You are thinking of buying a new car and want to treat yourself. Your last car was a hatchback. It was fine, but unexciting. This time you are going to get something jazzy. Something that says, “Look at me, I enjoy life and I’m not afraid to be seen doing it.” You’ve thought of a sports car, something low-slung with a buzzy engine. An MX-5 or MG TF would be nice. You are also considering a coupé. Hyundai make a nice one. The Toyota Celica looks gorgeous. But then you’re not sure.
The first two aren’t really that practical. Insurance is expensive and they have soft-top roofs. They are both two-seaters, too, and not much good for carrying kids or friends. The coupés have the edge on practicality, but the downside is their tops don’t come off. They’re fun, but you know that even in sun-deprived Ireland, open-top motoring is the best there is. And, after all, you want to make a statement. Ideally then, what you want is a car that offers you a good mix of some of the best aspects of both a convertible and a coupé. And while you may have been limited in terms of choice some years ago, the good news is that, as of now, this is no longer the case. Roll on the two new French lovelies, you see here. Cars that join the German Opel Astra Convertible in offering you your mid-sized coupé/convertible cake and letting you eat most of the base and icing, if not the cherry and the creamy inside. With these two, and we need another cliché here, you get most of the best of both worlds. They are as close to full-sized four-seaters as you’ll get when it comes to convertibles. The back seats can be used. They have hard, secure tops. They have a boot. They are more stylish than your average hatchback. They are more comfortable and practical than your typical sports car. They are also coupé-like with their roofs up, and they stand out in ‘play-it-safe Ireland’ like those pink Manolo Blahniks you picked up in New York. (Note to males: If you are interested enough in these cars to want a comparison of your own, think a very loud Paul Smith tie).
Plus, and this is the good bit, when the sun comes out, they award your investment by transforming themselves into elegant chariots at the touch of a button. They let you cruise around in some considerable style, happy in the knowledge that you no longer own an average hatchback. If any of that appeals to you, then you are probably already planning how you will be able to afford the €30,000 plus needed to get your hands on one of these. And if you are, then you are probably also asking which one of the two should you go for? Which one do you need to own in order to look down your nose at someone driving the other? The cars are the Renault Megane Cabrio and the Peugeot 307 CC – which, believe it or not, stands for coupé-cabriolet. Both arrived only recently in Ireland.
Image: Peugeot:✔✔✔✔✘ Renault:✔✔✔✔✘ Let’s get something straight here from the off. Neither of these two cars comes close to matching more expensive, soft-top, convertibles when it comes to this category. An Audi A4 cabriolet could make these two run from the ball in tears. A convertible Saab 9-3 would send them home empty-handed from a beauty contest with mascara on their cheeks. They are mid-sized cars that have been worked, for want of a better word, into hardtop convertibles, and it shows at their rear where those extensive and complicated lids have to go, in particular. The Megane is fussy and lumpy. The Peugeot is smoother, but plump and somewhat bland, despite nice touches like the rear LED taillight clusters. That said, however, they do have a certain French elegance which makes them good looking enough to attract envious looks and neat packages when one considers that they are far cheaper than our supermodel cabriolets mentioned above. The Peugeot has a steeply raked windscreen that gives it a pretty face. The Renault is very individual when you get used to the lines. Both are at their best with the roof down naturally and, while we are on the subject, the Renault’s lid is easily the coolest. It’s a see through glass effort that gives the car an airy feel when closed. It folds away in 22 seconds, three seconds faster than the metal roof on the Peugeot. Inside the latter, however, is the one that will please more though. This is thanks to small touches like the leather trimmed steering wheel and the aluminium finish to the centre console, air vents, pedals and interior door handles. The Peugeot’s roll bars are also not visible when its lid comes off, adding to its smoothness. Overall then, these cars score well here for what they are. The Peugeot just sneaks ahead in CBG’s books, although we could easily understand why one might argue otherwise.
Reliability and Quality: Peugeot:✔✔✔✘✘ Renault:✔✔✔✘✘ The joke about French cars used to be that they would fall apart inside and out, but stay going forever. This thankfully is no longer the case as build quality has been improved to match long-serving strong engines. At Renault, standards are not high with good materials used in the cars’ interiors, even if they are still not up to German standards (current Golf excluded). Peugeot, too, are building well-finished cars, albeit ones that could still be improved. The hatchback versions of both cars have been known to suffer from electrical glitches, but it is too early to say if this will be the case here. As with some new convertibles, they may also experience difficulties with the roof-folding mechanisms, but, again, we don’t know yet. The roof in the 307’s smaller sister the 206 CC did give some teething problems, but a different company makes the one in the 307.
Performance: Peugeot:✔✔✔✘✘ Renault:✔✔✔✘✘ Both these cars weigh a bit and their performance suffers as a result. Being convertibles hey are loaded with heavy safety reinforcements in addition to the roof-folding mechanisms. The 307’s kerb weight is 1457 kg, 210 k’s heavier than the equivalent hatchback model. The Renault weighs 1365 kg, the roof alone accounting for 78 kg. This means their 1.6 litre engines need to be worked hard to make progress. In the Peugeot, the unit outputs 110 bhp and the car manages a slow 0-62 mph time of 12.7 seconds. In the Renault, you have 115 bhp. The car does 0-62 mph in a slower 13.6 seconds and has a maximum speed of 116 mph. Currently; Renault has no plans to introduce other engine sizes into Ireland. There is a 2.0 litre in other countries and a 1.9-litre diesel. The Peugeot, on the other hand, is available powered by a 138 bhp 2.0-litre, in both manual and automatic, and with a 180 bhp, 2.0-litre engine in sport trim. Prices for these are €36,625, €38,275 and €41,995.
Equipment: Peugeot:✔✔✔✔✘ Renault:✔✔✔✘✘ Neither of these cars are short kit. In the Peugeot, you get all sorts from an in-dash CD player to follow me home headlights. The alloy wheels are 16-inch, you have climate control, central locking and an alarm, but leather seats are an option. In the Megane, you get leather seats as standard but climate control is an option as is an alarm. Other standard features include the same type of headlights as in the Peugeot, central locking ,and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Safety and Security: Peugeot:✔✔✔✘✘ Renault:✔✔✔✔✘ There is no debate here. Safety is where Renault excels and its Megane has already scooped the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP tests. The 307 CC scored a very respectable four, but it’s still one less star. Both cars have been reinforced to add strength in key areas. In the 307,you get strengthened front windscreen pillars and B posts. You also get a rear, vertical bulkhead, eight tie rods under the roof assembly, and stronger doors. In the Megane, the car’s sides are reinforced, the front pillar assembly is stiffened and the engine compartment layout is specially designed to prevent it intruding into the car in an accident. Roll bars are also fitted in both to ensure safety in the case of a rollover. In the Megane these are fixed. In the 307, twin roll-hoops are fired upwards in 150 milliseconds from a cassette behind the rear headrests. Standard safety equipment in the Megane also includes ABS (antilock) and emergency-braking assistance, adaptive front and side and anti-submarining airbags. In the 307 you get driver, passenger and side airbags. ABS, EBFD, (Electronic Brake Force Distribution) brake assist. ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) and traction control.
Roominess: Peugeot:✔✔✔✔✘ Renault:✔✔✔✔✘ Both these cars claim to be genuine four-seaters and this is true to some extent. The back seats are usable, however four adults are not going to be comfortable in them for long and they are better suited for kids. The Peugeot is a small bit roomier, but not by a significant amount. Both cars have good-sized boots with the roofs up, but when the lid is down this is obviously compromised. In the 307,the boot has 350 litres of volume with the roof up and 204 with it down. The boot in the Megane has as much as 490 litres of volume. This shrinks to 190 litres with the roof down. For convertibles though, this car impresses in this section.
Running Costs: Peugeot:✔✔✔✔✘ Renault:✔✔✔✔✘ As these are hardtop cars with good safety features, your insurance should not suffer that badly, but expect to pay extra for the fact that they are convertibles. You can rest assured as well that your car should hold its value well as demand for these second-hand should be strong. Your fuel economy figures are fine, but not great. The 1.6 litre Megane manages an average consumption of 34.5 mpg, the same powered 307 CC returns an average of 34.5 mpg.
Comfort: Peugeot:✔✔✔✔✘ Renault:✔✔✔✔✘ Both cars score well here. In the Peugeot, the seats are nice and wide and you can adjust the steering wheel for height and reach. In the Megane the interior is well laid out, the seat is height-adjustable and the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach. With the roof down in the Peugeot, the steeply-raked windscreen can seem too close to your head. In the Megane, the visible roll bars limit your rear view. The Renault’s roof makes it a nice place to spend time and you should note that its glass blocks out infra-red rays and absorbs most of the sun’s energy when up. Wind buffeting and scuttle-shake, the problems you get in all convertibles, do not affect these cars to any great extent, but the Peugeot is more solid and less flexy.
Fun To Drive: Peugeot:✔✔✔✘✘ Renault:✔✔✘✘✘ Remember the clichéd bit about the cake when we mentioned not getting to eat the creamy inside and the cherry on top. Well, this is the category where these cars’ weaknesses show. Neither of the two is sporty, in fact they don’t really come close. As we have seen already, their performance figures are a lot less impressive than their roofs and sadly they stop short of being as dynamic as cars like our MX-5 or Toyota Celica. The Peugeot is a big, heavy car and feels boaty on the road. It will go around bends, t just isn’t that sharp. Thankfully though, its steering is well weighted and you can be confident about what handling abilities it does have. The Megane, actually feels livelier, but it’s slower and its steering is vague to the point where you will give up trying to push it along. Both cars are also soft in terms of ride. This is good, ok it comes to comfort, but not great when you feel like winding them on. To be fair, neither company makes extravagant claims about their cars’ sporting characteristics. Both are happy to have their cars recognised for what they are and that is competent, stylish cruisers where the fun is in the open air experience they provide. Yes, indeed, just think of them as inexpensive grand tourers and you have the right idea. On the open road, preferably one with few bends, and with the hoods hidden in their big behinds, they are very driveable and a joy to be in.
Value for Money: Peugeot:✔✔✔✔✘ Renault:✔✔✔✔✘ They are not cheap, but they are not expensive either. For the asking prices of €32,345 for the Peugeot and €32,000 for the Renault, you do get a very useable everyday car that can make the weekends or your day off that bit special. You are paying a premium on standard hatchbacks, but you are getting a return for your money. Both cars, too, come with excellent, standard equipment and their prices are well below other cars that offer the same open-top experiences. The Verdict: We were going to give it to the Peugeot and then the Renault and then the Peugeot and then the Renault and then we gave it to the Peugeot and then we changed our minds and called it a draw. The Peugeot is that bit more fun to drive and it’s more stylish. The Renault is safer and has a cool, glass roof. If you are thinking of buying one of the two, the best advice we can give you here is to test-drive both. In the end your own opinion will be the deciding factor as these cars are so alike in so many ways that there is nothing between them from an objective point of view. No one in either of these cars, we have to say, is going to be doing any looking down their noses at anyone in the other.