The Vauxhall Astra is one of the best-looking hatchbacks, but average dynamics and performance hamper its overall appeal
First DriveFrugal 1.6-litre diesel Astra estate has the zest to match its decent chassis and good looks
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Along with the Eos and forthcoming Ford Focus Coupé-Cabriolet, Vauxhall’s curiously named Astra TwinTop (perhaps it hopes we’ll call it a TT for short) ends the French stranglehold on affordable four-seat convertibles. UK buyers bought around 12,000 new Renault and Peugeot coupé-cabriolets last year.
But with VW and Vauxhall both muscling in, and Ford launching its Focus CC in August, the marketplace suddenly looks rather congested. Wisely then, Vauxhall is giving the TwinTop a price-led head start over its fellow newcomers. The headline-grabbing entry price of £16,995 is less than you’ll pay for any of the new or established rivals, but it only gets you the 1.6 petrol.
In reality, Vauxhall doesn’t expect the 1.6 to be a big seller, as underlined by the decision to bring none to this launch. With only 104bhp to haul 1.5 tonnes, it will feel desperately slow – borne out by a claimed 0-60mph time of 13.2sec.
The next engine up the range, the new 138bhp 1.8 four-cylinder petrol sampled here, is expected to be the biggest seller. With prices starting at £18,295, it is still cheaper than the similarly powerful Peugeot and Renault CCs, and offers a decent saving over the 1.6-litre Eos and the anticipated Focus prices. The TwinTop is also available with two other engines: a 148bhp 1.9 CDTi diesel and a 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol.
The TwinTop follows the traditional coupé-cabriolet route with an electrically operated metal folding roof. Glass roof panes are optional and the whole structure folds away seamlessly in 26sec. For attention-seekers, the particularly elaborate performance can be operated at speeds of up to 18mph, or remotely via the key on all except the base model.
Where the established form is to divide the roof section into two pieces, Vauxhall has gone for three. The advantage is to shrink the length of the area needed to stow the folded roof, giving more luggage space and allowing for more elegant proportions. From a visual standpoint it works: roof-up the TwinTop looks more coupé-like than its rivals, with a gracefully sloped rear roofline. The windscreen also doesn’t need to stretch so far back, meaning it feels more like a convertible with the roof down and requires a less bulbous rear. Clever thinking, then, but not without disadvantages. With 440 litres of boot space in coupé mode,
the TwinTop is among the most commodious in the class, and the 205 litres available in scalp-scorching mode is only bettered by the Eos.
But what a three-piece roof does for the length of the folded top, it does the opposite for depth. With the roof folded, accessing anything in the boot involves a 20-second display of robotics as the Easy-load system lifts the stowed roof by 25cm. It’ll impress the first few times, but will annoy you pretty soon and, even raised, access to the boot is poor.
What's it like?
Roof-up, the TwinTop rides well, the stiff suspension – necessary to keep the heavier body in check – makes for a slightly firm ride, but very little noise or vibration makes it further than the cabin floor. There is some body flex over rough roads with the roof down (evident more through steering kickback than scuttle shake), but there are commendably few rattles from inside the cabin.
No one buys a coupé-cabriolet expecting hot-hatch performance; in fact, the calmer you drive the better they are. Which is convenient because even with the 138bhp 1.8-litre motor the TwinTop is pretty slothful. It takes 10.7sec to reach 60mph from rest and just 129lb ft makes for plenty of gear-changes (an automatic gearbox is not available).
Find a corner, though, and the TwinTop can carry decent speed; the handling is less affected by roof position than it is in a 307 or Mégane CC. However, this is not a sporty car: in fact, the accurate but lifeless steering is more than a suitable match for the rest of the dynamics.
Other than some subtly altered trim colours the cabin is pure Astra, which means striking looks and a comfortable driving position. As with all cars in this class, the roof mechanism constricts the rear cabin width and necessitates upright seat backs. There’s room for four adults for shortish journeys, but not for long trips.
The basic 1.8 Sport model comes with air-con, six-speaker CD player, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel and 17-inch alloy wheels. Spend £700 more for the Design model and you also get automatic lights and wipers.
Should I buy one?
If you can afford it, the £20,695 197bhp turbo is a far better bet - having the power to provide brisk performance and, if you’re not in the mood, sufficient torque for relaxed driving.
Whether there will be enough sun-loving buyers with a spare £20,000 to fill the collective order books of Vauxhall, VW and Ford remains to be seen. But Vauxhall is in a strong position: the TwinTop is a good car with an even better price.