There’s no need to wade through a thousand words
of text. The Astra Twin Top can be summarised in just two sentences.
If you just absolutely love the looks of the Astra
and the fact that its all-steel roof folds its way into the boot, giving you
either a coupe or a genuinely useable convertible, the Astra is great.
However, if you figure the Astra is a
well-equipped car that handles and goes well, it’s not for you.
The Astra Twin Top is very much the $30,000 car
with the $15,000 roof.
So let’s start with that roof. Unlike the previous
model’s soft-top, the Astra’s roof comprises only steel panels. An extraordinary
mechanism folds it all away – rear glass window included - into the boot, the
complex process taking only 30 seconds. But for the driver the motion isn’t
complex – she just presses the button. Unusually, the three-piece roof can be
operated while travelling at up to 30 km/h. With the roof up, sealing is
excellent and the wind and road noise low. We could occasionally hear some odd
resonant buzzes in the cabin (presumably from the mechanism) but for all intents
and purposes, the Astra with the roof up is a normal coupe – with everything
that implies for weatherproofness and security.
And there’s been very little trade-off in roof-down
comfort. Despite a wind deflector being provided (it installs over the rear seat
opening), wind turbulence in the cabin’s front seats is quite acceptable - even
without the deflector in place. But the fact that the deflector installs over
the rear seat space is a clue to those seats being effectively useless except
for smallish children or emergency carriage of a single adult a short distance.
The rear seat back is upright and the roof-closed headroom terrible. Shoulder
width is also narrow.
With the roof up, the boot space is very large;
with it down it is acceptable – a thin (but otherwise full-size) suitcase will
fit. An 80 km/h space-saver spare wheel is located under the floor and four
tie-down hooks are provided in the boot. For long loads, a small ski-hatch gives
access to the cabin.
Up front there’s plenty of room in all directions.
But we found the leather seats rather hard and uncomfortable, and neither seat
has any electric adjustment. Control ergonomics are European Holden – not at all
intuitive but owners would get used to them. The instruments and steering wheel
stalks are fine, but the centre-of-dash panel is not aimed towards the driver and requires
The doors are very long and heavy. They also have
stiff door handles, so getting in and out is not accomplished with the ease you
might expect. We think that if the car was parked on a steeply cambered road,
smaller people would have real difficulty in pulling a door shut.
The engine is a 2.2 litre, 4 cylinder design with
a peak power of 110kW at 5600 rpm. Despite being linked in the test car to a
6-speed manual transmission, the engine finds it an onerous task lugging around
the massive 1590kg body (that’s perhaps 200kg more than you might expect).
Despite the engine boasting torque-boosting direct fuel injection, you need to
use the gearbox frequently if you’re to gain best performance. Climbing steep
open-road hills requires down-changing two or even three gears. On the fuel
provided by Holden (95 RON is the brew of choice for gaining best power), the
engine could be heard occasionally detonating.
Fuel consumption is listed at 9.1 litres/100 and
with plenty of open road, top-up driving, we achieved 8.3 litres/100. However,
we saw mid-12s in city conditions and the country road economy worsened
considerably if the roof was retracted.
The steering is lacking in feel and together with
the dull throttle response, the Twin Top is not a particularly rewarding car to
hustle along a winding road. However, it is safe – the big tyres providing good
grip and the standard stability control system intervening when required.
But what about with the standard ‘Sport’ button
pressed? This changes the throttle ratio (the throttle blade opens further for a
given accelerator pedal movement) and decreases power steering assistance. It
also changes the damper settings and (in auto trans cars) increases the revs at
which up-changes occur.
But the sports mode struck us as rather a gimmick
– the ride in sports mode is hard, and when in sporty driving the throttle often
needs to be mashed all the way to the floor, well, a quicker throttle ratio
doesn’t compensate for a lack of power.
In fact, we thought that the Twin Top rather oddly
specified. The tyre/wheel package (sticky 225/45 Continental Sport Contact II on
17 x 7 inch rims) seems way overkill with the available performance – better to
fit a more modest wheel/tyre package, delete the ‘Sport’ mode... and then fit
electric seats. (Or instead of the electric seats, just reduce the price.)
Only four airbags are fitted and the climate
control is semi-auto. However, the car gets reversing sensors, a six stack
in-dash CD and heated seats – the latter important in a convertible where the
heater is much less effective with the top retracted.
Assessed in terms of a fixed roof coupe, the Astra
Twin Top is not particularly notable. Assessed as a car that can in moments
convert from being a coupe to one without a roof – well, then the Twin Top is
most impressive. But it all comes back to one thing: buy this car only if you
intend most days to go topless ...
Astra Twin Top was supplied for this story by Holden.