UK CAR Reviews: MGF 1.8i VVC 1996



Remember MGs from your youth? - Cheap, basic sports cars that could be repaired with a hammer and a pair of mole grips.

Rover has now deemed it long enough for of its long-past marketing ploys to be mostly forgotten.
The aborations that were MG Metro, Meastro and Montego are now Rusting In Pieces and the time is right to relaunch MG as a marque.
The original version ran Rover's worthy but saloon suitable K-Series motor in conventional cam format.
But a sports car really demands something a little more special than that.

......Hence the hotted VVC version.

143 bhp is not a figure to be sneezed at and gives the latest MG respectable performance, only the fact that it is a slightly portly sportster in the first place dims the VVC's rev happy ability. It's a shame that the souless faceless bureaucrats legislated the last semblance of noise out of car exausts, as the one thing missing from the VVC is a decent accompanying sound track.


Given that Rover has focused most of its attention on uprating the motor, you can take it that the basic handling ride package should be fairly good, and it is.

Fairly good, that is. The Hydro-elastic suspension that BMC have tried and disguarded many times in the past, rears its ugly head once more. This system, which is a sort of poor man's Citroen suspension, does an adequate job of controlling the MG, and blesses it with a really quite pampering ride for a supposed sports car. But at the cutting edge of handling, the MG doesncan't quite match a certain (whisper it) Japanese competitor. By rights the MGF should be a super sharp sportster but it feels like Rover have leant a little to much toward practicality and comfort, and dimmed down the steering too far towards easy neutrality. I can't help thinking that a more conventional suspension layout could perform just as well but would be a hell of a lot cheaper to make.'t quite cut it, its fine 99% of the time but it's just that it.

 

The design of this car is in MG terms really quite radical; 'mid-engined' is rocket-science in MG Land and overhead cams haven't been seen since the MGA.

In fact this MG came as somewhat of a shock to the flat cap brigade, who are used to MG's being cheap, affordable and somewhat crude devices. The terms 'radical' and 'MG' are not normally mentioned in the same paragraph, never mind a sentence.

In this car, there is nothing of the old basic practicality of the MGB. Instead, there is a modern 90's practicality. The roof fits nicely and keeps the weather out, the heater is effective and the interior trim is a million miles from the MGs of yesteryear. On the whole, the entire vehicle oozes sophistication.

 

For once, on a British car, the concept isn't spoilt by the execution. The fuel cap is a stylish race look-alike, the wheels look classy, and the red piping of the Interior which appears to be becoming an MG trademark actually looks quite smart in this context. The cream trim, I can live with, although it wouldn't be my first choice. However, white dials which may be fashionable, or retro, or sporty, or fashionable retro sporty even, don't agree with my eyes. Black dials with white lettering and lots of them is what I'd want. Copyright© Andrew Pat®1999. There are still quite a few Rover corporate-parts-bin items lying about, but what do you realistically expect at this type of money?

On the question of looks, the jury is still very much out, only time will tell whether this will join the ranks of the true MG classics, or whether it will be ostracised as yet another piece of BMC-BL-ROVER badge engineering. I quite like its looks but what concerns me is why they styled it like they did. The front looks big enough to carry a motor. The car has a real front engined decent sized boot look to it. Yet opening the bonnet, (or is that front boot?) reveals only battery, spare wheel and a view of the road. The boot for real sits behind the engine ala Fiat X/19 at the back. Why Rover couldn't better utilise the front space is beyond my limited imagination. If I didn't know better, I'd say the original design could have been for a front-engined front driver or mid-engined rear driver.

There are so many nice parts to this MG it really is hard to find much wrong with it - smooth looks, opulant interior, easy running costs and that excellent K Series motor. It just has the one minor problem - the Mazda MX5. On paper a much more ordinary device, the MX5 has that dynamic edge which will always attract the keener driver. Until MG aka Rover bite the bullet and give us an F which concentrates on giving more thrills and less frills, it will remain, as it seems to be today - a rich schoolboy's show-off car.

SPECIFICATION

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Price (at time of publishing)

£15,825
Engine 1796cc 4cyl DOHC
Max Speed 130mph
Max Power 143bhp

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Performance 0-60mph in 7.0 sec
Insurance Group 14
MG

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