One fine, sunny day many years ago, my wife said to me "I think we should get a convertible. I'd look good in a convertible". At the time we were a young couple with a 20-month old toddler. While most people in that bracket go looking for a wagon or an SUV, we brought home our first drop-head - a 1991 Ford Capri Verde.
We loved the Capri with its fold-away vinyl roof and tiny, "just right for a child seat" 2+2 configuration. But after locking it up in a city carpark and having someone tear the roof back to break in, it was no longer able to venture out if there was any chance of rain. From that point on, it hardly ever got used… and so it had to go… and in February 2008, it did.
Thus the criteria for replacement were simple. It had to have a folding steel roof and cost well under $50,000. The contenders were the Ford Focus Coupe Cabriolet, Peugeot 307 CC, Renault Megane II Coupe Cabrio and Holden Astra Twin Top. At over 50 grand, the Volkswagen EOS was just beyond the budget.
All models provided similar engine and trans combos, good looks, range-topping luxury features and five stars of safety, so it really only boiled down to the driving experience. After carefully comparing and test driving each in this tightly contested class, we both agreed the Renault would be our new steed. We chose the “any colour you like as long as it’s silver”, silver - which does suit the Euro-coupes, and is the very best colour at pretending to be clean.
We liked the Megane’s elegant exterior styling just that little bit more than the competition, while inside the cabin you are surrounded by good quality plastics in a well laid out and unobtrusive array of easy to read controls and gauges. The glass roof with perforated retractable screen gives a light, airy feel without cooking the top of your dome. Sound from the premium, 6-speaker stereo is heightened by good insulation meaning your favourite songs don’t have to compete with invasive road or engine noise.
The leather front buckets offer good support and ample adjustment, plus the folded head restraints can be extended to meet the hollow in the back of your neck giving further support and comfort on long hauls. Rear seats however, are atrocious with a seating angle that has you positioned like you're squatting on a toilet. Softly padded they may be, but if you intend to carry two adults in the back, they will be screaming “let me out” after 20 minutes of confinement back there. Our kids were fine in the back until they hit their teens, but now they avoid it like housework.
Boot space is massive with the roof on. I guess that’s to be expected when it needs to be stored there when going topless. We took a family holiday to Byron with our kids in the back and the boot full to the brim. Of course, the roof stays on at freeway speeds, but once you get to your destination and unpack, then you can let the sunshine in. One nice feature is a tumbler on the lower right of the dash to adjust the headlight angle. Very handy when the car is heavily laden.
So what’s it like on road?
Ride is excellent and soaks up bumps well, although finding a utility lid or a bit of truck-squeezed bitumen mid corner can upset that composure and expose the shudder you often get with a loose roof. Handling? Ditto, when it comes to anything less than a smooth corner, though it does settle down fairly quickly giving you only slight annoyance with the state’s B-roads.
Performance? Not that great to be honest. But considering the 2-litre in-line four only has a measly 98kW to push along all those 1450 kilos of car with extra roof pieces, electric motors and hydraulics, it’s hardly surprising. If you want a bit more bang in this class, spend the extra dough on an EOS – or get a fixed roof version.
The engine nonetheless is smooth and willing as long as you don’t ask too much of it. We purposely opted for the manual because… well, because we just do. The six cogs are well spaced and give the Megane some extra stride at the 110km/h highway limit. The result is 7 or less litres to the hundred with the cruise control engaged. Even around town mid-eights can easily be achieved if driven nicely.
Maintenance? Overall it has been a fairly light on expenses, although be warned, Renaults have a bit of a “rep” for electrical issues. I’ve had to replace one electric window module ($178), and the column stalk switch assembly ($628). Headlamps blow regularly if you use auto headlights constantly. I’ve replaced them six times, and it involves removing the front bumper assembly unless you can train a monkey or small child to go in from behind the mudguard. Also be prepared to replace the front disc rotors about every 40000kms. Service and maintenance costs have averaged $760 per annum, or $12.34 per 100 km.
In summary, the Megane is no sports car. But if you like cruising in comfort and style with the ability to mess up your hair-do in the process, this car deserves your attention. In the Renault Megane Coupe Cabrio you can look like a million dollars without spending a million dollars, and that must surely appeal to many.