the 75-based Roewe 750.
There has always been the desire within SAIC to build a replacement for the TF, but with rival Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC) owning the rights to the MG badge, there was never any chance of it wearing the famous octagon emblem – until the two Chinese giants joined forces.
Featuring a rear-wheel-drive platform developed in conjunction with British engineering expert Ricardo, plus MG Rover-based engines – including a 1.8-litre turbo and 2.5-litre V6 – the TF will deliver a great driving experience. And as SAIC-NAC are looking to form a UK Roewe dealer network in 2010, the stage is set for the TF’s comeback.
Since its launch in 1995, the MG TF – or MGF as it was then – has won a loyal following thanks to its neat looks, mid-engined layout and driver-pleasing handling. When MG was bought by NAC in 2005, the TF was one of the first cars the Chinese firm wanted to get back into production at Longbridge – and as soon as possible.
It revealed a mildly revised version in 2007 called the TF LE 500, which had a new bodykit. Since then, production has been delayed, first when bosses were concerned about quality and then when a key supplier pulled out.
However, it now seems that new (current) TFs will start rolling out of the plant within six months. Buyers looking forward to the roadster will have to wait for another couple of years, but it appears MG has a brighter future.