Three years after the last MG was made at Longbridge, the famous marque is making a return to our roads. Business reporter Duncan Tift took to the wheel of one of the first of the new TF LE500 models to be rolled out.
The marketing experts have billed it as “MG: A New Journey” and so far as the company is concerned, that is just what it is.
However, the product they have chosen has a certain familiarity. Journalists were given their first opportunity on Tuesday to try out the car carrying the hopes of NAC-MG on its slender shoulders – the TF LE500, a special edition of the former TF sports car that was for a time Britain’s best-selling roadster.
There is clearly, no pun intended, a lot riding on it. For however the marketing men may dress it up, the MG TF isn’t new and this was evidenced around the roads of Warwickshire and Worcestershire as the car hardly warranted a second look.
Only die-hard enthusiasts would have been able to spot the subtle differences between this car and the one it replaced.
This is a pity because the roadster has a lot going for it. The special edition has a full set of extras including leather seats, air conditioning, a detachable hard top, parking sensors, top-of-the-range stereo and much more.
I have to confess I am probably not the ideal person to take such a car out for a spin. My 6ft 8in frame and its accompanying bulk is not designed to fit behind the wheel of a sports car and I did feel rather like Noddy as I manoeuvred myself into position.
I was also grateful it was a dry day and I was able to have the roof down because there would probably have been an unsightly bulge in the soft top had conditions been inclement.
However, the cockpit did accommodate me and I found I could drive easily, although my size 13s did occasionally hit the wrong pedal.
The interior has a quality feel which I am sure will appeal to discerning drivers ready to pay a premium for such luxuries. This will be a comfort to the firm’s Chinese owners, especially after teething problems with poor components.
The only mid-engined sports car in its class, NAC-MG say the car is “engineered to deliver a thoroughbred British sports car driving experience”. It comes equipped with a new Chinese-made Variable Valve Control N series engine. The EU4 compliant 1.8 litre power plant will propel the LE500 from 0-60 in 8.3 seconds and give it a top speed of 127mph.
The N series engine also has a newly designed multi-layered steel cylinder head gasket and an upgraded oil rail, that allows an increase in the clamping load, and an enhanced cooling system; all improvements that result in a much more robust engine.
This means the car handles far better than its predecessor and could well bring the joys of open-topped motoring to a new audience next month. It is clearly proving popular with MG fans – about 400 of the 500 limited edition models have been snapped up at £16,399.
Some might say this is expensive for a mid-range sports car but the package represents good value – provided you have that kind of money, which in the current economic climate is by no means guaranteed.
However, two facts to bear in mind: the equivalent car manufactured by MG Rover would have cost a shade under £24,000, and a similar specification Mazda MX-5 – the TF’s main rival – is considerably more expensive, although it does offer rear-wheel drive, which many motorists still place as the most important consideration in a roadster.
When the 500 cars have been sold, the company will revert to a standard model, cheaper than the top specification model I took out. Its extras such as air conditioning and leather seats will only be available as options.
NAC-MG is hopeful that it can produce 700 cars between now and the end of the year and is expecting to increase this to 4,000 next year.
It clearly believes there is still a market for the model – it would be nice if Britain’s car buyers thought the same. We shall see.