Advantages Most Practical open Top Car. Very Clever Design. Well Built.
Disadvantages A Few Cheap Astra Parts. English Weather!
WHAT IS IT?This is Vauxhall's (or Opel's if you are reading this anywhere but in the UK) replacement for both the Astra Coupe and Convertible - hence the clever title "Twintop" - two cars in one, or so they would have you believe.
It is a two plus two, (the rear seats are just big enough for two average sized adults) folding, metal roofed convertible. Top up it is a snug and attractive coupe, top down it is a svelte looking convertible.The roof folds in three pieces as it gracefully, and quietly, glides into the boot. Yes, that does mean that with a boot full of luggage you are unable to fold the roof, however in this particular car you do not loose ALL of the boot space to the folding roof and its mechanism, as in some much more expensive metal roofed convertibles.
Unusually, this is a "two for the price of one" review here, having thoroughly tested the first example, a 1.9 CDTi (150bhp), I was curious to try the rather more powerful 2.0 petrol turbo version - all 197bhp of it, to see if my initial impressions were correct. The diesel, paradoxically, was a "Sport", whilst the 2.0T was the range topping "Design" model. Both cars have six speed gearboxes.Not wishing to let the cat out of the bag in advance, but one of these was a great drive thanks to the engine and transmission, whilst the other was vastly preferable due to its' trim!
IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?Once again I do not actually own one of these - yet! The experiences upon which this review is based were gained at the Company Car In Action event at the Millbrook proving ground in Bedfordshire in June.
I have much experience with Vauxhall Astra Convertibles of old however, having owned three of them in the past. The first one, a 2.0 GTE Convertible was a great car. I purchased it second hand, then made the mistake of replacing it with a new one. That car was so bad, that having almost killed me on a Devon lane one day - brake fluid squirted out all over the front disk leading to dangerously unbalanced braking followed by total brake loss - that Vauxhall actually replaced a six week old car with an identical new one. That car had a whole raft of further faults…………I am not therefore a "natural convert" to open topped motoring - Vauxhall Astra style!
COSTSOne of these two is going to prove surprisingly cheap to run, the diesel of course! The 2.0 turbo Petrol engined Twintop will hit harder in the pocket, especially in terms of insurance costs as well as in every other category below.
PURCHASE COST 9 / 10Again, without wishing to draw too early a conclusion, for what this car offers in terms of style, technology and indeed equipment, it is superb value for money, beating hands down some much more prestigious marques which sell at a good £10,000 more.
Regrettably there are many "badge snobs" out there who would never see that though!The two we are looking at here - in the same trim (the 2.0 Turbo is only available in Design specification) are within £100 of each other.
These cars are quite habitable in standard form, especially the Design model. If you want to splash the cash on options, and on a Vauxhall I would, for depreciation reasons, always advise against it, then there are some tempting high-tech ones to choose from.£350 on metallic or pearlescent paint is, as usual, a good idea, one of our cars was metallic black, the other silver - both optional. Personally I would also add the £450 six CD in dash stereo (integrated Satnav is £1250 - a total waste of money), whilst the intriguing "steering" headlight system at £750 may well prove tempting for some.
On my "chosen" model, the required (in any convertible) leather upholstery is standard equipment and unusually comes in a choice of three colours - black, charcoal grey and saddle brown.One piece of standard equipment that I was really taken with on the Design model was the keyless go. As you approach the car with the keyfob (there is no key) in your pocket (or handbag, let's not be sexist!) the central locking opens the car, you sit down, dip the clutch with your foot on the brake, press the start button and drive away.
After driving for twenty six years this was the first time that I have tried a car with such a feature and I have to say that the whole process just felt so entirely natural.DEPRECIATION 7 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.
With a car as new to the market as this, it is notoriously difficult, at this stage, to predict the second hand value of an Astra Twintop. Competitors in this swelling, metal folding roof market, both more and less expensive, have proved to be low depreciators. Vauxhall's problem, as always, will be the image of that badge and how many cars and at what discounts hit the new marketplace.FUEL ECONOMY 9 / 10
The 150bhp 1.9 turbodiesel engine in this Astra is a proven champion of economy. In everything from Alfa hatchbacks to the large Saab 9-5 executive saloon, it is a power unit renowned for producing good, real world, fuel economy. Expect on a daily basis to be covering around 45 miles on each gallon of diesel, with an 11.5 gallon tank, that is just over 500 miles per refill.For a pokey turbocharged petrol engine, the 2.0 Turbo does not drink fuel to the extent that I would have expected, reckon on around 30mpg with this one……
……you don't need to be a mathematical genius to work out that the diesel is going to save you a lot of fuel though.SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 9 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?
No Vauxhall ever broke the bank on servicing costs, both of these engines are well known and used extensively in other Vauxhall models too.Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in…….
THE EXTERIOR:STYLING 9 /10: A very subjective category here.
In my opinion, this is the best looking metal folding topped car on the market. General Motors have come up with a design that is genuinely attractive both roof up and down. I have yet to see the Focus Convertible "in the metal", but this Astra is a vastly better looking car than its French competitors; the Megane and 307 and indeed the new Volkswagen Eos.Whilst you may well argue that the appearance of a car is not a prime reason for buying it, in this particular - slightly exhibitionist - market sector, appearance is everything!
OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 8 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?With those lingering memories of my shoddy Astra Convertibles from a dozen years ago still fresh in my mind, I was looking at these two cars unusually critically. We even put the roof up and down a couple of times to see if it worked properly. It did.
In fact all sign of Heath Robinson build quality appear to have been banished, they were both every bit as well put together as the VW Eos and well ahead of the French cars in terms of fit and finish.SAFETY 7 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.
I would be inclined to mark all open topped cars down in terms of safety on the same basis. The folding metal roofed ones, top up, will have a better, stronger shell than a traditional ragtop, but still if you have an accident top down you are less likely to survive it as well as in a conventional saloon or hatchback.In terms of dynamic safety - i.e. the way it drives, this felt like the safest of all - beating hands down the equally new and much more expensive Volvo C70 tested, like the others on the same day. Incidentally, that list, as well as the Astra twins here, comprised of the Peugeot 307CC, Volvo C70, and Saab 9-3 Convertible.
THE INTERIOR:ERGONOMICS 7 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.
Whilst in terms of ergonomics I have always favoured Fords over Vauxhalls, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the control layout in the Astra. All controls are simple and intuitive to use, falling easily to hand. Also in these cars I found it exceptionally quick and easy to find the ideal driving position.VISIBILITY: 7 / 10
All round visibility in these folding metal topped cars is vastly better than in, for instance, the Saab 9-3 Convertible with its high rear deck and huge rear three quarter blind spots created by the fabric roof. With the Astra roof up, the only noticeable compromise in visibility is the rather small rear window.Top down of course you have a panoramic, open view, of the surrounding countryside. The Astra is better than its competitors in that it is less high at the back. However, as with any other convertible, I would be inclined to advise the fitment of reverse park radar, it is easy for a small child to "hide" below the line of rear vision on these cars - even with the top down.
SPACE: 8 / 10:Well it is not designed to be a people carrier! In the front it is as spacious as I would need it to be, I am only 5ft 8ins, but long in the body, short in the leg. I could sit behind myself in this car in reasonable comfort - the Volvo was the only other car in which I could do that, and it is considerably larger in overall dimensions.
Unlike the Volvo though, this car's ace trick is its huge boot space. Top up it is a truly colossal space, with a large opening, top down you have a shallow but deep space, certainly big enough for a couple of cases with the roof folded over the top. In this car, and this one alone, it would even be possible to get them in and out of the boot without putting up the roof. Very cleverly you can press a botton ant the roof canter levers up about 2ft 6ins allowing you to pack luggage below a net, before refolding into the boot.Well done Vauxhall, in terms of space and design this car is a triumph!
STYLE 6 / 10:For me, this was the Astra Twintop's one letdown. It is very much like a standard Astra inside - it had to be. Designing bespoke dashboards and seats etc would have made this a prohibitively expensive car to build. This is the one and only area where you can start to justify the much higher price asked for the Saab or Volvo convertibles which, to be fair, do have a plusher ambience inside.
The dashboard itself is particularly unattractive and "saloon" like in appearance, I know that when you are driving a car you are not examining its interior style, I however am a sucker for a well styled and attractive interior. Ford do no better with the new Focus Convertible, the more expensive Volkswagen Eos is a class up in the interior stakes though.Here it really is a case of you pays your money and takes your choice.
MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 8 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?Compared to my Astra Convertibles of yesteryear, this particular category was a revelation to me. Having examined, driven and played with the other convertible cars on the day, I walked away with the impression that this, the cheapest of them, was also the best finished. The only items that let it down really, particularly on the non-leather trimmed Sport model, were the standard Astra parts - the aforementioned dashboard primarily.
AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 7 / 10: Strange grouping?No complaints about either of the systems that the controls operate, but the central console on which they are mounted is a cheap fake metal looking panel, acceptable in a £14,000 hatchback, less so in a £20,000 convertible which tends to be left open to rather closer scrutiny.
ON THE ROAD……..……Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.
NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 8 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?8 out of ten for both of these cars here. If anything the 1.9 turbodiesel is the quieter and more smoothly performing choice, with the roof down you are unaware of driving a diesel, neither incidentally is there any smell or smoke from the exhaust.
This widely used diesel engine truly is an excellent power plant…….……whereas the 2.0 Turbo petrol unit is really nothing out of the ordinary in terms of smooth operation or indeed noise. It fails to sound particularly sporting and yet at the same time is not impressively quiet. I would unhesitatingly choose the diesel here.
PERFORMANCE 8 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?Neither the petrol or diesel Astra Twintops that we tried were slow! I (again) preferred the diesel's power delivery, it was smoother and more effortless to drive fast, requiring less use of the gearbox.
The increase in the acceleration times in the diesel, and indeed the lower published top speed, becomes totally irrelevant on the road. In an open topped car such as this, the 2.0 Turbo it could be argued is actually unnecessarily quick.There are smaller petrol engined Twintops, a 1.6 and a 1.8, these are heavy cars - at around 1500kg - the 1.6 will be underpowered, the 1.8 only just adequate - prime engine choice in this car is without doubt the diesel.
The Saab 9-3 Convertible that we drove on the same day had this identical engine in it, due to the way that it is tuned in this application, and the Saab's bigger, even heavier, body, in that car it feels somewhat less impressive.RIDE & HANDLING 9 / 10
Here is where I was blown away. On this score it is the best riding and handling of any open car that I have driven. This is largely due to the extraordinarily stiff body shell. All of the other convertibles (and a couple on non-convertibles!) shook and creaked over some of the wickedly surfaced parts of the hill route at Millbrook. The Astra Twintop did not.This was my sole reason for taking out the 2.0 Turbo model, I wanted to see if our experience in the 1.9 diesel was a fluke, a lucky build one off car. That was not the case, driving the petrol powered car even harder, it repeated the performance, the windows, when wound up did not creak and rattle, the dashboard (as in many convertibles) did not shake either.
IS IT DRAUGHTY WITH THE ROOF DOWN? If you've got a metal folding roof, you will want to drive with the top down at some stage!Again, here the Astra Twintop design seemed head and shoulders above the other convertibles. This was a hot (25deg.C) but windy day. Mrs R. is very sensitive to having her hair blown about and was impressed with the way the wind slipped over the top of the Astra - in all the other cars driven we felt the need for a wind deflector.
I would have no hesitation in choosing the 1.9 CDTi Design model and would indeed be more than happy to put it to our ultimate test - top up though - driving in a day to Poland.
ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) 67.8%
Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:
Still to come are reviews of the new Volvo C70, the Peugeot 307CC and the ever popular Saab 9-3 Convertible. Regrettably this review rather lets the cat out of the bag as regards the others. I cannot wait to try the new Focus, going on sale, ironically, in the autumn!
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