What a result. After a scorching hot April I was handed the keys to a brand new Vauxhall Astra TwinTop – a convertible for the beautiful, long summer we were clearly going to have.
Alas, the weather gods have conspired against me since then – May was a bit of a washout and June hasn’t been much better at the time of writing. But, according to the press blurb accompanying the latest addition to our car park, that’s the whole point.
“Today’s weather forecast is… irrelevant,” it declares. And it has a point. Clearly the aim of the folding hard-top concept is to make the car seem like a normal car when the weather is, well, British.
The Astra joins a long and still-growing list of coupe-cabriolets, but frankly few look as good as this one.
The big-bum syndrome so commonly seen on cars that need to accommodate a folded roof is absent here. In fact, more than one person has asked me if it’s a new Vectra I’m driving. The proportions of the car, roof up, are just right.
The folding roof is a three-piece affair that disappears into the boot in less than 30 seconds. Impressively, this can be done on the move at up to 18mph, which has already proved useful in the stormy weather.
No more annoying traffic behind by being stuck at lights when popping the top down. And while some might take pleasure in parking up at the supermarket and then putting the roof down in full view of everyone, I quite like being able to do it as I drive out. It saves having to watch small children gawping at the Transformer-like mechanical display.
And quite a display it is, too. This is by far the most complicated-looking roof system I’ve seen, with extra bits whirring out all over the place as it rises into position. As a gadget fan, I like it a lot.
Roof down, the car still looks really good. With the side windows up, wind intrusion in the front seats is minimal – you might even get out with your hair looking similar to the way it did when you set off.
It’s not quite so refined in the back. The few passengers I’ve had in so far have all emerged looking like Worzel Gummidge.
There’s not a huge amount of room in the back either, although it’s enough to fit an adult in for short journeys without too much trouble. That’s more than can be said for some of the Astra’s rivals.
The boot is also on the slim side. If you keep the roof up and don’t intend to put it down there’s enough room for a couple of suitcases.
But to go topless requires a blind-style load cover to be pulled across, which dramatically reduces space to 205 litres. That sounds better than it is, as it’s quite a flat space which means items such as larger suitcases and picnic hampers have to go into the back seat.
Power in our Metro Blue car comes from the 1.9-litre CDTi turbodiesel engine, which produces 150bhp and 236lb-ft of torque and comes with a six-speed manual gearbox. The diesel option is the obvious fleet choice with a combined mpg of 47.1 and CO2 emissions of 160g/km.
But having driven both petrol and diesel incarnations of other folding hard-top cars, I think the diesel is the best option – the extra torque comes in very useful when hauling the weight that the roof mechanism brings.
The trim level of our car is Sport, one down from the top-of-the-range Design model, and costs £20,275.
It comes with air-conditioning, leather-covered steering wheel and full electrics as standard, as well as front foglights and 16-inch alloys.
We’ve added the optional Plus Pack (£350), which gets us cruise control and 17-inch alloys, as well as a windbreak (£150), satellite navigation (£1,250) and ESP (£400).
So, I’m well set up for whatever the summer throws at us. Here’s hoping my yearning for top-down motoring doesn’t scare the sun away.
The manufacturer's view
More companies are allowing hard-top convertibles, rather than soft-tops, on their choice lists because of the added safety and security that cars with retractable hard tops bring.
Vauxhall is expecting to sell around 2,000 TwinTops into fleets this year, so while numbers are relatively low, this does indicate a growing acceptance among fleet operators for models of this kind.
This acceptability is undoubtedly helped by the 1.9 CDTi 150bhp diesel engine within the model range as this provides not only first rate performance and driveability but low BIK tax bills as well.
Paul Adler, GM UK fleet brand manager
Equipment and options
Price (OTR): £20,465
Price as tested: £22,615
Price: £20,465 (£22,615 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 160
Company car tax bill (2007) 22% tax-payer: £81 per month
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 47.1
Test mpg: 40.7
CAP Monitor RV: £8,375/41%
Contract hire rate: £403
Expenditure to date: Nil