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Renault Megane 2001 Review

WE MIGHT be in the middle of winter, but the slightest hint of sunshine is all that's needed to rip the roof off for some top-down driving.  Convertible cars are making a serious comeback and the list of open-air automobiles has never been bigger, or more affordable.

The marvellous Mazda MX-5 - and the dead-and-buried locally built Ford Capri - basically re-invented the inexpensive convertible sports car segment, harking back to the glory days of the swinging post-war era where MGs were as trendy as mini-skirts and the Lotus position had nothing to do with yoga.

While the latest drop-top sports cars are fun to drive solo, there's one flaw with most: there's only enough space for two people.  If you want to share the "wind-in-your-hair'' experience with more than one, the price tag for a four-seater convertible can be double that of Mazda's little cult car, with the born-again Mustang and the open-top Volvo C70 almost pushing six-figure start-up prices.

However, there are a couple of less expensive options with the Peugeot 306 Cabrio and Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet, which have room for four, starting under $50,000.  But now there's another choice, with the Renault Megane Cabrio part of the French car maker's recent return to Australia.

The Megane Cabrio is the most expensive car in Renault's new four-model line-up, but, at $39,985, it's also the cheapest passenger car-based four-seat convertible on sale in Australia.

While Renault isn't pinning its hopes on the Megane Cabrio as the bread winner -- that goes to the Scenic mini people-mover range that shares the Megane's underpinnings -- it admits the drop-top is an important image-building model that needed to be included.  The Megane Cabrio is a convertible version of the coupe that's offered in Europe and which could be added to the Down Under line-up eventually.

The two-door body has a unique wedge-shaped design with its rounded nose flowing into a tall, and squared-off bootlid.  The electrically operated roof, which can be colour-coded to the exterior of the car in some models, gives the Megane a coupe-like appearance when it is up. But the car transforms into something else when the roof folds down behind a classy-looking cover with Batman-style flutes that run off the top of the rear seats.

The Megane Cabrio is powered by a 1.6-litre four cylinder engine and drives through the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic.  The engine produces 79kW of power at 5750 revs and 148Nm of torque at 3750 revs.

Safety-wise, the Megane Cabrio comes standard with anti-skid brakes and dual front and side airbags.  Inside the four-seat cabin are creature comforts including electric windows, air-conditioning, CD sound and sports seats.

Driving

A cold and windy week in Melbourne recently wasn't the best time to spend with the Megane Cabrio.  But, even still, there were a couple brief periods where the sun beamed bright enough to drop the roof, turn up the heater and head out for a cruise.

First things first, the weird "bum-up'' styling of the Megane isn't going to please everyone.The big, hard-edged nostrils in the front grille don't quite fit with the curvy lines that make up the rest of the car's face, and the bug-eyed, high rear end is certainly something different.

Despite not having a windbreaker, there isn't that much turbulence rushing through the cabin while driving with the roof down.  And, the cabin is relatively quiet for a convertible when the fully lined roof is up.

The front seats are quite comfortable with good side support, but there's not much room in the back for two adults to travel in comfort.  The angle of the steering wheel makes the driving position a bit awkward, but the dials and controls are all within easy reach and are well-organised on the dashboard.
While the engine definitely doesn't belong in a sports car, it feels more powerful than a conventional 1.6-litre powerplant.

There's plenty of low-down torque to make driving easy and comfortable, although the five-speed gearbox is a bit vague -- and the gear lever actually wobbles around when the accelerator is either depressed or released.  The suspension and body are quite tight for a convertible that's based on a regular passenger car. Surprisingly, there's little body shake, even when pushed through twisting roads.

But there is a fair bit of kick back through the steering wheel if you hit a bump in the middle of a bend.  The ride is well sorted and, while the Megane Cabrio would be no match for an MX-5 in a head-to-head comparison through the Dandenongs, the handling is pretty good for a front-wheel-drive car.
Overall, the Megane is a great value-for-money convertible with a European badge and the convenience of four seats.

The bottom line

3/5

Good price, good fun.  While the Megane isn't a sportscar, it's a great-valueconvertible with heaps of Euro-chic.

Renault Megane Cabrio

Price as tested: $39,985
Engine: 1.6-litre four cylinder with double overhead camshafts and fuel injection
Power: 79kW at 5750revs
Torque: 148Nm at 3750revs
Transmission:
Five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
Dimensions:Length: 4082mm, Width: 1698mm, Height: 1368mm
Wheelbase: 2468mm
Tracks: 1451mm/1432mm front/rear
Weight: 1125kg
Fuel Tank: 60 litres
Consumption: 9.7 litres/100km
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension: Fully-independent with MacPherson front struts and torsion beam rear end.
Brakes: Anti-skid with front ventilated discs and rear drums.
Wheels: 6.0x15 alloys
Tyres: 185/60 R15
Warranty: three years/100,000km

Rivals

Mazda MX-5**** (from $43,485)
Peugeot 306 Cabriolet** (from $49,990)
VolkswagenGolf Cabriolet*** (from $49,750)
Toyota MR2****(from $46,200)

Pricing guides

$4,615
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$3,400
Highest Price
$5,830

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Expression 1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $3,400 – 5,500 2001 Renault Megane 2001 Expression Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$3,400

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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