On the Radar: Vauxhall Tigra

On the Radar: the first in a new series of updates in which PB looks at cars sailing very close to the PetrolBlog radar. We start with the original Vauxhall Tigra.

You have to feel some sympathy for the Vauxhall Tigra. For a few years it was the darling of the small coupé world, hogging the limelight as the go-to car for the fashion-conscious girl about town. But then along came the Ford Puma and everything changed.

Launched in March 1994, the Vauxhall Tigra looked every inch the concept car made good. Of course, we all knew it was little more than a Vauxhall Corsa in a dress it bought from New Look, but that didn’t matter. Against the backdrop of the MK3 Astra, Cavalier, Omega and Frontera, the little Tigra felt like a breath of fresh air. It had the look of a fun-size Calibra, which is no bad thing.

For Vauxhall, the Tigra represented a chance to inject some much-needed glamour into a tired brand. The supporting ad campaign used reverse psychology, claiming anyone who ironed creases into their jeans or plumped the cushions on their sofa wouldn’t like the Tigra at all. According to Vauxhall, driving the Tigra was the most fun you could have with your clothes on.

Red Vauxhall Tigra

Only it wasn’t. The Tigra may have featured entirely new body panels, but it retained the heart of a Corsa. The interior was the same, the engines were the same and, crucially, the chassis was the same. So once inside the Tigra, it simply felt like you were behind the wheel of a less practical Corsa. Not that this mattered. It looked great and, let’s face it, for most people that’s enough.

For three glorious years the Tigra had things entirely its own way. Budget-conscious buyers opted for the 1.4-litre injection 16v, originally priced at £11,565, while the racier folk chose the £13,565 1.6-litre 16v, which also added ABS, a passenger airbag and a sunroof. Power was rated at 89bhp for the 1.4i and 104bhp for the 1.6i.

Through no fault of its own, the Vauxhall Tigra had picked up an image for being a ‘bit girly’, a tag which would later be attached to the Ford Puma. Only the pert little Ford changed the game, proving that a supermini-based coupé could look good and be great to drive. Motoring mags soon proclaimed the Puma to be one of the best front-wheel drive cars of all-time, prompting none other than Steve McQueen to order a silver one. Or sorts.

The Puma managed to achieve that rare thing of being able to appeal to those driven by fashion, whilst not alienating those fashioned by driving. It didn’t matter that the interior was essentially the same as you’d find in the Ford Fiesta. The Puma looked cooler than the Tigra, performed better than the Tigra and – sorry, Vauxhall – was simply a better product.

Vauxhall Tigra side profile

Vauxhall responded by asking Lotus to tweak the suspension and there were a succession of special editions. Who remembers the Tigra MTV Summertime or Tigra Bermuda?

But the Tigra was on borrowed time and production stopped in October 1999. Ford celebrated by rolling out the Puma Millennium, alongside the similarly yellow Focus and Ka. The little Tigra soon spiralled into oblivion, even suffering the ignominy of having its name resurrected for the not-yet-ready-for-PetrolBlog-status Tigra TwinTop of 2004.

So the original Vauxhall Tigra is best forgotten, right? Well, no, not exactly. I appreciate I’m probably alone here, but I reckon the Tigra has turned the corner. Not in the same way a Ford Puma could turn a corner, but the Corsa in a corset is starting to look good again. It has taken 20 years, but the Tigra is worthy of a place in the PetrolBlog hall of fame.

Sure, the interior is about as interesting as interesting as a wet weekend in Broadstairs (to use a Vauxhall reference) and there’s barely enough room in the back to seat a pair of pygmy hedgehogs, but since when did anyone buy a Tigra for its practicality? A Tigra with a 1.6i engine (the same as you’d find in a Corsa GSi) could be a whole heap of fun. And you needn’t spend more than a grand to get a good one.

Vauxhall Tigra with bodykit

You’ll no doubt point to the elephant – or rather Puma – in the room and say that the same wad of cash would secure a rather delightful Ford Puma of a similar vintage. And yes, that would be the most sensible option.

But since when did PetrolBlog choose the sensible path? Besides, we’re getting to the age when having a milky drink before bedtime sounds appealing and taking extra vitamins in cold weather makes perfect sense. Ironically, the kind of activities enjoyed by people who, in 1995, wouldn’t have enjoyed the Tigra at all. Or so Vauxhall claimed.

I no longer look at a Vauxhall Tigra with disdain. In fact, if I see an original Tigra on the road – which doesn’t happen all that often – I have to look twice. Time has been very kind to the little Vauxhall.

Am I a lone voice in the wilderness? Or does this Spanish-built coupé float your barco? Let me know. If only to put me out of my misery.

Photos © Vauxhall.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

5 comments

  1. July 28, 2015
    Ant

    I think the Tigra is ageing well. And they definitely stand out on the road – not least because they seem absolutely tiny by the standards of modern traffic.

    I remember hating the Tigra’s styling when it was launched. Now, it looks fantastic – particularly in 1.6 form with those five-spoke alloys and in that shade of purple.

    Reply
  2. July 28, 2015
    David Milloy

    And lo! The first voice of dissent was heard.

    To me, the Tigra epitomises a period when coupes (Puma excepted) lost their edge, stylistically and dynamically. It was the sort of car that a girlfriend’s mother would approve of, an anathema to the young blades of the 90s.

    Perhaps, though, the softness of line and character that worked against the Tigra two decades ago might mean that it finds greater favour now. Not with me, though. I’m a dinosaur, and an unrepentant one at that.

    So it’s a ‘no’ from me. Sorry, Gav.

    Still, it might have been worse. PB might have proclaimed its undying love for the Nissan 100NX….

    Oh, hang on: http://petrolblog.com/2014/01/barkers-rubbish-japanese-coupes-nissan-100nx/

    Reply
  3. July 29, 2015
    Mick

    It was the first car I bought back in ’98. It was one year old, suffered badly with the 1.4 engine and it took me a week to realise that it really didn’t drive all that well. This post has brought it all back to me though and I still look nostalgically at it each time I (less and less frequently) see one. Obviously it was an Opel here in Ireland but otherwise identical.

    Reply
  4. August 12, 2015
    Nick

    I’m afraid I don’t agree that I could ever take on a Vauxhall Tigra. I would find it difficult seeing pass the practicality issues and its slight feminine appearance. Even now I would still go for a Ford Puma over a Tigra any day, as it offers more power behind the wheel, along with smoother cruising and it just overall has that sense of being far more superior to the Tigra.
    Maybe I am brainwashed from Ford’s promotional campaign, especially during the millennium era, and it’s just more exhilarating being in a Puma, as I’ve seen them ragged around the rally races on the sports channel. Unfortunately I just don’t think time will be able to make me want a car like that.
    The Vauxhall Tigra also lacks in acceleration, from the unnecessary weight it carries; and being a second slower than the Corsa GSi. The lack of space in the back is also a put off for me, especially when the majority of my drives include my family.
    I also struggle with the interior of the Tigra, as it looks expensive on the outside but you get inside to find yourself inside a Corsa. I know some people aren’t put off from that side of things, but it just doesn’t feel right with me. An expensive look on the outside should be included in the interior as well.
    Also its reliability doesn’t help with the Tigra’s reputation, and the stories of the engines going up from timing belt failures is alarming, especially when it’s the case that it can just happen without warning.
    But if purchasing a Tigra it’s always best to check for any rattling, and they also frequent in having tired brake discs and dampeners.
    But it’s only my opinion – I know some people do love to floor these things down the long windy country roads, where they are meant to handle quite nicely, and if Vauxhall had used the more powerful V6 engine then it might have been a different story.
    However, the only benefit I do see in obtaining a Vauxhall Tigra is that the customization would be cheaper and easier to do; so if you just wanted to remodel a car on appearance (on the outside) then maybe it is the car to get, but you are still compromising the practicality, speed and driving side of it – which are always my biggest factors when I’m investing into a new car.
    At least with the Puma’s you are buying a better known sport brand, better handling and acceleration, and also the reliability. Or maybe even a small mini instead.
    But the article was a very interesting read and did get me thinking about the situation, thank you Petrol Blog will definitely comeback here!

    Reply
  5. November 2, 2015
    Cristiano Sadun

    One of my first cars, loved it then and still do now. Impractical, yes, but if you care about practicality in your early twenties you’re half dead. Underpowered (or too fat)? Yes, that was the major fault. As for drivability.. it was hard to drive fast – passing from understeering to spinning in a split second (I had the Lotus-tweaked). The thing required your attention – all of it – if you wanted it to turn at speed, but it kinda taught you to pay attention, act and react. Enjoyable? No. Exciting? Yes, like a near-death experience. The design was gorgeous at the time and still holds its own (can’t say thst for the Puma).. A Major fault was the body quality and paint – it chipped all the time and rusted easily. Today I would have one as third car, and would never give the keys to my son but I never regretted owning one and still have a soft spot for it.

    Reply

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