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Holden Tigra Test

A sporty looking newcomer to the entry-level drop-top market

By Michael Knowling

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Only two seats - but generous storage
  • Impressive electro-hydraulic steel folding roof
  • Appalling visibility with roof up
  • Steers and handles well up to eight-tenths
  • Adequate performance from the ex-Barina SRi engine
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Few cars have attract a range of opinions like the Holden Tigra.

Many people comment that the overall concept of the little Holden is silly: only two seats, marginal interior space, limited boot space (especially when the roof is retracted), so-so acceleration and not cheap at around AUD$35,000.

A perfectly valid opinion.

But other people take a very different perspective. The Tigra has plenty of kerbside appeal, it steers and handles well up to about eight-tenths and offers the security of a folding steel hardtop at an affordable price.

And, yes, this is another perfectly valid opinion – and probably a more relevant one. You see, for buyers that must have a drop-top, the Tigra holds a unique position in the market. It’s sportier than the comparable Peugeot 206CC (also with a folding steel roof) but it’s not as hard-edged as, say, the Toyota MR-2 (which is much more expensive).

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The Tigra feels extremely impressive on a short test drive. The electric-assisted steering is direct and the front-end points precisely where it’s aimed. It feels tremendously nimble and tied-down – but only to a point. Where road conditions permit, the Tigra can be pushed further and you’ll find it does nothing except understeer; lifting off the throttle reins it in but you won’t find any oversteer (not on a dry road, anyway). On its standard 205/50 16 Dunlop Sport 3000 tyres, this is a car that we’d expect to struggle with understeer when driven on a racetrack. But, really, we don’t expect many buyers to push the Tigra quite that hard – in all normal driving circumstances it feels responsive and well poised.

You might be interested to learn that the Euro-sourced Tigra is built on the same underpinnings as the previous generation Barina SRi. That means it’s a front-wheel-drive with a strut/wishbone front-end and a torsion bar trailing-arm rear. The suspension calibration is unique to Australia and it does the job well – the ride is compliant over small bumps and the progressive rate springs quickly firm up over larger bumps. Braking performance is up to par thanks to four-wheel discs (ventilated at the front) with ABS and brake assist.

The straight-line performance is adequate – but nothing more.

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In normal driving, the Tigra offers good flexibility and usable torque at all revs – even though it has surprisingly low cut-out at 6250 rpm. The Barina SRi-spec engine (a DOHC, 16 valve 1.8-litre four) produces 92kW at 6000 rpm along with 165Nm at 4600 rpm when using premium unleaded. Coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox, the Tigra runs to 100 km/h in around 10 seconds – not as quick as its swept-back looks suggest... Unfortunately, the Tigra is hamstrung by its considerable weight – at 1248kg it’s around 100kg heavier than the original Barina SRi. On the positive side, throttle response (using electric throttle control) is sharp and the short-throw gearshift adds to the sporty feel.

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Fuel economy is average for a compact two seater. Over a mix of city, urban and country driving, the Tigra returned around 9 litres per 100km – we had hoped for slightly better. Maximum performance is achieved when using premium unleaded fuel but, if you’re prepared to sacrifice 2kW, you can get away running cheaper normal unleaded. We didn’t notice much difference except we occasionally heard detonation while applying throttle with normal unleaded in the tank. Fuel tank capacity is reasonable at 45 litres.

So that’s the driving aspect of the Tigra – how versatile is it in day-to-day use?

Well, having only two seats is a major downer – you can never pick up or drop off a group of friends as the need arises. This is something buyers really need to think about. If you’re using the car as an everyday conveyance you might be better off with the four-seater Pug 206CC.

The Tigra’s boot is bizarre. You don’t merely lift a handle to access the cargo area of this car; no sir. Instead, you need to push a button to operate the boot’s electro-hydraulic opening system – push the button once to open it and hold the button to close it. Bzzzzz... It’s great for wow-ing bystanders but, in practice, it’s irritatingly slow – we can’t count the number of times we wanted to slam it shut...

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Boot volume is quite generous. When the roof is up you can utilise 308 litres of space, but you’ll need to pack your cargo carefully due the irregular shape of the boot. When the roof is retracted, a divider in the boot must be swung rearward (to make space for the roof panel) and this effectively halves the cargo volume. Even so, there’s enough space to throw in a couple of soft bags.

The Tigra’s electro-hydraulic folding steel roof can be blamed for consuming half of the available boot space but its operation is extremely impressive given the car’s modest price tag. Dropping the roof is simple – just release a pair of windscreen frame latches and lift a switch on the driver’s door. The roof is automatically retracted in 18 seconds and a beeper tells you when it’s finished. Our only criticism is that the boot divider must be locked into its rear-most position to make space for the folding roof; if the divider isn’t properly locked into place, the electro-hydraulic system won’t operate and there’s nothing to tell you how to fix the situation. It took us a while to work that one out.

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With the roof down, the Tigra has noticeable scuttle shake – evident by movement through the steering column and the A-pillars. But, with the side windows up or down, there are no aerodynamic noises and there’s minimal turbulence inside the cockpit – however, if you’re tall and the seat height is elevated, the top of your head will receive a free blow-dry.

With its roof up, the Tigra exhibits almost no steering shake and the cabin feels very enclosed. Rear quarter visibility is truly appalling – in fact, it borders on dangerous. Headroom is marginal if you prefer a relatively high driving position but there’s plenty of legroom available. The seats are tight fitting and comfortable.

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The Tigra cabin has pretty well everything you look for in a current car – a MP3 compatible CD/tuner with steering wheel controls, electric windows, four airbags, easy to use air conditioning and cruise control. It also boasts a central LCD screen which displays audio system and trip computer information as well as time, date and ambient temperature – this works great except the display can be flared by sunlight when the roof is down. In-cabin knickknack storage is ample and there’s a generous storage compartment behind the seats – big enough to throw jackets, handbags and laptops.

With its rakish nose, short overhangs and a wave shaped roll-over bar, the Tigra is attractive – but we wouldn’t call it masculine. It’s perhaps for this reason that Holden expects a whopping 95 percent of Tigra buyers to be female. A big call.

So let’s assume you’re in the market for a cheap drop-top.

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The cheapest (and most practical) option is the base 1.6-litre Peugeot 206CC which starts at AUD$32,990 – but if you want a decent amount of performance you’ll need to splurge an extra AUD$7000 for the 2-litre version. Alternatively, you can opt for a Mini Cooper Cabrio starting at AUD$36,990. And here’s where the Tigra fits in – at AUD$34,990 it’s a shade cheaper than its most comparable rivals and it’s sportier in feel and appearance.

If you want a drop-top and you’re sure you can get away with just two seats, the Tigra capably fills a gap within the niche.

The Tigra was provided for this test by Holden Australia.

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