Opel Astra 1-8 Automatic

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Keywords: Opel Astra 1-8 Automatic

Description: If You're Going To Cruise, Then You Might As Well Relax. So Vauxhall's Astra TwinTop 1.8 VVT Automatic Might Well Be A Tempting Choice For Some. Jonathan Crouch Reports Family Hatchback-based

If You're Going To Cruise, Then You Might As Well Relax. So Vauxhall's Astra TwinTop 1.8 VVT Automatic Might Well Be A Tempting Choice For Some. Jonathan Crouch Reports

Family Hatchback-based cars with folding metal roofs are the current hot ticket in the motor industry. Renault, Peugeot, Ford and Vauxhall all offer them, with the car featured here, Vauxhall's Astra TwinTop, doing particularly good business. One comment that applies to all of these drop-tops however, is that they're not the models to pick if you're a really keen driver. All that extra weight takes its toll.

No point then in choosing a manual gearbox - or so some will think. Hence the sense in Vauxhall's offering of the TwinTop 1.8 VVT Automatic petrol variant we're looking at here. Priced from £18,730, it costs about £1,500 more than the manual gearbox 1.8-litre version and is about a second and a half slower from rest to sixty. Potential owners who live in urban areas and want to avoid too much clutch-pumping in traffic won't be bothered by either of those drawbacks.

Otherwise, the recipe is of course identical to the standard 1.8-litre Astra TwinTop - which is another way of saying that it's a pretty tempting one. The 140bhp engine is the only one that Vauxhall are choosing to offer an automatic gearbox with on this car at present, so it's fortunate that it's a pretty decent unit. A familiar fitment amongst smaller Vauxhall models, it offers a useful step up in pep over the 105bhp entry-level 1.6-litre model. There's not the grunt of the 197bhp Turbo derivative of course - but then do you really need it if you're not going to be throwing this car around the lanes?

As with the manual 1.8-litre model, auto buyers get the choice of standard, Sport and Design trim levels. With the Sport, you get 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, a trip computer, steering wheel mounted audio controls and remote control roof operation as standard. Topping off the range is the Design, available in auto form at £20,030. This version comes with 17-inch 10-spoke alloys and a sports steering wheel as well as other styling features to add a dynamic edge. Rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, anti-dazzle rear view mirror, automatic lighting control and a windbreak are also all standard. Design models feature automatic pop-up roll-over protection bars in place of the static bars on Sport models, making the lines even sleeker without compromising safety.

The Astra TwinTop's 1.8-litre unit features variable valve timing which means that it pulls cleanly from getaway, the powerplant being optimised for torque generation at low engine speeds. Keep accelerating and you'll feel the moment the valve timing changes, the upper reaches of the rev band being where this engine generates its power. The 140bhp 1.8-litre ECOTEC powerplant was introduced on this generation of Astra and compared to the outgoing model's 1.8 unit, has 14 per cent more power, consumes four per cent less fuel, has improved flexibility and is a good deal more refined.

The generous power output means the new 1.8-litre engine is one of the most powerful in this class, but it's far from being a highly-stressed race engine with peaky power delivery. Thanks to that advanced valve and cam phasing technology, 90 per cent of the 175Nm maximum torque is available from 2,200 to 6,200 rpm. This wide range ensures lively performance and exceptional pulling power even at low engine speeds, making everyday driving more relaxed with less need to change gear. You'll get to 60mph in around 10 seconds if you're keen and yet, with a more measured right boot you'll average around 34mpg.

The TwinTop has some great genetics to back it up. The old Astra Convertible may have relied on a relatively low tech fabric roof, but a combination of sleek Bertone styling, a range of surprisingly punchy engines and some very attractive pricing ensured that it was a big seller. It may not have been the sharpest drive but it was blatantly populist and curiously endearing. The Astra TwinTop moves the game on by offering a folding roof that's composed of three main sections instead of the usual two piece affair. This means that you don't need to fold two huge pieces of metal into the car's rear end, avoiding the strangely mis-shapen looks of some coupe-cabriolets. At the press of a dash-mounted button, the two overhead sections of the roof stack on top of the glass rear window and hinge backwards into the boot, offering the usual benefits of added security and safety of a hard topped car with the wind in the hair feel of a convertible.

What's more, the Astra TwinTop isn't merely an Astra hatch that's had an angle grinder taken to it. The body was designed from the ground up as a convertible and Vauxhall reckon the two cars share at most 30 per cent of their body parts. With excellent chassis rigidity when the roof is in place, driving dynamics approach those of the lauded Astra hatch. Designed at GM Design Europe in Germany, the Astra TwinTop goes into battle against the likes of the Peugeot 307 CC and Renault Megane CC although at almost 4500mm in length, it's usefully bigger than both of these French rivals.

The styling is also better resolved thanks in no small part to that clever folding roof arrangement. The rear end carries over the petal-shaped lights of the Tigra and luggage space is better than you might expect, even with the roof stowed. Utility is enhanced by 'Easy Load', a feature raising the horizontally stacked parts of a folded roof at the push of a button, making cargo easily accessible. Great when you've got an armful of shopping in other words.

For the kind of buyers the Astra TwinTop is aimed at, the 1.8 VVT Automatic variant probably makes the most sense of all the models in the line-up. Try one, take the load off your left foot and relax. Then tell yourself you don't need one and see if heart rules head.



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