FARO, Portugal — For pure driving enthusiasts in Europe the new Opel Speedster presents a conundrum: to drive or not to drive.
The vehicle begs to be driven fast, but since it is built in limited quantity, it may just as quickly be shelved in several private vehicle collections.
For those who love to drive, the performance numbers solve the dilemma. To tempt drivers,Corp.'s Adam Opel AG installed its boisterous all-aluminum 2.2L DOHC I-4 (147 hp) midship in the radically-styled sportscar, which is known as the Vauxhall VX220 in the U.K. With some 90% of the peak 150 lb.-ft. (203 Nm) of torque offered at 1,900 rpm, the Speedster makes the 0-to-62 mph (100 km/h) mark in 5.9 seconds, and has a top speed of 134 mph (217 km/h).
The Speedster hit showrooms in the U.K. late last year and the rest of Europe earlier this spring for about $30,000. But disregard rumors that continue to say the vehicle could come to the U.S. — perhaps as a Pontiac; Opel says there are no plans to send it over the pond at this point, despite the fact that everyone who's experienced it believes this is one European car that deserves a chance with U.S. customers.
The Speedster's engine, by the way, is ignited with a starter button that Opel says it had on its concept beforeMotor Co. Ltd. installed it on its S2000 convertible.
“This car is too good not to be driven,” insists Jon Hahn, Speedster assistant brand manager.
But the numbers also may draw serious vehicle-collecting connoisseurs who have no intention of driving: Opel pledges a lifetime model run of just 9,999 Speedsters, with 3,000 expected this year. Each vehicle is numbered, with 1,000 going each to the U.K., Germany and the rest of Europe.
Appealing to both drivers and collectors are the vehicle's technical credentials. The Speedster is constructed with bonded, extruded aluminum sections with a composite bodyshell to keep it as light as possible. It has no spare tire and no power steering, doors or windows. It weighs in at 2,083 lbs. (945 kg), including 165 lbs. (75 kg) for the driver. The sportscar is built at Group Lotus in the U.K. and shares 10% of its parts with the Lotus Elise.
“The Speedster is everything its name stands for,” says Niels Loeb, assistant chief designer.
The car is built-to-order for customers who wish to stick out the six-month wait. Customers who may want to pass include the tall or wide in stature; getting in and out of this no-frills vehicle is difficult — even with the top off.
Drivers looking for the sporty nature of the Speedster with a little more comfort can look to a new Astra Cabrio, which packs the same engine as the Speedster — and the same not-for-the-U.S. status.
“It's a car you can use every day,” brags Alain Uyttenhoven, Opel's executive director, brand management, which means something when discussing a convertible meant for European climes.
With a base price of about $20,000, this 4-seat convertible more than delivers. Customers actually can choose from three engines: a 1.6L I-4 (100 hp), a 1.8L I-4 (125 hp) and the 2.2L. Although the Astra ragtop currently is equipped only with a 5-speed manual transmission, Opel will offer an automatic next year. Like its coupe sibling, the Cabrio is built in Italy by Carrozzeria Bertone SpA and is already on sale in Europe.
“The convertible is made to be driven with the top down,” says Andreas Borner, assistant brand manager, Astra.
The Astra Cabrio has a soft top that is retracted in 30 seconds. Drivers must turn a handle recessed in the roof liner and raise the roof slightly before pressing a button to fully lower the top. Optional is a totally automatic system that allows drivers to raise or lower the roof via the remote key fob. While it is necessary to be fairly close to the vehicle to operate the system, it's a handy option.
Opel has done its homework and says that there will be a market for the Astra Cabrio. Company data shows that 150,000 convertibles were sold in Europe in 1995 while numbers jumped to 240,000 last year.
Opel expects to sell 8,000 Astra Cabrios in Europe this year with 50% targeted at Germany, Europe's largest single convertible market. Sales will jump to 15,000 Cabrios next year.