Car reviews - MG - MGF - VVC convertible
Looks, comfort, ride, performance, dynamics
Room for improvement
Lacklustre interior, questionable quality, price
14 Feb 2001
By BRUCE NEWTON
THERE are enough MG enthusiasts scattered around the world to have made the first new sports car to wear the badge in three decades a sales success.
But Rover and its parent company, BMW, know long-term brand survival for MG will only be realised if the new generation cars meet the expectations of today's buyers.
That means more than just performance and handling. Any new MG must be reliable, well built and as practical as a sports car can be. The MGF passes at least some of these criteria.
Step inside the low-slung and small MG and the overall feel of the car disappoints.
The black plastic dash and trim is a bit low rent and the indicator and windscreen wiper stalks - which come from Honda - stand out as add-ons.
While the seats, which have part leather trim on the top-line VVC model, offer good support, the seat is mounted too high.
You feel like you are sitting on and not in the MGF and there is no seat height adjustment.
The high-mounted seat spoils the driving position as your knees will bash the bottom of the non-adjustable (up until the 2000 model year) steering column, particularly when you "heel and toe" down through the gearbox.
It is only available as a manual but at least it offers a nice clutch action, but overall the shine is taken off as the lever has a rather long and vague throw.
Those in the passenger seat also have a few ergonomic hassles with Rover seeing fit to mount part of the air-conditioning/ventilation system in the left-hand side footwall.
Other interior niggles include thin armrests which do not allow you to rest an elbow on them and switch gear, including the window controls and air-conditioning switch, which lurk behind the gear lever.
Oddment space is also lacking with the glovebox, for example, able to hold just four cassette tapes. And why does a $53,000 car come with manually adjustable rear view mirrors?Scuttle shake is not too bad, matching the BMW Z3 for shake.
The folding roof, attached to the top of the windscreen by two easy-to-use latches, also works well.
The rear window is plastic and takes a long time to clear if misted over.
The interior layout is no better than the last generation Mazda MX-5 - let alone the far-improved current version -so Rover has its work cut out here.
The good news for MG fans is most of these concerns are forgotten when on the move.
The MGF, at least in top-line guise, offers more than enough performance to get the string-back gloves a bit sweaty.
The 107kW, 1.8-litre engine revs smoothly and delivers, thanks no doubt to the variable valve system, a decent amount of poke across a broad rev band.
It also produces a pleasant, if reasonably subtle, metallic exhaust note.
The engine likes to rev and the MGF loves going fast. It is one of those cars that encourages the driver to push the accelerator further and further into the carpet.
The faster you go the better it feels.
The mid-engined layout ensures it remains composed and assured when punted hard. It stays neutral at silly speeds. You have to be brutal to get the back end to slide.
Your confidence is also boosted by the steering and brakes.
The power steering system, with electric rather than hydraulic assistance, provides a steady flow of information about the levels of grip at the front end of the car.
The amount of assistance changes with speed and the car offers fairly light but sharp steering around town.
The wheel is nice and compact, offering a satisfyingly thick leather-covered rim.
Like the rest of the primary controls, the brakes work well with the firm pedal providing loads of feel for the driver so the standard ABS anti-lock brakes system remains redundant, at least in the dry.
The ride is not bad with the car using a combination of struts and the company's Hydragas damping system. It is firm but will not rattle the fillings in your teeth.
It's good that the MGF drives as well as it does as we have some concerns about quality. It is certainly not up to the standards of parent BMW.
Of two cars driven, both have varied greatly with the first car harbouring some rattles, a creaking driver seat and a second gear synchromesh that was on the verge of giving up the ghost.
The second car was much tighter than the first but the gear lever was rather stiff and needed a firm push to move from gear to gear.
These quality concerns have dulled our enthusiasm for what is a fast, fun sports car.
Let's hope the quality question marks are answered quickly and that the 'F' is the first of many new generation MGs.
- Automotive NetWorks 04/06/1999
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