Used MG F review: 1997-2002
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Used With a sense of speed and style
Fans of the old MGs were somewhat taken aback when the F abandoned the traditional MG mould of front engine and rear drive for the more contemporary mid-engined layout. While it was a big departure from the old school, it brought the brand right up to date.
The F was a smart little two-seater with smooth flowing lines that gave it a sense of speed even when standing still.
Inside, there was adequate room for two adults, although taller occupants could feel cramped. Apart from that, the interior was attractive with cloth trim in the base model and leather in the VVC-powered model.
The instruments were cream and brown, the minor controls were well within reach and simple to use, and the steering wheel was a nice size for a sports car.
The roof was manually operated, but it was easy to use and folded out of sight behind the seats. When raised, the space it left behind the seats was handy for storage.
There was also plenty of equipment in the F, including power windows, power steering, dual airbags, central locking with an engine immobiliser and audio system.
The engine, a 1.8-litre twin overhead camshaft four-cylinder unit, was mounted transversely behind the cockpit. There were two versions, the base engine which produced 90kW at 5500 revs and 165Nm at 3000 revs, and a more powerful one with VVC variable valve timing, which produced 107kW at 7000 revs and 174Nm at 4500 revs.
The transmission was a slick shifting, five-speed manual with the drive ultimately distributed to the rear wheels for a thrilling drive. Underneath, the F had Hydragas suspension, which gave it a comfortable ride and contributed to its brilliant handling.
Brakes were four-wheel discs with ABS electronics to keep tabs on the action at the tyre-tarmac interface. On the road, the F was simply brilliant once you squeezed yourself into the cockpit. The mid-engine layout gave it a balance front-engined cars could never achieve, with an agility and responsiveness that few cars could match.
IN THE SHOP
Most notably the MGF suffered from head gasket problems, with gaskets blowing with as few as 20,000km on the clock.
MG specialists worked out that the steel cooling pipes running between the engine and the radiator at the front of the car were corroding. The head gaskets were eventually improved and the problem was fixed.
The Hydragas suspension also proved a problem area. The system uses a combination of nitrogen gas and a fluid instead of conventional springs and shock absorbers. But over time the nitrogen leaks out of the system and the suspension sags. It's possible to return the car to its correct ride height by pumping the suspension full of the fluid, but that adversely affects the ride. The system was replaced by conventional springs and shocks on the TF model that replaced the F.
Look out for signs of the car being caught in the rain with the roof down. If there are water stains or damp smells, it means it has been left exposed to the elements.
Parts are readily available for the F and generally less expensive than the parts originally supplied by the factory.
Dual airbags provide good passive protection in the event of a crash, while the combination of an agile chassis, four-wheel disc brakes and anti-skid electronics provide a good level of active safety.
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