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Car reviews - Holden - Tigra - coupe-convertible

Launch Story

23 Sep 2005

LAUNCHED in Europe a year ago, Opel’s Barina-based Tigra TwinTop has arrived in Australia as the Holden Tigra. Priced at $34,990, Holden’s first hardtop convertible hits the bottom end of the folding metal-roofed roadster market and is positioned between the 1.6 and 2.0-litre versions of Peugeot’s 206 CC. While coupe-convertibles like Citroen’s quirky C3 Pluriel and Daihatsu’s soon-to-be-discontinued Copen undercut it on price, Tigra’s 90kW 1.8-litre performance, taut bodyshell and involving dynamics set it apart. It may also be on the shopping lists of those in the market for Mazda’s more expensive new MX-5 soft-top, the larger 307 CC, Renault’s Megane CC and a host of forthcoming coupe-convertibles based on Mitsubishi’s Colt, Ford’s Focus, VW’s Passat and Holden’s own Astra.

We like: Styling, performance, solidity, handling, ride quality, refinement, standard equipment, safety features

We don't like: No steering wheel reach adjustment, throttle hangs up, big pricetag for a little car

OPEL’S Tigra has been on Holden’s shopping list for some time, but in hindsight we’re fortunate it’s taken more than a decade to arrive.

Just as the 2001 XC Barina was a quantum leap over the SB model it replaced in terms of body rigidity, refinement and driving dynamics, so too is the XC-based Tigra compared to its 1994 predecessor.

Forget any memories of the 1.4-litre Barina cabrio that was discontinued here in 2000 – the two-seater Tigra coupe-convertible is an entirely different, more substantial and more grown-up proposition.

Quality touches abound on the small but wide-tracked and distinctively wedge-shaped body, from neat details like the distinctive Opel headlights with cylindrical highlights to chromed side repeater lights embossed with the name of the boutique French coachbuilder that produces it – Heuliez.

There’s also a V-shaped grille, heavily sculpted side skirts, a chrome rear appliqué, stainless steel oval exhaust, pronounced wheel arches and multi-spoke 16-inch alloys – but wider 17-inch wheels, a de rigeur wind blocker and metallic paint remain optional, leaving just one solid paint colour (red).

Of course, the big-ticket item is a Mercedes-Benz SLK-style electrically operated folding hardtop roof, which employs five electric motors and 18 contact sensors to open or close at the push of a button in about 18 seconds.

As part of its mechanism is a push-button, powered bootlid, which also heralds the completion of its operation, but is a little loud and slow – exacerbated by the fact that one must hold the button until opening/closing is complete.

There’s a heated glass rear window and even with the roof up there’s ample room for most body shapes and, although the B-pillarless side daylight opening is stylish, the thick C-pillar does restrict rear vision with the roof on.

A shallowish footwell and the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment can also make Tigra an awkward fit for tall drivers, and the familiar Ecotec 1.8 can be a bit coarse and noisy when worked hard (its electronic throttle also hangs up a little after lifting off, making smooth driving more difficult than it should be), but that’s about where the complaints end.

Despite the lack of any modifications for Australia, a 145km road loop in and around Brisbane – the type of mostly urban environment Holden says Tigra will be used in – showed the tiny Holden can deliver big smiles.

While the folding steel roof brings valuable advantages in weather proofing, security, theft resistance and noise reduction, it’s clear it plays virtually no structural role.

Tigra feels solid, refined and dynamically accomplished with the roof up or down, exhibiting none of the scuttle shake that blights other small convertibles, making no squeaks or rattles and always feeling cool, calm and composed.

Ride quality is impressive over a variety of road surfaces and the quick-ratio, well-weighted speed-sensitive electrically-assisted steering proves both response and feedback - and delivers a tight, 10.65-metre turning circle.

A degree of vibration through the leather-wrapped, multi-function tiller is the only negative within an otherwise well suppressed noise, vibration and harshness package, and it took ambitious corner speeds over harsh road irregularities to extract any hint of bump steer or rack rattle.

So impressive is Tigra’s body stiffness that, despite the 1.8 Ecotec’s perky performance, it feels as if it could use more urge – and the lack of traction control never feels problematic.

It wears a high pricetag for a little car, but laterally supportive sports seats, a comprehensive standard equipment list, extensive safety features and real dynamic ability tend to make up for that.

Stylish, nimble and more substantial than most premium light cars, Tigra is fitting as Holden’s first instalment in the clever coupe-convertible market.

Mostly, however, it’s fun with a capital F!

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