Blurring the topless boundary

ROAD TEST Renault Megane

Convertible, cabriolet, roadster ... what does it all mean? When is an open-top car one of these and not another? Well, Renault's new Megane Cabriolet does nothing to ease the confusion, not least because its most interesting version is called a Megane Cabriolet 16V Roadster.

The new Renault is not, strictly speaking, a cabriolet because a cabriolet is meant to have some superstructure left in place when the roof is folded down. It's really a convertible. And the roadster part?

A roadster is a racy open two-seater, and this is where the Megane gets rather intriguing. That's because you can buy it with a "Roadbox" to slot in place of the rear seat, painted in the colour of the bodywork and sporting a pair of racy-looking fairings which smooth the shapes of the front seats' headrests into the rear deck, via the hood cover. Result: a two-seater sports car, of sorts, with a very big boot and an extra access hatch that is automatically wired into the central-locking system.

Never has the boundary between hatchback-based convertible and sports car been so blurred. Except that unlike convertible versions of Golfs and Escorts, for example, the Renault - built, like those two rivals, by the German specialist body-builder Karmann - is based on a short coupe instead of a regular-length hatchback. This is possible because the Megane range is rather broader than that of most mainstream cars; its core hatchback model is supplemented not only by the coupe and the new convertible, but also by a saloon and the Scenic MPV.

Never before has one understructure spawned such a wide variety of variants. They all have the same dashboard, too, give or take a few details.

We're looking at an innovative car from an innovative family, then. But is it any good? It is, largely.

You can have it with a gentle 1.6-litre engine, but the 2.0-litre, 150bhp 16-valve unit makes it much more fun. This is a strong-pulling, free-revving motor able to tug the Megane along in fine sports car style, never mind that, unlike traditional sports cars, this one is tugged by its front wheels. But then, so are the Alfa Spider and the Fiat Barchetta, and so was the now-deceased Lotus Elan. But those boundaries are blurring again.There is a flaw in the sports car mirror, though. Renault claims the roofless Megane is as rigid as one with a roof, but it doesn't feel that way. Bumps generate a structural shudder of a type rare in true sports cars but common in convertibles, and the steering feels as though it's taking up slack before getting on with the job of pointing the car into a bend. Nor are the major controls honed for driving pleasure; the clutch is abrupt, and the brakes stand the Megane on its nose if you so much as tickle the pedal.

The convertible part is good, though. The hood - electric in the 2.0 - looks very neat when in place, fitting snugly round the side windows' tidy curves, and it folds away automatically under a hinged cover whose twin fairings echo the shape of the rear seat's headrests or blend into the Roadbox, depending on your Renault's chosen role. There's a price to pay for the hood's disappearing trick, because the rear window has to be made of flexible plastic. This means that there is scope for scratches and no demisting facility, but it's a price worth paying for the sleek looks and an unobstructed view aft.

Prices start at pounds 15,340 for the 1.6 version with do-it-yourself hood erection, through to pounds 21,515 for a 2.0 with the Roadbox and an "Executive Pack", which includes leather trim, air-conditioning and a CD player. Strangely, there isn't a single price for the Roadbox, Renault preferring instead to list the cars so equipped as distinct models. Do the sums, though, and it amounts to pounds 785 for a basic 1.6 and pounds 875 for a 2.0.

Judged as a convertible, the Megane scores through versatility and the cutest looks in the class. Judged as a sports car, it doesn't quite make the grade. Full marks to Renault for personality-splitting originality, though.


Price (on the road): pounds 19,040 without Roadbox. Engine: 1,998cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 150bhp at 6,000rpm. Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 134mph, 0-60 in 8.5 sec. Fuel consumption: 25-30mpg.


Alfa Romeo Spider, pounds 23,033: More of a sports car, though front-wheel- drive like the Renault. Similar pace and structural flexibility, easier to drive smoothly, gorgeous looks, strictly a two-seater. Styled by Pininfarina.

Peugeot 306 Cabriolet, pounds 20,125: Longer than the Renault,

not as fast but more satisfying on a twisty road. Extra pounds 1,115 buys the Roadster version, which has a removable hardtop as well as the regular hood. Styled and built by Pininfarina.

Vauxhall Astra 1.8 16V Convertible, pounds 18,640: Based on an Astra saloon, and nearing the end of its life now that the solid-roofed Astra range is about to be replaced. Roomier than the Renault, but stodgy to drive. Built by Bertone.

Volkswagen Golf Cabrio Avantgarde, pounds 18,950: Has the 115bhp engine from the Golf GTI, and the stiffest, most shudder-free structure of any hatchback- based convertible. With the hood up, you could just as well be in a GTI. Built by Karmann.

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cover Supervisor

    £45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

    EBD Teacher in Shropshire

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: EBD Teacher - ShropshireWe are current...

    Teaching Assistant (complex needs)

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We are currently looking for teachi...

    Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

    £60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits