SHE HONKED her horn. "Yours?" she asked. "Nah," I said. "Factory car. Test model." "It's pretty," she said. "How much?"
I told her, but I won't tell you until later. (Timing is everything.)
She said: "That much? No-o-t-t bad . . . Sure is a pretty car." Said it several times, in fact.
I thanked her. Don't know why. Like I said, it wasn't my car. And she was a neighbor with commitments. So was I.
But the sun was out and folks wanted to play. And, hey, this 1985 Renault Alliance DL convertible was just the right thing to spark a little silliness.
Outstanding complaint(s): I like to shimmy, but not behind the wheel of a car. Convertibles tend to do that -- twist a bit here and there when they're in motion. That's the legacy of removing certain structural supports to let the sun in. The Renault Alliance convertible seemed to twist a bit more than other models I have driven. But autophiles of much longer standing argued that I had fallen victim to an overactive imagination. One even offered to drive the car for a couple of days to prove his theory.
Folks at American Motors Corp., which is controlled by France's Regie Nationale des Usines Renault, now say they goofed when they introduced the 1984-model Alliances with 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder engines.
Those earlier puff-puffs developed some reliability problems under heavy driving; and there were complaints about overall performance. So, Renault kicked in a 1.7-liter, fuel- injected, 4-cylinder burner for the 1985 models.
The new engine is a substantial improvement, but, with automatic transmission, it still has to work overtime at 55-mph-plus.
Outstanding praise: My neighbor was right. The Renault Alliance is the prettiest subcompact convertible on the road. With top down and the boot snapped into place, it is a striking piece of art -- short, smooth, elegant lines, gently rounded front, one of the most acceptable come-ons since PG-13 movies.
The interior is well done. All dials are right up front and easily readable. All controls are clearly marked and accessible.
Head-turning-quotient: See Outstanding Praise. 'Nuff said.
Sound system: Hey, now! A sound system that really works effectively with the convertible top down. Angled speakers defeat wind noise for good listening. But . . . radio signals seem more prone to interruption in this model. Lots of static around electric power lines and tall buildings, much more so than I've found with other car audio systems.
Mileage: About 22 miles per gallon, combined city-highway, running lightly loaded with top down most of the time and stuck in urban traffic much of the time.
Price as tested: $14,161, including air conditioner, leather-wrapped steering wheel, warning chimes, power locks and windows and power-controlled, vinyl convertible roof. See? Told 'ya I'd tell 'ya.