Car makers strive to create a good impression for the launch of a new model,so a convertible’s debut at this time of year inevitably means a trip south, in search of good light and reliable weather. But sometimes the best-laid plans backfire. Sue Baker tells the tale of missing wheels and absent sunshine
Stick a pin in a map of Europe to find somewhere for the launch of a new convertible in the early months of the year, and southern Spain seems bang on target. Sun-bathed roads for a breezy drive in a topless car by day, a nice glass of Rioja for a chat to the engineers over a Tapas dinner at night. Perfect.
Except that it didn’t work out quite like that for the debut of Peugeot’s 207 CC. First came the drama of being on a plane that was heading in to land with its undercarriage still up, which had to perform a sudden steep climb before banking sharply round for another go – with the wheels down this time.
Then there was the weather that followed us in. A sky as gloomy and leaden as the faces of nervy Peugeot executives was hanging over Jerez, thick mist clung to the hill route chosen for the test drive, and a heavy rain shower erupted just as the coffee-stop café loomed into view. It was cold, wet, and changeable. But it really didn’t matter, because these conditions are precisely when a coupé cabriolet with a folding steel top comes into its own. The weather felt just like it does at home, and the sun’s absence did nothing to detract from a thoroughly enjoyable drive. Quite appropriate. Let’s face it, Britain’s notoriously inclement weather, with rain on average every other day, has been no deterrent to soaring sales of convertibles in general, and to sales of coupé cabriolets in particular.
It was the 207 CC’s predecessor, the 206 Coupé Cabriolet, that kicked off a big trend for hatchback-based convertibles with retractable hardtop roofs. When was launched in 2000 there was only one model around with a similar roof design, and it was the significantly more expensive Mercedes-Benz SLK.
Since then, over its six-year life, the 206 CC has been phenomenally successful, selling more than half a million cars worldwide. Its successor arrives into a much more crowded coupé cabriolet scene, with a dozen other models now sporting a similar roof design. A popular misconception endures that coupé cabriolets are a modern invention. On the contrary, the basic design dates back to the 1920s, and was originally the idea of a young French dentist, who was inspired after he watched a neighbour struggling with his convertible’s fabric hood on a rainy day in Nice. The dentist, Georges Paulin, began sketching an ingenious design for a folding metal roof. He eventually sold it to Peugeot, and it resulted in the 401 Eclipse coupé cabriolet of 1934. The 207 CC is its latest descendant.
It’s a worthy one, too. Switching between roofopen and roof-shut modes is so easy and hassle-free that it is almost worth finding some inclement weather to make it worth doing. One of the 207 CC’s improvements over its predecessor 206 CC is that opening or shutting the roof is now a one-touch operation, with no top-of-windscreen clips to undo before you delid or to fasten when the top goes up again. Either operation takes 25 seconds and can be performed while you are crawling along in traffic: the electric roof operates on the move at up to 6mph, which is helpful. The control switch is located between the front seats, and a bleeper tells you when the sequence, windows included, is complete. Just in front of the roof switch is another switch that operates all the windows at once.
I found myself reaching for this window switch to raise the side glass while on a fast sprint along a Spanish motorway, when the rush of air over the top-down 207 CC’s bodywork made the seatbelt webbing flap uncomfortably against my shoulder. An optional windbreaker mesh screen that can be slotted in above the rear seats costs £160. It makes a significant difference to driving comfort with the roof down, and is well worth having unless you are happy with hair that permanently looks as though it has been combed by a hedge. Ah, those rear seats. Know any legless friends? The car is a 2+2, and you’d be hard pushed to find anyone, other than tiny children, who would be comfortable sitting in the back. But it’s a useful space for carrying things rather than people.
The 206 CC was predominantly popular with women, and the sales statistics show 88 per cent female ownership. The 207’s styling changes are aimed at widening the car’s appeal by butch-ing up its looks and making it less ‘girly’. It seems to have worked, because from every angle there is more muscle to the 207 CC’s shape, and the front has a more imposing stance than the old car’s pert prettiness.
The interior is much improved, too, with a more focused design and better quality materials, although the launch cars were top-of-the-range spec with leather, and thus unrepresentative of what most owners will experience. Compared with its predecessor, the 207 CC is eight inches longer, three inches wider, and half an inch taller, which results in the slightly more spacious-feeling cabin and a better boot (449 litres). A mesh roller-cover divides the boot horizontally to let you stow some luggage below when the roof concertinas into the top of the boot. But the stowed roof leaves no access room, so you have to raise it before you can remove any of your luggage.
A safety upgrade from the previous model means five airbags are now standard, including head-chest airbags set into the backs of the front seats to protect rear-seat passengers. Active rollover protection is provided by two pop-up steel hoops behind the rear seats that automatically deploy and protect if the car overturns in an accident.
With the 1.6-litre 110bhp turbodiesel engine and five-speed manual gearbox already familiar from the 207 hatchback, the CC is a very engaging drive. It handles tidily with a grippy poise at a rapid pace over a twisty road, and the ride is on the firm side but never uncomfortable. The body feels much tauter than the 206 CC’s did, and doesn’t noticeably flex or rattle even when you’re in press-on mood over a coarse Spanish backroad, whatever the weather.
Refinement is generally pretty good. There is a bit of engine noise, but not enough to bother you. A fast drive does induce a mild flutter of wind noise around the pillar-less side windows with the roof up, and a bit of road rumble permeates up through the suspension, but it’s not enough to gripe about.
Peugeot has done a good job with the 207 CC. It is cleverly packaged with a well-designed roof that seals itself tightly against the top of the windscreen without any of that cumbersome last-minute manipulation of awkward catches. It’s a handsome design and a strong structure that doesn’t creak or flex as you drive. The 206 CC triggered the trend for affordable coupé cabriolets and now its successor moves the goalposts again.
On sale: 1 March // Price from:£17,095 (petrol models from £14,795) //
Main rivals: Ford Focus CC,Vauxhall Tigra,Vauxhall Astra Twintop
- Price: £15,895 (two-door Sport HDI DPFS 110)
- Engine: 1,560cc, 4-cyl, 16 valves, turbo
- Max Power: 110 PS at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 180 lb ft (195 lb ft with overboost) at 1,750 rpm
- Combined Consumption:54.3 mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 136 (C)
- 0-62mph: 10.9secs
- Max speed: 119mph
Fully automatic electric roof
Active roll over protection bars
ABS with EBFD and EBA
Automatic hazard warning lights
Isofix mounting on passenger seat
Radio/single CD player
Three-button remote control key Plip
Handsome small coupé cabriolet with an easy, one-action roof, and strong performance from an HDi with overboost
Silly back seats, airflow causes annoying seat belt flutter, no access to luggage in the boot unless you raise the roof