Nissan Micra C+C
Which comes first, the Mini or the Micra? Michael Booth sizes up Nissan's C+C
Sunday 21 May 2006
Would suit: Dolly birds and dolly blokes
Price (as tested): £15,250
Maximum speed: 119mph, 0-60mph in 10 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 42mpg
Further information: 01923 899 334
You're still going to want a Mini Cooper Cabriolet, aren't you? I mean, even after seeing that the Nissan Micra C+C is better value, and has a folding glass and metal roof which means greater security and far better visibility than the Cooper's claustrophobic canvas one. Even when you've heard about all the extras that come as standard in the Nissan - which you would have to cough up several monthly mortgage repayments to obtain in the Mini - you are still going to ring the bank, make whining noises down the phone, ignore that awful old avocado bathroom suite that you've been meaning to rip out since you moved in six years ago, and buy the Mini.
But wait just a minute. I know it's a Nissan, and I know it looks like an extra from a Pixar animation, but the C+C is a really terrific little car. For a start, it's fun to drive; the Micra hatchback upon which it is based was a sound car to begin with: peppy, eager and it made a good fist of the twisty bits. The C+C has a pumped-up version of the best Micra engine - a 16 valve, 1.6 litre - but, to be honest, it is still pretty sluggish. It carries an extra 126kg of chassis stiffening which is equivalent, say, to driving around with John Prescott and a giant tray of pies as ballast. But I still really enjoyed driving it. A slick gear change and an engine that lives happily at the higher end of its rev range helps.
The Mini has always had reliability issues which makes the UK-designed, Sunderland-built Micra not only more British than the BMW Series, but indisputably better built. Impressive rigidity over potholes is a good sign that the C+C is well engineered; another is the good-quality-for-the-price interior. Plus, the Micra has vastly more boot space than the Mini (457 litres with the roof up, versus, ooh, I reckon about half a pint in the Mini), it will cost less to insure, and drinks less petrol (a diesel is due next year, too).
Of course, if you are cruising the showrooms for a cheap convertible this spring, there are other cars you will be toying with - the Vauxhall Tigra, for example. That's sharper looking, also has a fine engine and is better built than you might think. But it only has two seats, and sales have suffered accordingly. The Micra has four, although, admittedly, the rears are titchy; you sit bolt upright as if waiting for the volts in an electric chair; and the leg room makes Ryanair feel like Club Class. But they'll suffice in an emergency (should Pervy Prescott spy a young filly he fancies, for instance).
Then there is the Peugeot 206 CC, but that was an abomination when it was launched, and it is now an ageing abomination. So the only issue would seem to be which C+C to go for. I'd counsel against the entry-level "Urbis" version, with its piddling 1.3-litre engine. I haven't driven it, but I suspect you can gauge its performance in terms of custard skin-pulling and, anyway, the 1.6 Sport is only £500 or so more and comes with air-conditioning as standard. Meanwhile, I tried the top of the range "Essenza" model which comes impressively stuffed with sat nav, alloy wheels and climate control.
So that seems to be the one to go for. But there's just one other problem: the basic Mini Cooper Convertible is, in fact, cheaper than the whizz-bang C+C Essenza. I know which I'd want, and I think I know which one you'd buy too. s
It's a classic: Allard Clipper
I've wracked my brains to come up with a classic alternative to the singular style and cheeky hubris of the C+C and this is the best I can do: the Allard Clipper. Admittedly it isn't a convertible like the Micra, but it had no windows and low-cut doors, which is near enough.
It was the brainchild of Sydney Allard who had the idea of creating a frugal yet "stylish" version of the bubble car. The wheezy little 8hp engine from a Villiers motorbike - not much more powerful than modern-day, sit-down lawn mowers - was expected to propel this plastic-bodied Noddy car with a potential payload of up to five people, seated three abreast on a bench seat with two in the "dickey" behind.
But the Clipper was not the sales success Allard envisaged. He made 20, of which - according to Giles Chapman's entertaining book, Cars That Time Forgot - only two survive.
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