The work of Bertone, the Astra GTE Convertible is General Motors’ answer to the current crop of mainstream dropheads, with the accent very firmly on performance but not at the expense of comfort. Under the bonnet is the 115 bhp 2.0-litre engine which ensures the Astra is one of the quickest of its peers. 0-to-60 mph is reached in just under nine seconds and it has a top speed of over 120 mph. Its biggest asset, however, is its torque, for the engine does not need to be abused at high revs to pull strongly. On the debit side, the handling is nothing like as sharp as the engine, while the ride is rough and jerky.
A Teutonic air belies the car’s Italian influence, for it is well engineered, well constructed and very efficient, but almost bland enough to be oriental. The treatment of the boot section is altogether rather unhappy.
The interior is comfortable but unremarkable. Driving position is easily adjusted, as is the steering wheel. A digital dashboard is off-putting to some in bright sunlight, although I have never had much trouble with one.
Erecting the hood by hand is easy until it comes to locking the catches to the top of the windscreen: so tight is the hood that on every occasion I had to lie on my back and push hard. Once up, though, the hood, which is velour-lined, provides first-class protection against the elements. A glass rear window with a heating element is a luxurious extra, and one which would be blessed in the winter, but rear vision with the hood up is poor, the blind area being over the shoulder rather than directly behind.
Mirrors are electric with the controls between the seats, but central locking is absent and all the windows are manual. While the front seats are reasonable, the rear is very hard and becomes uncomfortable after a couple of hours, not helped by the angle of the seat squab. Knee-room, however, in adequate.
The Astra makes a good alternative to the Escort. The 1.6 Convertible at £11,104 is good value although the 2.0i Convertible at £13,499 does take some more thinking about. WPK