BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The frustrating thing about most so-called `Concept Cars` is just that - they're concepts. By the time the thing goes into production, the odds are that it will bear about as much resemblance to the curvy model you saw at the Motor Show as your cleaning lady does to Cindy Crawford. Recent years, however, have seen a change of heart from the major makers, prompted mainly by the Japanese. They've shown that the `lifestyle` market, where it isn't necessary to please Mrs Jones from Surbiton (who "doesn't want anything too radical, dear") is just crying out for cars that look as if they've just come off the stylist's drawing board. One such is Vauxhall's Tigra, launched in November 1994, following a rapturous reception to its appearance as a motor show concept car the year before. Though the car was based entirely on Corsa mechanicals, it was great looking and paved the way for a huge upsurge of interest in the small coupe market. Now it's available in increasing numbers on the used scene.
Models Covered: 2-door coupe, 1.4, 1.6
Original buyers chose between 88bhp 1.4-litre and 104bhp 1.6-litre power (the Corsa GSi engine). An automatic option for the 1.4 was added in February 1995. Little was done to the car throughout its life, though late in 1997, Lotus-influenced changes to sharpen up the handling were introduced. There were plenty of special editions, with names like Verde, Blue, Marine, Bermuda, Chequers and (in bright yellow) MTV Summertime. GM stopped producing the Tigra in 2000 but sales of old stock continued until early 2001.
What You Get
An excellent alternative to a boring supermini for not much more money. And a car that, from the outside at least, looks a great deal more expensive than it really is. Climbing inside the cabin brings you back down to earth; behind the wheel, it's pure Corsa. Nothing wrong with that of course; everything's well laid out and functional. Just a bit of a contrast, that's all; it's like admiring a Ferrari, climbing inside and waking up with a start, realising that you were dreaming in your Vectra in an M1 traffic jam. Opt for the 1.4 and you get power steering, a stereo, central locking, electric front windows and tinted glass. If you can stretch to a 16v 1.6, there are gorgeous alloy wheels, a passenger airbag, a special alarm, an electric sunroof, heated and powered door mirrors, anti-lock brakes and front fog lamps. I'd buy a 1.4 and pay extra for the wheels (though you'll find that many cars will already have them fitted).
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Watch for poor fitting leaky rear hatches (you'll be able to tell by the wind noise). Also check the low-slung bonnet for stone chips (many will have been resprayed). The yellow MTV Summertime special edition models also suffered from so-called 'yellow fever'; basically paint blotching. Other potential problem areas include tired dampers and brake discs plus rattly interiors. More serious than all these maladies however, was the well-publicised tendency for the 16v engines to self-destruct at frighteningly low mileage due to timing belt tensioner failure. This can happen without warning, jamming the timing gear, causing the belt to break and leading to an unscheduled meeting of the valves and the pistons. At this point, it's new engine time; whether Vauxhall pick up the tab depends on the age and mileage of the car. The only protection from this is to ensure at the outset that the tensioner assembly has been inspected. Ensure too that when you negotiate the warranty that this aspect is covered for as long a period as possible. This is just one more reason to insist on a full and accurate service history.
(based on a 1.4 approx) A clutch assembly is around £85. Front brakepads are around £16, a full exhaust about £400 and an alternator (exchange) around £90. A headlamp is about £65.
On the Road
In terms of driving satisfaction, a Tigra can't hold a candle to a good Peugeot 205GTi. Which isn't to say that it can't be a hoot in the right conditions. Both engines offer equal helpings of fun on the road with handling and ride far superior to any Corsa. You can feel everything happening beneath you through the steering wheel and there's superb grip and poise in almost any situation. Find a long, clear stretch of twisting road, add a dash of driving enthusiasm and you've the recipe for more enjoyment than anybody has a right to expect in a car of this price. You don't need anything more powerful under the bonnet - though Vauxhall contemplated putting a V6 there before the insurance companies stone-walled the idea (it's group 10 or 12 by the way). Inside the cockpit (and you can call it a 'cockpit' with a clear conscience so aggressive are the swoopy looks), there's ample space for two people and their luggage and enough room behind for tolerant children or inebriated friends who want a lift home from the pub.
Who wants a boring supermini when you can have one of these? Find a good one and you've found a good buy.