16 August 2007

Best of Both Worlds

OUTthere 40 – All Torque

The latest line-up of convertibles features fully retractable hard-tops.

Summer will be here before you know it – and what better way to spend it than cruising the boulevard in you new convertible? The traditional thinking is that cool drop-tops are the domain of the well-heeled Rodeo Drive set, but OUTthere has surveyed the market and found a handful of affordable convertible coupes for the rest of us.

German Design Comes Down Under

Holden Astra Twin Top (Convertible Coupe)
2.2 litre Direct Injection ECOTEC. DOHC 16 valves 110kW
6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions
RRP $ $45,490 manual $47,490 auto
3 year / 100,000 km warranty

The Twin-Top is so called thanks to its truly convertible nature. It can be transformed from smart hard-top coupe to topless in just 30 seconds thanks to an one-touch, electrically retractable hardtop. Just keep your eyes on the skies and don’t get caught in any sudden downpours.

A convertible has been offered in the Astra range since 2001, but this latest version adopts the increasingly popular trend towards retractable hardtops (CCs) now vogue on many higher priced European models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The trade-off between higher security and comfort is that, when retracted, the roof consumes virtually all of the boot space.

Driving the new German-designed Astra is a delightful exercise. Out test car, the 6-speed manual, provided satisfying zest from the larger four-cylinder engine which hums along sweetly, powering through the front wheels thanks to twin overhead camshafts and sixteen valves. Holden have chosen the more reliable chain-driven timing gear, but this doesn’t create undue engine noise despite higher revs.

Trim isn’t lavish, but it is neat and clean with the now familiar centre control console containing all the adjustments for climate control and CD player with a uppermost display panel for system status.

Although the rear seats are small, they are still useable, making this a full 5-seater.

Cannes Coupe

Peugeot 207CC
1.6 litre DOHC 16 valve 88kW
5-speed manual or 4-speed auto
RRP $34,990 1.6 Manual ($39,990 Turbo)
3 year / 100,000 kilometre warranty

This new pint-sized Pug follows on from the success of its convertible forebear, the 206CC, providing a compact, fun runabout ideal for the Cote d’Azure.

The economical Peugeot/Citroen/BMW 1.6 litre engine is a modest powerplant, but drives smoothly and economically through the front wheels. The automatic version, while a useful inclusion in the range, negates much of the driving experience and transforms the car into a relatively docile shopping trolley. The manual-only turbo is like driving another car altogether. It has a decidedly racy feel and restores the fundamental rush of driving a true sports coupe. The body is taut and rigid with positive, confident sports handling.

The interior is minimalist but entirely functional and all controls are with easy reach and intuitively laid out. All functions could be deciphered without recourse to the manual, which is very handy for men who resist instructions.

The rear seats, although fitted, are not suitable for fully-formed adults but do provide space for a several shopping bags and are smartly finished with twin rollover hoops reminiscent of racing coupes.

Peugeot’s bold exterior styling and lurid colours ensure you won’t be overlooked.

Miata Goes Hard

Mazda MX-5
2.0 litre 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC S-VT 118kW
6-speed auto or manual
Price Range: $42,870 (Manual Soft Top) - $49,835 (Auto Coupe)
3 year / Unlimited kilometre warranty

In many ways, the purpose-designed MX-5 has become the modern epitome of an affordable sports car. In a genre once dominated by the likes of MGB and Triumph, the superbly engineered little rocket has created a cult status for itself since introduction way back (can you believe it) in 1989.

Cleverly designed to a “timeless” classic line resembling the early Lotus Elan, the MX-5 is everything a fun little roadster should be and with sales of 750 thousand worldwide, it will be with us for a long time yet. The all-new 2.0 litre, third generation MX-5 is just starting to make its presence felt in the market and now adds roadster coupe to the range with a retractable hard-top that it calls “Rigid Convertible”. It too is the fastest in the class with a lightning 12-second deployment.

The choice of either a 6-speed manual or Activematic provides another genuine point of difference for this rear-wheel-drive roadster.

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