There are many things to like about the Tigra: it’s an eye-catching, hard-top convertible that’s reliable, easy to drive and cheap to run
John Evans
16 September 2019

Vauxhall has a habit of pulling a rabbit out of the hat from time to time. Remember the original Zafira with its Flex7 seating system and the Signum with its FlexSpace rear-seat arrangement? You can add another in the shape of the Tigra of 2004-09 – a pretty Corsa-based car with a clever electric folding roof.

Forward 15 years and the classifieds, if not exactly wilting under the weight of used Tigras, are at least straining slightly. Prices start at just £500 for runners of all ages and top out at a shade over £3000. Around £1500 is all you need for a clean, well-serviced example from a good home. 

The model arrived with a choice of two petrol engines: a 1.4 16-valve producing 89bhp and a 1.8 producing 123bhp. A 69bhp 1.3 CDTi diesel followed in 2005. The 1.4 was the best. What it lacks in outright oomph it makes up for by being sweeter, more flexible and considerably more economical than the 1.8. However, it suffers timing chain issues (you can spot a 1.4 a mile off by its tinkling engine) whereas the 1.8 is a straightforward new-belt-at-40,000- miles affair. 

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Those are the engines but the folding roof is why people bought the Tigra – and what a roof. To operate it, you undo a couple of latches, press a button and watch as the motors take over. It should be stowed within 20 seconds. To ensure it folds away neatly, the rear window and pillar drop almost vertically, allowing the roof panel itself to stow unobtrusively above, so preserving boot space. 

On that point, with the roof folded away, there’s 250 litres of luggage space, while in the closed position, there’s no less than 440 litres. In addition, there’s a shelf behind the front seats (there are no rear seats) that will happily accept 70 litres of luggage or something the size of a sports bag. 

Allowing for the fact that the roof seals may now be tired, the cabin should be relatively quiet and certainly watertight with the roof up. Over time, body shimmer may have loosened some of the cabin’s fixtures and fittings but otherwise it’s a well-built car that should still feel reasonably tight. 

The rear Targa-style section of the roof could be specified in either matt metallic Star Silver or in matt Moonland, both of which give the little car a pleasingly sporty and technical appearance. Alternatively, it could be ordered in the car’s body colour, which makes quite an impact. On that point, we found a very pretty 2009-reg 1.4 with 45,000 miles finished all over in yellow, a rare shade, for £2500. 

Today, trim levels are rather academic but Exclusiv (leather, aircon and alloy-effect touches to the interior) is a good one to shoot for. Sport versions get 16in alloy wheels and a silver Targa-style section. 

In no way is the Tigra a driver’s car, but as a cheap and attractive hatchback with a difference, it makes a lot of sense.

An expert’s view 

Tim Harrison, founder, Fix My Vauxhall: “I’m an auto electrician and have been working on Vauxhalls since the 1980s. The Tigra’s roof is generally reliable. I can’t think of many issues apart from failure of the pump modulator. Otherwise, being a Corsa under that trick body, the Tigra is a reliable and easy-to-drive car that’s also surprisingly well equipped. I mean, leather, climate control and a Targa-style panel that could be painted in a contrasting colour are pretty impressive on a car costing such little money, even when new. Don’t ignore the diesel. It’s a Fiat engine and pretty tough, as well as economical.” 

Buyer beware… 

■ Engine: The 1.4 suffers timing chain tensioner problems. It’s a common fault and heard as an annoying rattle at tickover that just gets louder over time. Fresh oil every year or 12,000 miles is key to its extended life but they still wear out in the end. Best thing is to have the chain and water pump replaced at purchase. Avoid 1.4 engines with numbers beginning 19F, which may have sub-standard camshafts. The 1.8 uses a belt that should be changed at 40,000 miles. Both engines can suffer uneven running caused by a faulty oxygen sensor and alternator issues at around 70,000 miles. 

■ Transmission: If selecting reverse is difficult, suspect worn linkage bushes. Replacement is the only long-term cure. Don’t worry: the 1.8-litre version isn’t missing a sixth gear; it just feels like it needs one because fifth is far too low. It feels notchy as well. 

■ Brakes: Check front discs and pads for wear. Ensure the handbrake releases because the rear shoes can stick to the drums in damp weather. Scrutinise workshop invoices for evidence of biennial brake fluid changes.

■ Body: Check the hood cycles correctly and the roof seals fit tightly. Inspect the headlights for misting.

■ Interior: Feel for water ingress via the door-mounted speakers. (Water gets in through the top window seals, runs down the inside of the door and exits near the speakers.) Check the floor for damp caused by water entering via the brake master cylinder, where the rubber mastic bonding it to the bulkhead has failed. 

Also worth knowing 

If the roof plays up, first try leaving the battery disconnected for three hours. Reconnect it and drive for 30 minutes until you hear a bleep signifying the system has reset itself. Otherwise, a slow roof could be a failing pump modulator. We found a set of two used pumps and rams for £150. 

How much to spend 

£500-£999: A good selection of 1.4s and 1.8s with long MOTs and up to 90,000 miles. 

£1000-£1499: Better condition, lower mileages and many with full service histories. 

£1500-£1999: The best cars begin at this money, most with leather, air-con, sat-nav, full service history and about 50,000 miles. 

£2000-£3500: Strongly priced cars, but £2500 buys the best 2009 1.4 16v Exclusiv with 34,000 miles so be wary of paying more.

One we found 

Vauxhall Tigra 1.4I 16V Exclusiv, 2009/58-red, 72k miles, £1495: Finished in bright blue metallic with a matt silver rear roof section, this Tigra really stands out. Other highlights include its seven service stamps and long MOT. Being Exclusiv, it has heated leather seats and climate control.

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