Price: £14,995 (range starts at £13,150)
Engine: 1,598cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 110bhp at 6,000rpm, 113lb ft 4,400rpm
Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 119mph, 0 to 60 in 10 seconds, 42.2mpg official average
It's January, and I'm driving a new convertible from Nissan. Am I mad, or just a victim of timing? The latter, actually, for now is when sales begin. Just as the shops will shortly be full of summer swimwear and winter gloves and scarves will vanish from the shelves because you should have bought them last August.
I must test the convertibility. The temperature is just above freezing, but the heater is quite effective up to the point at which warm air is sucked out of the cabin without passing my ice-cold scalp first. I stop at a layby to retract the roof, turning the Nissan Micra C+C from Coupé to Cabriolet. It's a quick, simple, electric, balletic process, completed in 22 press-button-and-hold seconds as the two-piece roof stows itself under the bootlid and the side windows power themselves back up again.
I leave the stereo on during this auto-decapitation, playing Joss Stone's new(ish) CD, which has lots of the high-attack bass notes too easily lost when a closed sound chamber becomes an open one. But the Micra doesn't lose them, because the stereo automatically alters its sound balance to compensate for the topless mode. You can actually feel the bass notes strengthen as the roof retracts, and the transients become crisper to counter the effect of the wind-rush to come. The stereo has attributes beyond coping with an open roof, too: it offers a range of ambiences called Enhance, Acoustic and Live in addition to the usual bass and treble adjustments. The effect they have can be dramatic.
So, 22 seconds later, the roof is down, and off we go again. The C+C tag accurately describes the Micra's two-cars-in-one repertoire, but it's not just a matter of visual change and wind around the head. A coupé is usually a taut, sporty car; a convertible tends to be more languid. That's partly a function of the mindset that goes with a solid roof over your head, but it's also a fact in itself. Roof down, the Micra's structure relaxes. It doesn't get the shudders and jitters suffered by some convertibles, true, but you do sense the tension has been loosened.
A mass damper in the tail is the method by which German company Karmann, which engineered the Micra's convertible conversion, has managed to keep those shudders under control. It's all about damping certain body vibrations, a process helped by gluing as well as welding parts of the bodyshell together, and by reinforcing the understructure at crucial points to make up for the roof's removal. The whole development process was co-ordinated by Nissan's technical centre at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, and the C+C itself is made at Sunderland. It's a very European project.
Even if we can't expect the Micra to be a sports car, it is a sporty car with a very rakish windscreen angle. Its steering remains quick and responsive and much less glutinous than that of Renault's new Clio, many of whose underpinnings the Micra shares. In fact it's pretty good for an electrically-assisted system, betraying its mode of power assistance only by its resistance to quick movements, as if connected to a big flywheel.
Now I'm cruising along a windswept dual carriageway, and there's enough backdraught to freeze that part of my scalp over whose hair-thinning I am in denial. This wouldn't normally be a problem, because most people wouldn't have the roof down on a day like today. But I needed to try it, and now I have. Time to re-engage the roof, I think.
The roof has whirred and clamped itself back into place, but the Micra still has an airy aura because the "C-VIEW" roof is made of thermal glass, not the steel used by rivals. There are retractable sun-blinds if you prefer opacity above, but either way the C+C has just become very snug and remarkably free of wind noise. The stereo has calmed its loudspeakers' bass-drum cone movements, too.
Now, this Micra feels more like I'd imagine its sporty 160 SR hatchback cousin (as featured in the Verdict last week) must feel. This top Essenza model, and the Sport beneath it, has that same 1.6-litre, 110bhp engine, hardly a powerhouse but blessed with the perky feel that an old Mini Cooper S on SU carburettors used to have.
It's willing right through the rev range, but it does get raucous when revved hard and the engine speed is too slow to drop during an upward gearchange. But then the gearchange is less than slick, anyway, and resists fast movements. So don't rush things. The entry-level Urbis engine is an 88bhp 1.4, by the way, but it's barely more economical.
Roof up, the C+C feels like a proper coupé. It's taut enough to feel keen in corners, yet it rides smoothly enough to be civilised. And it's interesting to see how the interior of this generation Micra has evolved since its launch in 2002. The textures are darker and more technical-looking, with a grittier finish on the facia, and the retro-look cream knobs and switches have gone. It comes across as a high-quality cabin even though the only padding is to be found on the circular door motifs that incorporate the door-pulls.
But you'll be disappointed if you expect the same interior space as the hatchback. The folded roof takes up a lot of fore-and-aft room, so even though the C+C is 72mm longer overall, with a disturbingly big bum to the considerable detriment of elegance, its rear seats are so small as to be unusable by anyone over about five and of recognisably human form. The trade-off is a huge boot with the roof up, and even with the roof stowed the remaining space beneath the divider net, although halved, is big enough for a decent two-person holiday. You can fold the front passenger seat's cushion forward to uncover a storage space, too.
So, should you buy a Micra C+C? It's the most modern and most sophisticated of the supermini-based coupé-cabriolets, and it's genuinely good fun to drive. That fat bottom doesn't help its case as a style object, though, and for many buyers a convertible is as much about looking good as taking the air. And you don't want your object of desire to be someone else's object of ridicule.
PEUGEOT 206 CC £13,495
Oldest of the current crop - a replacement will arrive soon after the new 207's launch - the 206 CC has Micra-like vestigial rear seats, but the folding roof is metal. Range also includes diesels.
FORD STREETKA £12,715
Built by Pininfarina in Italy, the cute StreetKa doesn't bother with rear seats and has a conventional fabric roof, which you fold manually from outside. Engine is a chirpy 1.6. Basic, but fun with it.
VAUXHALL TIGRA £13,995
Not the coupé of old, but a wedgy coupé-cabriolet that's almost a sports car, with two seats and a metal, electrically folding roof. It's based on a Corsa platform, but looks unique. Diesels here, too.Reuse content