Vauxhall Astra Twin Top 1.6 16v Sport

Peugeot did it first, and now everyone seems to be having a crack. No, we're not talking about building cars that fall apart in a brisk wind, but the current fascination with churning out hard-roof drop-tops – or coupe-cabriolets as they are known – based on existing mid-size mass market vehicles.

Of course, the very best CC vehicles are found at the higher end of the market – the Mercedes SL and SLK, for example – and for cars such as the new Mazda MX-5, a hard, retractable roof makes a whole load of sense as both a lifestyle choice and for the overall strength of the chassis.

But the proles want a bit of fly-up-nostril driving these days, and while convertibles were pretty rare even less than a decade ago, they’re now everywhere. Roll on global warming, eh?

The Twin Top has the daftest name among the new breed of everyman hard-top convertibles, which includes the Peugeot 206 CC, Peugeot 307 CC, Renault Megane CC, VW Eos, Focus CC and Micra C+C. Christ, even Hyundai makes the Copen. The Twin Top is also probably the least inspiring. That doesn’t mean it’s the worst … not by a long stretch; the Peugeots are utter crud and the Micra is laughable.

However, the decision to put a 1.6-litre in the Twin Top was a big mistake. It’s just too puny to pull all that extra weight, which isn’t a problem at all when the roof’s down but when your tucked up inside and it feels like you’re driving a pretty average Astra, it’s a massive problem.

Not that the Astra is a bad place to be. The latest version of Vauxhall’s mid-size family car is actually very good, from the sober yet smart five-door to the sexy but steady three-door. The interior is dull, but certainly not offensive. No, the big issue with the Astra has always been the gearbox – it’s a dog. It’s notchy, vague and utterly drains you of confidence; it’s easy to confuse third and fifth, and second and fourth, which just isn’t good enough.

If you have to drive this car everyday with the top up, you’ll soon regret buying it – for no other reason than wind noise once you get up to motorway speed. But when that top comes down, it’s a completely different story. First off, the roof mechanism is quality. Also, the ever-so-slightly cramped feeling you get with the canvas hovering a few centimetres from your bonce completely disappears, as do all the other minor irritations of a standard Astra.

Ultimately, the sensation of driving a convertible doesn’t actually differ a great deal whether you’re driving a Ferrari, a Morgan or the Twin Top, no matter what anyone tells you. So if you want that sensation, it does make sense to pay as little as you can.

But these type of cheap coupe-cabriolet vehicles are always going to be compromise. Build quality across the whole sector isn’t great, although the Astra is put together rather well. It does, however, suffer from the same water drainage issue as the others – namely, it doesn’t have any because folding roofs can’t support guttering. So if it’s rained the night before and you happen to open the window next morning, be prepared to get drenched the first time you take a corner.

Also, you lose a massive chunk of boot and you get a heavier and slower vehicle.

Verdict

But everyone knows that’s the cost of this kind of motoring – so if you weigh up the options and find that a CC is the sort of car you’re after, then your choice is limited. First off, don’t go for anything below a 1.8. And based on issues price and quality, the Peugeots, Renault, and Micra just don’t make sense – so that just leaves you with the Focus and the Astra. The Focus edges it on build quality, engine and price – but then again the Twin Top also comes with a 2.0 16v turbo … but it is £20,000.

Power: 104bhp
0-60mph: 13.2 seconds
Top speed: 116mph (I find this hard to believe)
Economy: 40.4mpg
Emissions: 168g/km