2007 Renault Megane CC | road test

Posted on Oct 21, 2006 by

Think and the very first thing that buzzes in my head is Spaniard Fernando Alonso and his winning streak of Formula One victories. The 2005 Formula One World Champion drove King Juan Carlos I of Spain around the Circuit de Catalunya before the 2006 Spanish Grand Prix in a Megane. Alonso went on to win the race eventually after a back-to-back tussle with Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher.

Renault has been in the forefront of racing technologies for quite sometime now. In fact, if one goes by the F1 results from 2005 and this year, then one has to say that Renault have stolen a march over their rivals. And it is with same dedication and precision that they built their road cars too. The hatchback is one perfect example and its no wonder that they roped in their proud possession Alonso, to back it up.

Trying to invent a new market segment is a bold venture in the 21st century, and Renault is not too far from it. They too wanted a piece of the growing line of solid-topped convertibles and hence hot-on-the-heels of French rivals – the five-in-one Citroen Pluriel and Peugeot 307 CC – Renault’s Megane CC (the CC denotes “coupe-cabriolet”) follows a now-familiar formula of a folding hardtop roof in a stylish four-seater package.

But Renault’s point of difference is with the roof, which is made of two glass panels, allowing a near-open-top experience, as we discovered on our short stint with it; in and out of the bustling metropolis that we fondly call ‘The City of Gold’.

The CC is latest in Renault’s burgeoning range of Megane spin-offs, which now includes three and five-door hatchbacks, a saloon, estate, a short-wheelbase MPV and a long-wheelbase people-carrier. Though the Renault Megane CC looks more like another big-bummed coupe that can fold its roof into its rump, the completely different element to the sales pitch: the aforementioned glass roof that allows you to enjoy whatever the skies are dishing up.

Renault’s Megane hatchbacks are infamous for an advertising campaign that compared their rear styling to a woman’s bottom. The campaign featured close-ups of various human backsides to draw attention to the Megane II’s distinctive rear styling. The advert caused a minor controversy in the UK; with it only allowed to be shown after 7:30pm in the evening. The CC has a less controversial derriere, replacing the sensually rounded hatch with a conventionally styled boot.

The Megane family look is evident here, but the CC is the most individual of the Renault clan. In fact, just the bonnet, front grille and headlamps are carried over from its hatch siblings. Otherwise, all of the panels are new, even the front wings – Renault has gone to great lengths to give the car a sleeker, more ‘grown up’ look than pudgy competitors such as the Peugeot 206 and 307 CC. No doubt about it, I am sure most of you will agree to that.

The 2007 Renault Megane CC definitely is the better looking of the lot. The car looks quite elegant from the front or rear three quarter view, but tends to be a bit dumpy when viewed side-on. That’s partly because of the bottom-heavy boot and the pronounced overhangs front and rear. That,  by the way, adds to yet another interesting fact. The very first time I saw this car, I actually thought that this had a bigger wheelbase than its siblings. But the people at the showroom proved me wrong. The Megane CC has a shorter wheelbase than its hatch siblings, but due to its overhangs front and rear the car tends to be a bit longer overall. Good design execution, I would say.

The really special bit about this Megane is its glass-folding roof. It takes just one push of a button and 22 seconds to raise or lower the roof, which scissors neatly into the boot. When folded down, the rear deck of the car is covered with a smooth boot cover, giving a clean and uncluttered look. When the roof is up, light floods into the cabin through the glass, which has been designed to filter out infrared rays and absorb most of the sun’s energy.

For starters, there’s only a perforated retractable blind to cover the glass, which doesn’t adequately take the sting out of the Middle Eastern sun. Secondly, tall drivers will find it encroaching noticeably on headroom when in place.

With the roof up the interior stays almost as quiet as that of a fixed roof car. Airflow noise is minimal but there is definitely a bit of rattling from where the roof joins the windscreen. The body rigidity of convertibles has improved markedly in recent years – thank computer-aided design for that – but by modern standards the Megane is only fair. That’s also the case with the suspension, which tends too far towards soft. The body can take a moment to recover on large bumps, which wouldn’t be so bad if the ride was Rolls-Royce plush!

The 2007 Renault Megane CC manages to avoid looking too cute, a bit of a curse among small convertibles. It presents clean, sharp and tidy lines – although it does look stodgy from some angles – and it’s not a car that instantly attaches to one gender or the other. In fact, it’s almost handsome. Don’t you think?

The interior continues what is becoming a modern French automotive tradition: unashamed use of plastics. Instead of denying the synthetic nature of their cabins, as others do, French car-makers celebrate plastic in a way that’s almost gleeful. The cabin is sparse in its presentation, with only a handful of buttons enclosed in the minimalist centre console. The surfaces and switches look good, fit well and feel nice and like some similar cars in the offing don’t pretend to be anything else.

The cabin feels light and airy, even with the glass roof raised. It feels quite enveloping, too, as the seats have been lowered by 24 millimetres compared to the hatch Megane – you feel like you are sitting right down inside the car, as opposed to perching on top of it. Renault did this to free up more headroom when the car is in coupe guise.

Renault also claims that this car is a genuine four-seater. Strictly speaking, four normal-size adults aren’t going to be very comfortable for very long in the Megane, but it should prove fine for the occasional short haul trip. Back seat passengers will be cramped even by convertible standards. The front seats are comfortable with good side support, although the bases are tailored for the slim-hipped ones (was bit of a tight squeeze for me!).

More problematic is the boot. With the roof up, there is a reasonably generous 490 litres of volume, but fold it away and that’s slashed to 190 litres. The Megane CC’s standard fit 60-watt radio cassette isn’t exactly concert hall grade and considering the hip customers it is aimed at, Renault should have at least made some sort of an arrangement to hook an iPod on to the system.

The 2007 Renault Megane CC has other curiosities that may or may not offend. They include the aircraft-like handbrake lever, which can require some muscle to disengage; or the upright back seats, which prove this is a four seater that’s rarely meant to be used as one; and the credit-card-like key that combines with a push-button start.

With 1430kg to propel (which includes the 78kg roof module and all that additional body stiffening), Renault’s 2.0-litre engine has plenty of work to do in the Megane CC. Take-off from standstill is either very leisurely or somewhat strained. Constant speed is one of the things the Megane CC does well. The less-than-smooth four-speed automatic on our test car was a little too active in most situations – with downshifts at approaching traffic lights and frantic kick down changes, it’s the one part of this ‘sun-seeker’ that thinks it’s a sports car. In manual mode the gears stay put till they reach the redline.

Handling is reasonable by convertible standards, bearing in mind that cars like these are pleasure-seekers and not athletes. The weak link in the Megane CC is the steering, which has an erratic, leaden feel and gives no clue about what the front wheels are doing. It takes a lot of the fun out of driving the car.

The company is so convinced it has stolen a march on its competitors that it is rather optimistically claiming the Megane CC is the world’s first “multi-season vehicle”. So what do I think of it? Well, for its notable faults, though, the Megane CC is relatively easy to live with, with a pleasing shape, reasonable interior space and a spacious boot. But the car is outgunned when it comes to entry-level four-seat convertibles. But in a market segment in which fashion is all-important, the smart-looking Renault will find favour with some; at least until something fresher comes along.

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