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Vauxhall Astra TwinTop 2.0T review (2006-2011)
Image © GM
Model: Vauxhall Astra TwinTop 2.0 T
Bodystyle: Two-door coupé-convertible
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Date of test: September 2006
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What is it?
The TwinTop is a sign of the times: it replaces the old Astra Convertible, supplanting a canvass roof for a folding metal one. Coupé-convertibles are where it’s at. But Vauxhall hasn’t just followed the herd – with its multi-piece roof, it’s gone one better. Because while the first wave of CCs were supermini-based, and could therefore get away with a simple folding roof, the stretch to larger family car-based models revealed a flaw. Namely, to swallow the so-long roof, the boot had to resemble an aircraft carrier. This is why the Renault Megane CC and, in particular, the Peugeot 307 CC are so stylistically compromised. Vauxhall has split the TwinTop’s roof, so it stacks like a deck of cards and therefore needs a ‘shorter’ boot. Designers were over the moon, and the smart-looking Vauxhall ‘CC’ is the result.
Where does it fit?
As mentioned, it’s a rival to the Megane and 307, plus the forthcoming Ford Focus CC (which, incidentally, uses a two-piece roof…). The VW Eos is a sort-of rival but is priced at a higher level, rather like the Volvo C70. These coupé-convertibles are massively in demand at the moment, taking away all the disadvantages of fabric-roof models. Buyers realise they can now own a coupé that offers full open-top pleasure with none of the compromises of yore, and are positively twitching at the excitement of it all. Renault and Peugeot took advantage of this excitement with their compromised offerings; evolution means newer entrants such as Vauxhall have honed and refined the concept, making them yet more desirable. There’s still a price premium over regular models, of course, but with the Astra, it isn’t too excessive. Not when you consider the sophistication offered by the TwinTop.
Is it for you?
Vauxhall bill this as a full four-seater. It’s not. There is room in the back, but only following compromises from those in front, rather as they do in a supermini. It’s more a car for kids – and the rear bench has purposely been designed to only seat two as well. That aside, it’s up with all CCs as being the most practical way ever to enjoy open-top motoring; compromises are few. And if you’d prefer an Astra Coupé, just pretend the roof doesn’t fold (or go for a Sport Hatch…)
What does it do well?
It feels very sophisticated, almost premium – a great effort from a mainstream maker. The interior is neatly trimmed and extremely well built, while details such as the dash top, dial pack and narrow panel gaps have echoes of BMW. The seats in the sporty Design test car were deep and comfortable too, and the optional ‘saddle’ leather was special. The familiar 200bhp 2.0-litre turbo provided bags of torque shove, offsetting the weight of the car well. It proved almost diesel-like in its low-rev grunt, and higher revs were signalled with a rorty exhaust note. It’s an effortless and rapid unit as well; 60mph in 8.3 seconds, anyone? The suspension was on the soft side, benefiting ride, while the optional IDS+ system of electronic dampers added control through corners – and long-striding stability at speed. On motorways, the TwinTop felt in its element, proving refined and relaxed.
What doesn’t it do well?
Another option on our test car was 18-inch alloys, which introduced plenty of harshness into the cabin. In town, they combined with the soft suspension to make it extremely crashy and joltsome through potholes – the wheels sent shudders through the structure as the body wallowed. All that smooth-road dignity was lost, with lots of shimmers and creaks joining the party. We reckon a standard car on less aggressive alloys would be a nicer companion (not least because, generally, it’s pretty torsionally rigid). Acceleration away from junctions introduced alarming levels of torque steer, while the steering in general was pretty loose. Seats feel set too high, the fore-aft gear linkage is slack and the power delivery of from the engine is too eager at slower speeds. If you don’t treat the soft, lifeless throttle gently at times, getaways in first gear can become flurries of jolted necks and snatched transmissions.
What’s it like to live with?
With that smart interior and clever folding roof, it’s usually a pleasure. Taking 25 seconds, folding the hood is street theatre (or, as it operates up to 18mph, slow speed highway theatre). You can even fold it via the remote keyfob, if you have enough batteries, and it looks as elegant roof-down as it does roof-up. But what if you want to load the boot with the roof down? Normally, it gets in the way, but not here – a clever set of contortions sees it fold up out of the way, allowing loads to be swallowed. Things aren’t dominated by the roof though; the TwinTop feels extremely well built and comes well stocked, with ESP, air con and six-speed ‘box all standard. The CD stereo is superb and, crucially, is audible roof-down thanks to low levels of wind bluster – the optional windbreak isn’t necessary. It’s pillarless too (that’s why reaching for the seatbelt is a stretch), so lowering all four windows gives a true open-air feel, more so than in some rivals whose windscreens encroach deeply into the cabin.
How green is it?
Not very, with a 29mpg average and seemingly insatiable appetite for fuel. Part of this is due to the ever-eager response to the throttle, which can’t help but use up fuel when you take advantage of it. But this engine generally seems not particularly parsimonious, which the extra weight of the TwinTop only accentuates.
Would we buy it?
We really took to the TwinTop. It feels more sophisticated than any mainstream rival – and up there with the VW Eos – and therefore comes across as a bit of a CC bargain. Particularly as the roof is brilliant and the drive, save for wheel-related compromises with our test car, is more than able. These cars are not about handling; nor is the Astra, particularly, which instead rides and cruises with, generally, superb composure. Pleasant, grown up and sophisticated, does it feel. The engine is a peach in all but fuel economy and torque steer effects too; all in, the TwinTop has lots of appeal. As it’s also a sleek, elegant, good-looking thing, we’d say Vauxhall’s onto a winner. Particularly, we’d wager, with the 1.9-litre CDTi running on 17-inch wheels.
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