Jocelyn Grant tests the Vauxhall Astra

Emma Tobias may be an Essex girl but she's also a car snob, so was wary of Astra's TwinTop. But with the roof down, her prejudices were blown away

Price: £20,740
Engine: 1.8-litre petrol
Performance: 60mph in 8.3 seconds. 21.2mpg (urban driving)
CO2: 228g/km
Worth considering: a Peugeot 307 CC, Renault Mégane, or Volkswagen Eos

As a bit of a car snob, I did feel a little wary of testing the new addition to the Astra family, the TwinTop. The image of boy racers whizzing around the streets of Essex (my home county) challenging me to burn-offs at the lights sprang to mind. However, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised, in more ways than one.

This coupé/convertible consists of a smooth front, shared with other Astras, a metal folding-style roof, and a squat rear end, which snugly hides away the convertible top. The roof disassembles itself into three pieces, and resembles a dancing robot when in action. It comprises five electric motors, eight hydraulic cylinders and 13 separate sensors, and can be activated with both the button above the windscreen and the remote key fob.

One of my favourite things about this car is the EasyLoad system. It means that even with the roof down and clogging up the boot, you can still get to your luggage without having to put the hood back up. A button in the boot lifts the roof components out of the way instead. Clever design.

Packed with gizmos and gadgets, the TwinTop that we tested featured air conditioning, satellite navigation, an on-board trip computer, CD and MP3 player, and Bluetooth connection. The sat-nav I found to be quite a nuisance. Not only did I find that it took me to places via the longest route, strangely, but the computerised voice became irritating. She (it?) sounds like a nagging wife or child.

All that kit, plus the motors to power the roof, means that the Astra TwinTop is a relatively heavy vehicle, and the weight lets you down while pulling away. This model is 30 per cent stiffer than the previous Astra cabriolet, and has yaw sensors in the airbags to detect when a collision or rollover is likely to occur.

Unfortunately, though, I found I couldn't throw this convertible around the roads as easily as I can my MGF, a proper roadster. However, the Astra is an easy car to drive. The steering is light and the gear stick slides nicely into position.

One big snag, though. I'm not sure about the safety of the signature roof. The button to operate it is at the top of the windscreen. So, with the roof retracted, it is all to easy to let your fingers rest on the bar of the windscreen. Then the roof closes and, if your not paying attention, it will crush your digits. I put a pen at the point where the roof meets the windscreen, closed the roof and found the pen crunched to pieces.

So, this Astra would suit a couple, or even a young family, but they'd all have to mind their fingers.

Ricky Tee, 54, company chairman, Woodford, Essex

This is a car that has an identity crisis. First, it certainly doesn't think it's an Astra, because it doesn't look like one, nor does it have the old connotations of being a "boring" Vauxhall. At first glance it is a beautifully styled convertible, thoughtfully planned (my children were fascinated by the multi-stage automatic removal of the roof). So does it still feel like an Astra to drive? Sadly, yes, or certainly this 1.8 model does. One is fooled into thinking this is an exciting open-top grand tourer, but I was immediately brought down to earth by the lack of power. Perhaps if this were the 2.0 turbo, my opinion would be different. To whom does it appeal? Sadly, not me.

Jocelyn Grant, 43, credit manager, Chigwell, Essex

When I first saw the Astra I thought it looked impressive. The rear resembles the Peugeot 306 and the roof reminds me of the Citroën ad. It's a solid car and I felt extremely safe driving it. The car responds quickly and the handling was easy to navigate. The designers have produced a stylish, comfortable and luxurious car. I was impressed with the large boot space, and found it to be quite powerful. However, because it is a heavy car the pull-off feels quite slow.The only negative point for me is the size of the car. I found it difficult to judge the length, as I could not see the front of the bonnet. I would be very nervous to take it into a multi-storey car park.

Simon Poole, 31, client services representative, Loughton, Essex

This car felt more comfortable on an open country road with the top down. Driving through town and sitting in traffic, it felt like any other car. It has got everything you need but, nothing that makes it stand out. If I were going to buy a convertible, I don't know if I would buy an Astra. When I put my foot down, it didn't feel like it was going anywhere, and it didn't pull away like a sporty car. Having said that, it's a lovely car to drive. The gear changes were easy and it handled well on corners. But I think you could get a normal Astra for £5,000 less and get the same driving experience. And it just doesn't have the wow factor.


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