Free of the constraints it had under BMW, there seems to be a spirit of adventure and feeling of self-confidence coursing through MG Rover that means it can produce cars like the MG TF, which in every way is a quantum leap from its predecessor, the MGF.
Since its launch in 1995, the MGF has been a roaring success. It was the best-selling roadster in Britain with more than 40,000 registered. Each year it has shifted more units than the one before, and residuals have been steady, illustrating British motorists' love affair with the car.
It suffered from build quality issues though - leaky roofs, engine overheating and a rattly cabin to name a few - and looked a little too cute and stubby, particularly for the gentleman driver.
The old MGF was not really considered a fleet car originally, although Angus Gray, fleet sales director for MG Rover, said the company had started to push it harder in the last couple of years.
Of the new MG TF, Gray said: 'I see the TF as being a car for those who opt-out. 'We are trying to give the car an edge. We are hopeful of a lot more with the TF as a lot more men will consider the car: we are being a lot more proactive, and we're very keen to talk to fleet customers about the car.'
Residuals are already being touted as strong. CAP Monitor estimates the TF will retain between 40% and 43% of its price new after three years and 60,000 miles, depending on the model.
This matches closely the figures for its key rivals, the Toyota MR2 and Mazda MX5. The MG TF has a wider range of engines than the Toyota and Mazda but matches them price-wise at the key 1.8-litre level. It is now as good to drive as well, and for me it beats them hands down when it comes to looks.
But should a driver be concerned with matters less superficial, power is up slightly on previous models, with the 1.8i 135 leaping from 118bhp to 134bhp, making it almost as fast as the old VVC with a 0–62mph of 8.2 seconds, while the 160 uses a version of the MGF Trophy SE engine. It blasts away from the line to 62mph in 6.9 seconds, and tops out over 130mph.
Because of the variable valve engine, the 160 is the pick of the bunch from a fleet point of view.
With 179g/km of CO2 and combined fuel economy of 37.6mpg it has lower emissions and better fuel economy than the 135 (189 and 35.6) and the 120 Stepspeed (199 and 33.9). For a 40% taxpayer, the 135 would cost £1,299 per year and the 160 £1,350, which makes that extra £51 a good investment for the added performance you get. The 115 takes the car up against the cheapest MX5, and provides good tax and fuel friendly roadster motoring at 169g/km and 39.8 mpg.
With the 115 on-the-road at £15,750, the 120 Stepspeed £18,245, the 135 £17,245 and the 160 costing £19,995 the spread of prices and performance ensures that a decent slice of company car drivers would have an MGTF to suit their budget and needs. Lucky them.
Behind the wheel
The budget roadster market is the pop world of the motor industry. For your money you often get some half decent performance with some corners cut. But as long as the product looks good there's a fair chance it will be top of the pops. Well, I cannot see any reason why the MG TF will not be a smash hit and eclipse the F's performance.
And while the other versions might be easy on the eye and will have buyers flocking, the 160 in X-Power grey has real star quality.
With its silver mesh grill, red AP Racing brake calipers and 16 inch 11 spoke alloys, it is stunning, sleek and shark-like. To my eyes there is no better looking car in the sector.
The nose is chiselled, while the wide-eyed headlights of the F have been replaced with dart-like headlights with two projector lamps, sidelights and indicators. The revised nose and integrated spoiler growing out of the new, flatter, boot lid have also led to improved aerodynamic performance, sticking the car to the tarmac, especially when accelerating hard where the car sits very flat.
The body also directs air into the car better, which cools the engine tucked away behind the seats. No more overheating hopefully.
The Hydrogas suspension system, which stemmed from the Metro, has finally run its course, and as the only car in the world to use it, MG engineers say there just is not the development momentum to improve the system.
So the TF gets multi-link coil springs at the back, which offer the winning combination of a great ride, less understeer, a more predictable reaction to inputs from the revised steering rack, and less nosedive under braking. It squirts away with a cracking exhaust note and that strong engine sits buzzing away behind you.
A change that would have been nice to see is a more practical driving position for us plus six footers.
Despite a thinner seat squab knees still rest up against the steering wheel. I had to drive with my shoes off, which is fine in sunny Portugal, but not great in a damp British winter.
To be fair to MG boffins, they admitted that the cost of re-engineering the position would be more than the sales they would get as a result, and while it might spoil my fun slightly, it seems like sound logic for a company being careful with its pennies.
The MG TF is also 20% stiffer than its predecessor, and sounds like it. There are no rattles and no scuttle shake, making the whole car feel much better screwed together. With revised gear linkage, the throw requires a good push or pull, but slots in with a racing car's precision. It is a big improvement over the old version, which always felt slight, and certainly started to get loose and wobbly with age.
And of course, the great thing about the MG TF is that with the engine mid-mounted, there is plenty of room front and back for stowage space, which leads to MG's claim that the TF is a car you can live with day in day out.
It was difficult to tell in sunny Portugal, but as there is very little that the MG TF doesn't do better, faster and sharper than its predecessor, I've got no reason to doubt it.
The TF is a cracker.