23 July 2004

The latest folding hard-top junior roadster is finally out in the open. Nissan's Micra C+C was snared by our spies undergoing a workout in Europe last week, more than 18 months before it's due to land in the UK. The new metal-roofed cabrio will be built at the company's Sunderland plant from the end of next year, and stays remarkably true to the 2002 concept car revealed at the Paris Motor Show.Although Nissan has switched from Heuliez, the French firm behind the concept's folding roof, to German company Karmann for production versions, the two systems appear almost identical from these secret photographs.

The angle of the roofline and the hard-top hinge points look the same, although the Japanese company claims the new mechanism operates in a more conventional way than the complicated Heuliez system.

Otherwise the design is virtually identical to the concept, although the disguise around the car's rear deck hides any subtle changes to the flat rear section that lifts to accommodate the roof. Insiders say the tailgate is still hinged at the bumper where it lifts to accommodate the roof partition. Karmann provides similar technology for Nissan alliance partner Renault's folding roof on the Mégane CC.

Power will initially come from the Micra's 88bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine, although any of the Micra's engines could be bolted in with relative ease. The 80bhp 1.2 petrol or 1.5-litre dCi diesel in 65bhp and 82bhp forms are all possible, the oil-burners increasingly likely given Europe's unabated desire for the black pump.

The development of the C+C has been largely completed in Britain. Not only will the car be built at the Sunderland factory alongside the regular Micra hatch, but Nissan is also undertaking development work at its Cranfield site in Bedfordshire and the design was penned in London at the Nissan Design Europe studio in Paddington, under the stewardship of Swiss designer Christopher Reitz.

The concept's Micra C+C badge remains what the company describes as a working title and no production name has yet been confirmed. Expect prices in the region of £14,000 when it arrives late in 2005, pitching it directly against rivals such as the Mini Cooper Convertible that won our cabrio group test last week.

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