What an unenviable compromise convertible ownership is. Especially in South Africa, with it's brilliant driving roads, splendid panoramic scenery and perfect top-down motoring weather.
Unfortunately, with the top down, drivers also run the increased risk of grab-and-dash incidents at traffic lights, while the most resourceful criminals simply slice open your canvas roof when it's up and help themselves.
A uniquely South African conundrum then: great convertible environment, woeful social compromise.
Fortunately the great automotive engineers of the world took stock of this state of affairs and brought the convertible hard-top to market. A perfect solution, but expensive, if you wanted it in a vehicle with some performance.
You could either have a slightly minuscule Opel Tigra, or one of the Peugeot CC models or even the Renault Megane Coupe Cabriolet.
Neither of those are either quick or a really entertaining drive. With the Opel Astra TwinTop though, hard-top convertible ownership has become a decidedly sensible and drivable prospect.
What you get is the svelte, striking shape of an Astra GTC with a folding hard top that swallows just over half of your bootspace with the top down.
Frameless windows and a steeply raked front windscreen endow the TwinTop with a desirable aesthetic look. Multispoke 18-inch mags shod with high-performance 225/40 tyres further distinguish the TwinTop visually from the rest of the GTC range.
Inside, it's stock Astra GTC fair, which means you get a well put together interior which is hardly more elaborate than anything you would find on a Corsa. The flat centre-stack is particularly average and all-round you feel distinctly underwhelmed by the interior in a car retailing for practically R 300 000.
With the folding hard-top in place the TwinTop retains a very pure coupe shape and provides a neatly insulated driving experience. Top-down, the profile is still attractive, but there is a scuttle shake compromise when indulging in this level of cruising with the TwinTop.
Opel reckons you can operate the roof folding mechanism at speeds of up to 30 km/h, but you would have to be extremely brazen to drive off at the robots with the roof still in operation, especially into a strong headwind.
Dynamically, the Opel is a near seamless blend of performance and refinement. Powered by the GTC's 2.0-litre, four cylinder turbocharged motor it produces 147 kW and 262 Nm. Driving through a six-speed gearbox it obviously doesn't hang about, but it's hardly a manic turbo motor fuelled by whooshing, tempestuous lag.
Performance is simply effortless, and with six ratios to stir you along, power is always only a gearchange away from either cruising speed or meaningful acceleration.
Most overtaking situations can safely be dispatched in fourth gear, and while the TwinTop can knock back a 0-100 km/h sprint in the low eight seconds bracket and top out at 237 km/h, it's a very easy, docile car to cruise around with.
All things considered this is probably one the best turbocharged, front-wheel drive drivetrains available currently, with essentially none of the traditional turbo-motor foibles.
Handling though, is not altogether as impressive. The TwinTop has a tendency to torque steer with full-throttle applications in the lower gears and up inclines, on a damp surface, it can be positively lethal with the ESP switched off. Top down it exhibits that inherent convertible attribute of scuttle shake too.
Convertible specific safety is well catered for too with yaw rate sensors in the airbag control system recognizing when the TwinTop is about to turn over either front over back, or is in a rolling motion. Two solid aluminum safety roll-bars behind the seats deploy immediately and lock within 0.2 seconds in such an emergency situation.
Having your cake and eating it
As a dynamic package though, the TwinTop is very convincing. The roof insulates perfectly when in position, and once folded down there is enough room for four adults.
I drove four-up for 200 km with the top down and not only were there no complaints about roominess from my passengers, but conversation remained fully audible throughout.
Traveling four up for a day trip is fine, but a weekend away of perpetual top-down motoring would necessitate driving in a mix of boardshorts and bikini's, because there is precious little bootspace with the top folded down.
Summarily though, the TwinTop is a very good execution of the convertible hard-top. It looks stylish, is roomy and as quick as you could reasonably expect a mid-sized convertible to be.
It is comprehensively equipped too with leather, heated seats, onboard computer and parking assist.
Only the decidedly average interior design disappoints, and perhaps the on-the-limit handling sharpness, but the latter is hardly a key issue in a convertible as much as it would be in a dedicated coupe.
At R 299 995 it has very little direct competition. The French hard-top convertibles are hardly as dynamic to drive, and a comparably quick VW EOS is R 65 000 dearer.
So if you are in the market for a no compromise, mid-sized, hard-top convertible and you don't really want to pay retail over the psychological R 300 000 barrier, there seems to be only one choice...
Lacks ultimate handling finesse