New MG marks Rover's classic return

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The Independent Online

A new-look Rover MG two-seater sports car arrives in showrooms today, 15 years after the classic roadster was phased out.

The launch of the MGF was keenly awaited by car buffs and could herald the revival of other famous marques under Rover's strategy of moving into more up-market models.

First launched 33 years ago, the old MGB was the victim of Rover's decision to concentrate investment and research and development in the volume car market. But with Rover's owner, BMW, encouraging the development of further niche models, a new Austin Healey or Riley may soon appear.

What makes the 123mph MGF different from its predecessor is that the 1.8-litre engine is in the middle of the car, with rear-wheel drive, like a Ferrari.

At more than pounds 16,000, Rover describes the MGF as the "affordable British sports car". But despite strong advance orders of more than 1,500 - 400 from Japan - Rover knows that the market for cheaper sports cars is getting crowded.

Competition includes the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota's MR2. They will soon be joined by Fiat's Barchetta coupe, a new Spyder from Alfa Romeo and the Boxster from Porsche. All sell for about pounds 20,000 or less.

If that was not enough, Lotus unveiled the futuristic 125mph Elise at this month's Frankfurt motor show. With its aluminium chassis, the ultra- light Elise has a 1.8 litre engine that will do 0-60mph in under 6 seconds. Once these cars start rolling off the production lines, the value of secondhand coupes is likely to fall. Buyers are likely to be wary of purchasing an asset whose value is not going to hold.

Never the less, the trade press has eulogised the MGF, with Autocar calling it a "truly great car" that will "sell like lottery tickets on a roll- over week". If so, the 20,000 production run will not nearly be enough.