BY JONATHAN CROUCH
All too often buying a convertible on a budget means having to put up with ropey handling, pram-like dumpy looks and a hood with more perforations than a tea bag. The Vauxhall Astra Convertible represents an affordable way into soft top motoring without all the downsides. Although many will associate the Astra convertible with the rather unlovely first generation car, the second generation model, manufactured from 1993 through to 1999 is in many ways something of a forgotten gem.
Models Covered: Second generation Astra Convertible - 1993-1999 (1.6, 1.8, 2.0 petrol [base, Colour Edition, Classic Edition])
The 2.0-litre Convertible was launched in June 1993 and a 1.6-litre engine option for this classy-looking drop-top followed the following April. A 1.8-litre engine replaced the 2.0-litre in August 1994 which spawned the Colour Edition and Classic Edition models. The final second generation Astra Convertibles were sold in 1999. After a hiatus of two years, Vauxhall responded with a superb new Astra Convertible with an electrically powered hood and a range of engines culminating in a storming 187bhp turbocharged unit.
What You Get
If your budget won't run to a Peugeot 306 Convertible, you won't feel hard done by settling for an Astra Convertible. With a range of lively engines, a decent reliability record and a neat hood installation they do the job very well. Accommodation for four isn't bad, but wind protection for rear seat occupants isn't all it could be at higher speeds. The interior does look dated compared with contemporary models but the design is ergonomically sound and equipment levels are high.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Examine the sump and the cylinder head for oil leaks. On older cars, check the shock absorbers for leaks. Cracked driveshaft gaiters could point to wear on CV joints. There was also a recall in 1995 on all Astras made since 1993; this was to fit an earthing clamp on the fuel filler neck; you need to ensure that this has been done. Cars equipped with an airbag need to have a dealer check. As with any soft top car, check the roof for signs of rips, wear and discolouration.
(approx based on a 1995 Astra 1.6 - ex Vat) A clutch assembly will be around £80, and it will cost you around £200 for a full exhaust system less the catalyst. A starter motor should be close to £65 and a radiator around £140. Brake pads for the front £16 a set and for rear shoes £35. A replacement headlamp will be close to £55, and an alternator around £90.
On the Road
The Astra Convertible is powered by a range of decent engines, and all models handle reasonably well. No, they're not in the same drawer as a dedicated roadster such as a Mazda MX-5, but then you wouldn't expect them to be given that they can seat four in comfort and were modified from an previous design. You'll only really notice the body flexing over serious potholes, and even then you'll just feel a slight shimmy and spot a momentary blurring of the rear view mirror. Wind noise isn't too much of a problem with the hood up, the soft top being a well-made unit. but drop the hood and you'll find conversation difficult at anything much above 60mph. The 1.8-litre engine is probably the pick of the range.
Although it won't win many beauty contests, owners love the Astra Convertible for its no-nonsense reliability, zippy engines and sheer value for money. Often confused with the inelegant previous shape car, this version of the Astra Convertible deserved to do better than it did. Perhaps second time around it can make new friends.