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27th March 2001
First drive of the latest MGF variants - web exclusiveToday I had the chance to drive the latest MGF variants, including the 1.6I and the Trophy 160SE. Also on offer were the other models in the range - including the renamed 'Stepspeed' (formerly Steptronic) but I focused on the two new models as those were the most interesting departures.
Firstly the Trophy, the example I drove being finished in the attractive Trophy Blue (more classy but admittedly less attention-grabbing than Trophy Yellow). The suspension is indeed quite a bit firmer, as Top Gear's Jason Barlow suggested, but to be frank it was firm in the sense of well controlled (admittedly a bit jarring over potholes) and certainly helped the handling - not that I had a race track to try the car on (as you can guess, TG wrecked the tyres on that yellow Trophy they tested!). Acceleration was great, and needless to say the power further up the rev range was excellent. As the power had been released by clever work on the throttle body and some head finishing, the resulting unit was not harsh in any way - the engineers at MG Rover had simply unleashed further potential from the VVC without affecting normal driving traits.
After driving the Trophy, I jumped into the 1.6I - and what a sweet honey of a car that was! The shorter stroke had led me to guess that the unit might be a bit sweeter than the 1.8 and indeed it was. Okay, off the line the 1.6 had not got the Trophy's grunt, but it was certainly no disgrace, and as 112PS the 1.6 is only 8 horsepower shy of the standard 1.8. The development engineer told me how pleased he and his colleagues had been to find, for example, that the gearbox ratios did not need altering for the 1.6.
Starting at under £16,000, I thought the 1.6 was the sports car bargain of the year; it may have been slightly 'de-specced' from the standard car, by deleting certain equipment such as electric door mirrors, body colouring on some parts and making the hood cover an option, but it still looks as good, and retains standard alloys and power-steering.
Having driven the Trophy, I'd love to own one, but I had to admit that for nearly £6,000 less the 1.6I would make much more sense. At the moment, it is pretty academic in my case (now, where did I put that lottery ticket?).