Classics World’s test drives and reviews the 2003 MGTF 115…

Despite all the time I’ve spent in and around MGFs and TFs over the years, there’s one model which has escaped me entirely, this being the short-lived ‘115’ model. Introduced in the MGF in 1999 as an entry-level model, this produced 110bhp and was then carried through to the TF range from 2002 in which form it boasted 114bhp – neatly rounded up to create the model known as the TF 115.

As we reported last time we tried one of Just Right Autos’ MGs, the company is known to its regular customers as their local garage but has also developed something of a speciality in MGFs and TFs thanks to boss Martin’s previous experience with these cars in the main dealer network.

When I admitted I’d never sampled the 115 model, he was curious to know my thoughts and I was happy to oblige. I’d suggest that right now these are cars you buy on condition rather than absolute specification and in that respect you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer one – certainly at the price. Even considering its low mileage, the TF has clearly been well cared for, with the grey paintwork in really nice condition, set off by similarly smart the 16-inch alloys with decent Falken Ziex tyres.

Inside, despite being the ‘entry-level’ MGTF, the car boasts leather seats which have lasted well, with no creasing visible. The car also comes with an aluminium interior accent pack which includes console trim, ashtray, handbrake handle and door inserts. As we said, it’s clearly been loved by its previous owner, as further proved by the condition of the roof which suggests the car has probably been garaged.

The TF also comes with an extensive history, including a replacement head gasket, water pump and cam belt fitted by Just Right themselves.

2003 MGTF 115

On the road
The result? A bit of a surprise to be honest. If Martin hadn’t told me beforehand that this was the 1600 version rather than the full-fat 1800 K-Series, I probably wouldn’t have guessed.

Drive the 115 back to back with the 135bhp car and yes, you might just notice the difference but really, in everyday use it’s not obvious. In purely subjective terms, the lower torque of the smaller engine (15lbf.ft down on the 1.8) means it’s possibly less happy to labour at lower speeds in high gears than the larger unit, but the K-Series is hardly known for its torquey nature anyway – and at the end of the day, the F and TF are such lightweight cars it really doesn’t make much difference.

So yes, maybe a few more gearchanges curing urban driving but on the open road the 1600 spins just as happily as the larger unit and in reality there’s not much in it. The official figures give the 115 a top speed of 118mph compared to the 135’s 127mph, with a 0-60 of 9.2 seconds against 8.2 seconds.

Elsewhere, the 115 felt taut and well sorted on rough roads, as you’d expect from a 43,000-mile car without the body and trim rattles so often experienced in less well cared-for examples. The ride on these later TFs is firmer than the Hydragas set-up in the original MGFs but much more comfortable than the jolting ride on a car where the Hydragas spheres have lost all their gas. Since the TF runs conventional coil springs in place of the Hydragas, many are suggesting that with new spheres unavailable it makes a better buy currently and it’s certainly something worth bearing in mind.

2003 MGTF 115

As we said, these are cars best bought on condition these days and in that respect this one is faultless. Don’t let the smaller engine put you off, since in everyday use it’s barely noticeable and the 115 remains brisk enough to be fun. After all, nobody ever refused a Mk1 MX-5 just because it had the 1600 engine…

2003 MGTF 115

Tech Specs
Engine: 1589cc
Power: 114bhp
Top speed: 118mph
Fuel consumption: 40mpg
Gearbox: 5spd man