NEW CARS

Burning bright

Most fun cars are rationed by price, if you start with the £617,000 McLaren F1 and work your way down the list. Vauxhall's Tigra is in the bargain basement, at £11,000 for the 1.4 and £13,000 for the 1.6, and availability is likely to be the limiting factor in 1995.

Vauxhall plans to double the volume of the cut-price coupe market, currently 4000 cars a year of the Honda Civic Couée and and Hyundai Scoupe ilk, and already the marketing men at Luton are wondering if 4000 Tigras will be enough to last until next December. No wonder, since they dealt with 65,000 enquiries within six weeks of Vauxhall announcing that it would go into production!

There will always be people who prefer the Oriental models, so bland as to be practically anonymous. The Tigra is not for them.

GM’s new baby is something that drove straight off the designers’ drawing boards barely stopping for the corporate approval which was willingly given. The one-stroke A-to-B post is daring, but it works a treat and gives the Tigra a style like nothing else on the road.

The lift-up rear window is surprisingly large but heat-absorbing; tinted Sundym glass keeps interior temperatures at an acceptable level. The boot space looks a mite meagre until you lower one or both of the rear seats and remind yourself that yes, it is a two-plus-two.

Both versions are powered by 16-valve engines, the latest with ECOTEC technology, multi-point petrol injection and meeting the stiff 1996 emission standards.

The 1.4 develops 89 bhp and a maximum of 92 lb ft of torque, and this allows spritely performance in a car weighing just 1056 kg.

The 0.31 drag coefficient certainly helps. The Tigra 1.4 steps up to 100 mph with ease when no-one’s looking, but it feels rather floaty on a windy day. After all the fine publicity, I thought the 1.4 was terrific value but a little disappointing when driven hard.

The 1.4 and 1.6 have gas-filled dampers in common, front and rear anti-roll bars, ventilated front discs, even power assisted steering. I expected the 1.6 to be quicker, but was unprepared for the improvements in handling. Could thicker anti-roll bars (24mm front, 18mm rear, instead of 21/14mm) make that much difference?

Apparently they do, when allied with the 15-inch alloy road wheels and wider, low profile tyres. What little is sacrificed in road comfort is more than compensated by more positive steering response and reduced body roll in cornering.

The Tigra 1.6 feels more poised at high speed and allows the driver to gain confidence more readily. It is worth most of the extra £3000 for its dynamic qualities, never mind the added punch of the larger engine and the benefit of the standardised ABS braking.

The 1.6-litre engine develops 104.5 bhp and 148 lb ft of torque at 4000 rpm, these higher ratings transforming the Tigras performance. The hot hatch has finally been laid to rest by the Vauxhall Tigra, and not before time. MLC.