The current issue of Auto Express magazine carries spy images of Vauxhall's latest project, and all the proof you'll ever need that the company's dowdy image is on the 'roadster' recovery! Set to rival the likes of Ford's StreetKa, the baby convertible is the latest in a line of Vauxhalls developed to boost the firm's appeal. First came the Astra Coupé and VX220, followed by turbocharged Astras and the hot Zafira GSi people carrier. The newcomer, which aims to recreate the sporty charm of the 1994 Tigra, will be based on one of GM's small car platforms, possibly the Corsa or Agila, and be front-engined. However, plans to introduce a mid-engined version have not been ruled out.
With the VX220 scheduled to cease production at the same time as the newcomer is launched – summer 2004 – Vauxhall hopes the car will continue that sporting heritage. The firm will also rely heavily on the expertise of Lotus, which builds the VX, to fine-tune the chassis and handling.
Unlike the VX, however, the new car will be developed and built entirely in-house. Borrowing styling cues from the funky Frogster concept unveiled at last year's Frankfurt Motor Show, the baby soft-top will sport the company's new family headlamps, slabby sides and curved rump.
Power is expected to come from a range of smooth but torquey four-cylinder engines developed from those in the current range, with an entry-level version using the Corsa's 90bhp 1.4-litre unit. Punchier cars will use 1.6-litre powerplants, while there is also spec- ulation that a frantic 2.0-litre turbo-charged model will be available as a thrilling driver-oriented option. Twinport variable intake control – recently introduced on the Corsa and Astra – will be fitted to all models except the turbo, while insiders also hint a diesel version could be on the agenda.
A minimalist interior is expected, although it won't be as stark as the VX220's, because the car will be targeted at young drivers who want to use it every day. That will ensure the newcomer will be well insulated inside, with creature comforts including climate control and an advanced stereo and sat-nav set-up.
To keep prices low, the new car will be strictly a two-seater and use a conventional, manually folding canvas roof, rather than a weighty Mercedes SLK-style sliding hard-top. That means entry-level cars could sell for as little as £11,000 – making it significantly cheaper than the VX220.