The MG TF is undeniably flawed, but it is an appealing driver’s car nonetheless

Find Used MG TF 2002-2005 review deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Used car deals
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

When Rover’s Longbridge factory closed in 2005, it seemed like the end of an era. But since then, Chinese-owned MG Motors UK has reopened the production line. The TF was the first car to be made under the new regime, with the MG6 following a few years later.

The basic design of the TF can be traced back easily to the original MGF of 1999. The only big change since occurred in 2001 when the car was rebranded as the TF and the original hydragas rear suspension arrangement was replaced by conventional steel springs and the car received a more square-jawed look, compared to the MGF.

There's a unique appeal to the TF

MG Motors launched its version of the TF with a limited run, the TF LE500, denoting a limited edition of 500 models.

Mechanically the car is all but identical to the non-VVC engined MG TF from 2005. There are minor styling alterations around the nose and inside the cabin, while the K-series engine’s notoriously fallible head gasket has been further uprated to prevent leaks.

Otherwise the MG TF is pretty much as you’d expect. It comes with two seats, an engine in the middle, air conditioning and it is priced to compete with the Mazda MX-5.



MG TF headlight

It would be very easy to accuse NAC of doing too little too late for the ageing MG TF’s design. In one sense it seems surprising that so little has been changed or updated since 2005, or even since the MGF of 1995.

On the other hand, the famous ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ argument is always a compelling one to present, and by large it’s appropriate in the case of the TF.

The lack of a remote or cabin boot release frustrates. You have to use the key

What’s changed is mostly welcome. The non-VVC 1.8-litre Rover engine, known as the K-series under Rover but now referred to as the N-series, is no more powerful than before – it develops 134bhp – but it does benefit from a new head gasket design and has a new exhaust system to go with it. This, and an uprated ECU allow it to meet Euro 4 emissions and be more reliable into the bargain. 

The MGF, and latterly the TF, traded on a modern twist on MGB, and the result was a look that for many years made it the biggest-selling two-seat roadster in the UK. 

But with a proliferation of cute drop-tops on the market, the TF is now looking a little long in the tooth.

The front grille is the only major visual change compared with cars from 2005; the upgrade is successful, if a little rough around the edges. There are up to seven paint colours to choose from, depending on which of the three trim grades you choose from. Alloy wheels are, of course, standard and there are some surprisingly stylish wheel designs offered, given how heavily the car borrows from MGs of yesteryear.

A fabric soft-top is fitted but it now has a glass screen with a heating element, which is a big step on from the original MGF, which had a vulnerable plastic rear screen which would often discolour.


MG TF dashboard

There’s no escaping the fact that the cabin lets the TF down. Badly. More than any other element, it serves as a reminder of how far things have come in the world of automotive interior design since the building blocks of the car were put in place in 1995.

The key issue, more than the lack of quality or the age of the design itself, is space. On the road the lack of girth is a real plus, but it does the car no favours whatsoever inside.

Not a great sign for quality: our car's indicator worked loose

With the roof up, anyone over six feet tall will brush their head on the lining and find it impossible to read the top half of the instruments (which are pretty poor to look at anyway it must be said).

And although the steering wheel moves up and down (though not forwards and backwards), the driving position is deeply compromised. You still feel like the wheel is brushing the top of your knees, and you still find your right knee clouting the hinged ignition key from time to time.

All of which is a pity because, for such a small mid-engined car, there is an unusually decent amount of luggage space in the rear boot, even if space in the nose is obliterated by the fitment of a full-size spare wheel.

Lose this and replace it with a can of get-you-home tyre foam, however, and the TF could easily accommodate enough well-packed luggage for a week’s holiday.

Compared with its more recently engineered rivals, roof-up touring in the TF is somewhat noisy, with road and wind noise creeping in through the single-skin hood and window seals. There is, however, the alternative of a lift-off hard top.


MG TF side profile

Look at the raw performance figures and you’re unlikely to be bowled over with pure excitement. Even though the TF weights a reasonably lithe 1185kg and has 134bhp and 122lb ft to propel it, we are not talking about a car that can accelerate its way into the record books.

Zero to 60mph takes 8.5sec – more than a second slower than we recorded for the lighter 140bhp VVC-engined MGF back in the day – while the 25.5sec 0-100mph time also seems so-so compared with the opposition. Flat out, we managed 124.8mph, nicely in line with the claimed 124mph, but still a little shy of the Mazda MX-5.

Pace is merely respectable on paper, but the TF is more lively than that

That’s the bad news. The good news is that, subjectively, the TF feels an awful lot more lively than its basic numbers would suggest. Throttle response from the 1.8-litre engine is mustard keen without ever feeling neurotic; you can drive the TF smoothly, in other words, without requiring the dexterity of a ballet dancer on the pedals.

The engine also has a hearty appetite for revs and sounds just as happy at 6500rpm as it does at 2000rpm. The difference is that it delivers a lot more sparkle at high revs than it does in the mid-range; thank the high power peak and relative shortage of torque for that.

Accessing the TF’s performance is good fun and easy by-and-large, thanks to a light and pleasingly slick five-speed gearbox and a cluster of pedals that are unusually well weighted. Occasionally the test car wasn’t so keen to select reverse, though – not a good sign considering how young the gearbox was. We’ll give NAC the benefit of the doubt and presume that it isn’t a typical problem.


MG TF cornering

The TF may be less than a brand new design beneath the skin but on the road it is still a great little sports car, featuring an excellent mid-engined chassis and decent steering. In this respect, there’s one aspect linked to its age of its design that goes down as a huge plus: its size.

The moment you begin driving, you notice how small and compact the TF feels compared with most other cars of today. Allied to the car’s crisp, accurate steering and its agile, well-balanced chassis, this lack of size manifests itself very simply in the fact that you feel like there is more road space in which to operate than there is in other cars.

You notice the size more than anything else. It's tiny on the road, and that's a good thing

Roads feel wider, gaps in traffic seem larger – and the scope for exploring the limits of the fine chassis is that much more obvious as a result.

The lack of weight is similarly refreshing, because there is also a distinct lack of inertia to the TF’s body movements. Under load in a corner, you can change direction quickly without feeling any great weight transfer from one side to the other, and under brakes you merely prod the pedal and the TF sheds speed, again without any real sense of weight being chucked around in the nose.

None of this would be possible were it not for the excellent basic suspension design, but the TF certainly rides better than at any time in its history. Rough roads are absorbed with genuine refinement; the MG remains level and steady, and even quite large bumps are unable to deflect it from your chosen line.

The grip from the tyres is well meted out. While there isn’t sufficient power to unlock the rear end, you can still trim the cornering line by using the throttle mid-corner, even though the basic handling trait is understeer if you push a little too hard. If only more cars handled as sweetly as this one does.



Whether the MG TF is worth the asking price is a matter for contention, even though the spec includes a reasonable amount of kit. But the bigger question is how the car will depreciate over the first two years of ownership.

The answer is ‘pretty damn quickly’. 

If you can somehow swallow this knowledge, either by deciding to keep the car indefinitely, or persuading your company to take the hit, the TF is reasonably cost-effective to run.

You should return economy figures between the mid-20s and mid-30s, while insurance isn’t too bad for a mid-engined, two-seat sports car, thanks in part to a Thatcham 1 security system.

One relative unknown is the level of reliability and build quality that MG’s new owners will be able to achieve.


3 star MG TF

More than any car test in recent history, the MG TF is truly a double-edged sword.

It feels so badly compromised as to be a joke when it comes to cabin quality and design, but it is also an immensely enjoyable little sports car to drive.

Dated and the interior is cramped, but it rides and handles well

Whether it can be regarded as good value, considering how old it is, is something that’s possible to debate long into any night. But what’s also not in doubt is the pedigree of the basic underpinning.

At its heart, the TF is a bespoke mid-engined sports car with double wishbone suspension all round, and while its cabin borders on the ridiculous, the TF’s driver appeal remains unique at this end of the market.

So while it’s a dinosaur in many ways, the TF is still a beguiling little car, one that you learn to like for lots of irrational reasons. 

We’re glad its Chinese owner thinks the same way.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

MG Motor TF 2002-2005 First drives