With multiple whispers going around about what ‘Modern Classics’ to invest in, one car keeps popping up time after time when the spotlight is shone onto small, low powered sports cars and it’s not what you might think it is. I am of course talking about the humble 2002 – 2005 MG TF!
Starting out in 1995 as the humble MGF, the TF was released in 2002 by MG Rover as an updated & overall better driving version of the earlier F. Where the MGF had Hydrogas suspension that was known for being soft and compliant but not really sporty, the TF replaced that system with typical springs and shocks, creating, with other parts, an improvement of torsional stiffness by 20%. The TF also had mechanical improvements over its predecessor as follows. Engine wise it now had 2 engines available with 4 different power outputs.
Starting off with the base model TF ‘115’, this model was powered by a smaller 1.6l K-Series I4 producing 115bhp & 107 ft-Ibs of Torque that propelled it to a top speed of 118mph and a 0-60 of 9.2s. The ‘115’ was a very distinctive due to having a lot of ‘poverty spec’ features, these included no front fog lamps as standard & black painted mirrors and air intakes instead of colour matched on the higher specced models.
Next up was the ‘120 Stepspeed’ that used a larger 1.8 I4 K-Series engine producing 118bhp & 122 ft-Ibs of Torque giving it a top speed to match the smaller ‘115’ but with a slower 0-60 time of 9.7s due to the 6 speed ‘Stepspeed’ CVT Automatic gearbox that was both carried over and used from the older MGF as well as the MG ‘Z’ Cars of the same period. Of all the TF’s available, the Stepspeed is the oddball out of them all simply due to having the option of an Automatic in a low slung sports car.
After the Stepspeed was the TF ‘135’, this version was powered by the same 1.8 used in both the Stepspeed and the older MGF’s but had a power increase to 135bhp & 122 ft-Ibs of Torque. Because this was a manual though and had more horsepower, it could achieve a top speed of 127 mph and a 0-60 of 8.2s. Out of all TF’s available, the ‘135’ was the common configuration bought and produced and this was because of its low cost, low tax bracket and its low insurance group for the power it had.
For the MG Enthusiast and Sports Car driver, the one to have is the ‘Trophy’. This was a rare but fantastic little variant of the TF and that was due to a 1.8 I4 K-Series putting out a whopping 160bhp & 128 ft-Ibs of Torque. Top speed was a very respectable 137 mph with a 0-60 time of 6.9s.
Alongside all of those TF’s available above, there was also three limited edition versions of the TF’s created. The 80th Anniversary LE, the 85th Anniversary LE & lastly the LE500. All these variants were limited numbers to celebrate MG’s heritage as a Sports car manufacturer. All of these variants are extremely rare with top money getting handed over for good, low mileage examples.
The 80th Anniversary was released in 2004 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of MG. Only 500 were produced for the UK market with three engines available, the ‘120’ with the ‘Stepspeed’, the ‘135’ and the ‘160’. Only available in Pearl Black, Starlight Silver & Goodwood Green, these also had a colour co-ordinated interior with the black & silver coloured cars getting a burgundy roof with an interior combining of Ash Grey, Grenadine Alcantara & black leather seats. The seats have ‘1924 MG 2004’ embroidered into the seats and to finish it off, they have a bright-finish centre console, door casings, gear knob and handbrake grip.
The Goodwood Green coloured cars were more traditional in style with a tan roof fitted with a matching tan interior. Black Alcantara and Tan leather seats are also embroidered with the ‘1924 MG 2004’ on the seats but instead of the bright-finish parts, they’re finished in wood effect for the doors, the centre console & the gear knob all coming together to compliment the leather steering wheel. Options included a MP3/CD tuner, a 6 Disc CD Autochanger, a Passenger Airbag, a choice of either a black, white or colour coded hard top roof, air conditioning & a ‘Sports Pack’ that lowers the car by 10mm as well as numerous uprated suspension components.
The 85th Anniversary in particular isn’t just a pretty face. Based heavily upon the ‘135’, this limited edition model features many high grade suspension upgrades that include Bilstein dampers, thicker Eibach anti roll bars front and rear as well as a lowered ride height. On top of this, they were only made in 3 colours.
The LE500 was made and introduced in 2008 to celebrate MG’s new ownership under the chinese group SAIC. A limited number of only 500 were built in limited colours and came standard with 16″ alloy wheels, a matching colour hard top roof, larger 304mm front brakes and leather seats.
All TF’s had a facelift over the older MGF and these included new headlamps & tail lamp units, side intake grilles as well as new bumpers and a new boot. On top of that, the TF’s had an uprated air induction system as well as uprated camshafts meaning that the TF’s produce more power than the older MGF’s. All TF’s have a 4/5 star safety rating as well.
In 2008, SAIC took over the production of MG and the TF after a hiatus of 3 years. Due to the Longbridge plant being shut down, SAIC built the new TF’s in their own Chinese plant and imported over. Differences between the two are different grilles as well as other cosmetic changes. These Chinese made examples are considerably more expensive than the Longbridge cars with prices being pretty much double than a standard UK car.
Reliability for MGF’ & TF’s are not too bad. Now I’ll agree that they do have issues, including the infamous head gasket issues that the K-Series engine is forever plagued with. Thankfully by the time the TF was released, there was a kit already made to uprate and upgrade the TF’s headgasket making it way more reliable. Talking to current & previous TF owners, both cars don’t really have issues with the head gasket unless they’re completely thrashed within an inch of their life. On the whole though, you shouldn’t really have an issue with a TF if you were to buy a good one.
Compared to its rivals, the TF looks as if it can’t compete but you have to look it like this. Yes, a Mazda MX-5 will be way more reliable and the MK3 Toyota MR-2 may have a better engine and a Lotus Elise will be way more fun but the TF is the better all rounder. the MK2 MX-5 isn’t quite as good as the original MK1, the MK3 MR2 was a complete flop after the sublime AW11 and the unbelievably pretty SW20. The Elise, while a better car overall, is way more money than even the best TF out there for sale.
The MG TF has now found itself now being a collectible car that is only going up in price. If you want a good one then you’d need to get buying now before they all become sought after and expensive. Hopefully with this article, it helps anyone out there looking to buy one a little bit easier to understand. If it was me, I’d be on the lookout for either a 1.6 ‘115’, a 160 Trophy, an 80th Anniversary, an 85th Anniversary or even the later SAIC built LE500’s as these are the rare ones to find for sale.
Whatever TF you wind up buying though, you’ll be getting yourself into a fantastic little low slung sports car that’ll excite every part of you as well as being either a perfect weekend car or even daily driver. As far as entry level sports cars go, you can’t go wrong with an MGF and TF!!
Hope You Enjoy!
By Alex Jebson