Vauxhall Astras? Perhaps not something that springs to most minds when the seasons turn, but the Luton firm will be hoping more than a few company car drivers enjoy a summer of love with its new convertible car.
And love certainly is in the air, because roof up or down, the TwinTop is a very attractive car. The low, arcing roofline complements the sharp, strong features of the body really well. With a nose based on the equally striking SportHatch, that’s not a surprise, but the rear is where the engineers and designers have come up trumps.
Trying to fit 90kg of moveable metal into the boot usually means that the engineers usually score a pragmatic win and the designers sit in the corner and sulk as their elegant creations end up with lardy bottoms as a matter of expediency.
Just look at the Peugeot 307 and Renault Megane, whose efforts look a little clumsy now this new three-piece roof generation is about. Such is the gamble of being first, I suppose.
But the Astra looks great from the rear. The chamfered edges help disguise any bulk and the high boot gives the car a pointy, dart-like appearance with the roof down.
Vauxhall expects to sell 5,000 in a full year, of which a third are likely to be fleet sales. Of course, how successful it is in fleet will be very much dependent on how many choice lists the TwinTop gets on. Many fleets don’t allow convertibles for the reasons that they are expensive to repair should the fabric get ripped or vandalised and that if an employee leaves, it can be difficult to find a new home for such an impractical car.
The TwinTop, though, doesn’t cause problems on either front. Obviously the roof isn’t going to get ripped, but it’s also relatively practical, and with the UK the largest European market for convertible motoring, why shouldn’t there be a queue at the fleet manager’s desk once the keys to this have been handed back in?
Engines on offer are 103bhp 1.6-litre, 137bhp 1.8-litre and 197bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol and a 148bhp 1.9-litre diesel unit, so there really is something for everyone, from the cheap 1.6 which starts at £16,995 to the sporty turbo with a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds and the economical 47.9mpg diesel.
Prices are extremely competitive up against the Megane and 307 CCs, and it is considerably cheaper than the Volkswagen Eos, whose prices will start at just under £20,000. Residuals are at a healthy 38-39% after three years/60,000 miles, according to CAP.
And for a 22% taxpaying company car driver a mid-range 1.8 16v Sport would cost £80 a month in benefit-in-kind tax, which seems a bargain in the circumstances.
The roof is a moving sculpture and the way it packages into the boot is something NASA would be proud of. Made of three sections, it concertinas together at the push of a button and then each pieces settles down on top of each other.
For the roof, Vauxhall went to the masters – CarTop-Systems – the Mercedes-Benz/Porsche joint venture which produces the roofs for the Mercedes-Benz SLK and SL.
It uses five motors and eight hydraulic cylinders to spin, fold and swivel everything into place in just under 30 seconds. The effect is tidy, with plastic covers slotted into place and an elegant metallic strip ringing everything in an Audi-esque manner.
Once in the boot these motors are engaged again should you want to get bags out of it. A push of a button on the boot sill sends the motors into a spin again, lifting the roof sections slightly, which necessitates the section behind the rear seats to lift, so rear passengers should keep a wary eye out. Luggage space with the roof up is a decent 440 litres, and 205 litres with it stowed. That 440 figure is 90 litres more than the five-door Astra in standard set-up, and 205 is still not bad with all that metal and glass in there too.
Behind the wheel
CONSPICUOUS by its absence at the launch was the 1.6-litre. I can only imagine it’s horribly slow. The figures would suggest it: only 103bhp and a 0-62mph time of more than 13 seconds. But then there are people who buy convertibles just to look good and costing only £16,995, we’ll leave this model to them.
The 1.8 is actually a decent drive. It’s no fireball but it is smooth and with 140bhp will prove more than adequate for most. Only a notchy five-speed gearbox spoils the experience, especially between second and third.
However, the diesel is the one for high mileage drivers. With a six-speed ’box it is a quiet and refined cruiser with the roof up or down. However, rev the engine and there is a harsh metallic note which tends to bounce off nearby walls, which is irritating while you try to look elegant with the roof stowed. The 2.0 turbo is great fun. With nearly 200bhp there is plenty of power and a sexy exhaust note to keep encouraging you.
With all the cars, it is obvious that the Astra loses some body rigidity as a result of its lack of roof and it shudders a little over rougher road surfaces. But on normal roads it is generally composed and with a ride that is fairly soft, even with the larger wheels and lower profile tyres.
It handles pretty well, too: predictable and with good grip levels, although you can feel the weight of the roof stowed in the back working the rear wheels if you push it.
Buffeting with the roof down is minimal and although there is a deflector in the boot that covers the rear seats, it never really felt like it was needed, even on a windy day at 70mph. The interior is well done, with all the usual stylish Astra design cues and while room in the back is hardly cavernous, it is just about acceptable for adults.
VAUXHALL appears to be on a winner. In fact the TwinTop could well prove to be the best car it sells. It looks great, works well and is priced keenly. If you don’t have convertibles on your choice list, it might well be time to start.
|Model:||1.6||1.8 VVT||2.0 Turbo||1.9 CDTi|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||103/6,000||137/6,300||196/5,400||147/4,000|
|Max torque: (lb-ft/rpm):||111/3,900||129/3,800||192/4,200||236/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||115||129||146||132|
|Fuel economy (mpg):||40.4||36.7||29.7||47.9|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||168||185||228||165|
|On sale:||May||Prices (OTR):||£16,999-£20,695|