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Top five open-air rides: Driving topless excites the senses

Here are five convertibles (and one pretender) to make the most of summer

Published May 9, 2014

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

If you’re the kind of person who looks forward to throwing open your home’s windows in the spring, to let the newly-warm breeze blow through and wash out your rooms with fresh air, then maybe a convertible car is for you.

After all, there’s driving, and then there’s driving. That feeling of the wind and the open air can be there in your car to invigorate even the most mundane of journeys.

Motorcyclists know the rush, but they’re constricted by helmets and — if they’re smart — jackets and protective clothing. Convertibles require none of this. You can drive in shorts and sandals and a peaked cap, chatting to the person beside you if you wish.

When it turns cool, you can still enjoy the fresh air but temper it with heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and even heated air directly on your neck to warm your head and loosen those stiff muscles.

And when it rains or turns downright cold, just put the roof back up and you’re in a regular car again. What’s not to love?

Actually, for many years, there’s been plenty not to love: Leaky roofs that bleach in the sun and louden the ride; dangerous crash-test results; expensive premiums for both buying and insuring; unreliable mechanisms that just create more things to break; severely restricted trunk space.

But convertibles have come a long way since their timid resurgence with the 1980s Chrysler K-Car. Most of these concerns are now history.

They’re still expensive, at least to buy new. The German car makers, for example, usually charge a premium of up to $12,000 over the cost of their regular mid-size models if you want the convertible option. But they compare well as used cars, especially because many buyers are wary of the traditional concerns mentioned above.

And they’re usually small or mid-sized. The truth is, no convertible is comfortable for rear-seat passengers once the roof comes down. Wind baffles across the back make everything still in the front seats if the windows are up, but the rear gets swirled in air like a whirlpool.

Whatever convertible you’re driving, prepare to keep the roof up if you’re carrying back-seat passengers and they’re not kids looking for an amusement park experience.

Here are five convertibles (and one pretender) we recommend to make the most of your summer driving.

Mazda MX-5


It’s the classic roadster, the first car most people think of when they consider a convertible. This is the little Mazda’s 25th anniversary since it first arrived as the Miata.

Small, two seats and very low to the ground, it’s not practical as a family car, which is why so many people buy one only when the kids leave home and they settle into an empty nest. It’s the four-wheeled equivalent of a motorcycle.

Competition has come and gone over the years — most recently, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, which were not continued when their brands died. The fact is, the MX-5 is more responsive, more comfortable and has more storage space than anything else can manage. It has no competition for the price.

The cheapest MX-5 starts at less than $30,000 and comes with a manually operated black vinyl roof. Spend $36,000 and you can get the powered retractable hard-top. This is a much warmer and quieter ride, and makes the car more comfortable for driving year-round.

Chevrolet Camaro

Need more space? The Camaro is a performance car, but still affordable. The convertible V6 coupe starts at $38,430, which is about $8,000 more than the hardtop version.

Ford makes a similar Mustang, but I can vouch for the Camaro after driving one across Canada two years ago. There’s still room in the trunk for plenty of luggage, although the two back seats aren’t comfortable for very long.

Put up the removable wind baffle over the rear seats, wind up the windows and you can cruise comfortably all day. Your fuel consumption will rise dramatically though: Mine changed from 9 L/100 km with the roof in place to 12 when the roof was down.

Jeep Wrangler

It’s the cheapest convertible in Canada, starting at $19,695. It’s not for everyone, with a tall ride, bouncy handling, truck-like engine and enough noise to warrant earplugs, but those who drive them, love them.

The soft-top roof is a hassle to remove and even more of a hassle to clip back into place. But when it’s down, the Wrangler is absolutely the best cottage car on the market.

You can even remove the doors and fold down the windshield for the full summer experience. But if you do, make sure you have somewhere to park it when it rains — those doors don’t go back on quickly.

In the winter, there’s a hardtop that bolts on to help keep the Wrangler warm and practical, but you’ll need a place to stow it when the weather improves.

Smart cabrio

It used to be billed as the cheapest convertible in Canada, and is still very affordable at $21,150, which is just a $3,000 premium over the regular tiny coupe.

The cabrio’s entire roof folds back and, if you remove the B-pillars and tuck them away into their designated storage space, the rear of the roof folds entirely into the trunk and opens the car right up.

If a “regular” convertible is a four-wheeled motorcycle, the Smart is a four-wheeled scooter.

Fiat 500c

Fiat will argue its little 500c is a convertible — that’s what the c stands for — but it’s really a coupe with a very big sunroof that comes back to the trunk.

The B-pillars stay in place, so even with the windows down, the framework of the windows and roof is still there. This makes it safe and less pricey, but it also encloses the driver and makes it a coupe.

For $17,489, a $4,000 premium over the hardtop, you may not care.

BMW 4 Series cabriolet

It’s a premium car with a premium price, but the new Bimmer offers all you could want for a convertible.

A hard-top roof folds into the trunk or back into place in 20 seconds. A clever switch raises the entire folded roof and mechanism when it’s in place to allow easy access to the luggage in the trunk. And concealed roll bars will shoot out within 200 milliseconds if the car tips over, to protect its occupants.

It costs $56,600, which is a lot more expensive than the $44,900 of the 4 Series coupe, and with the roof up, there’s really no difference between the two cars.

But when summer comes and the roof folds down to let the sunshine and fresh air swirl around you, there’s no better feeling on the road.

wheels@thestar.ca

Vehicle Image
    • Price: $123,900

    MSRP

    • Price: $32,900
    • Price: $54,500
    • Price: $41,400
    • Engine: 4.7 V8 G
    • Horsepower: Not defined
    • Transmission: AT
    • Drive Type: RWD
    • Cylinder: 8
    • Transmission Speed: -

    Performance

    • Engine: 1.6 I4 G
    • Horsepower: Not defined
    • Transmission: -
    • Drive Type: FWD
    • Cylinder: 4
    • Transmission Speed: 6
    • Engine: 2.5 I5 G
    • Horsepower: Not defined
    • Transmission: AT
    • Drive Type: FWD
    • Cylinder: 5
    • Transmission Speed: 5
    • Engine: 3.0 I6 G
    • Horsepower: Not defined
    • Transmission: -
    • Drive Type: RWD
    • Cylinder: 6
    • Transmission Speed: 6
    • City: 12.7
    • Highway: 8.1
    • Fuel Type: Gas
    • Fuel Tank Low/High: 20/20

    Fuel Economy

    • City: 7.9
    • Highway: 5.8
    • Fuel Type: Gas
    • Fuel Tank Low/High: 13/13
    • City: 11.8
    • Highway: 7
    • Fuel Type: Gas
    • Fuel Tank Low/High: 16/16
    • City: 11.4
    • Highway: 7.4
    • Fuel Type: Gas
    • Fuel Tank Low/High: 14/14
    • Airbags: Yes
    • ABS Brakes: Yes
    • Traction Control: Yes
    • Stability Control: Yes
    • Safety Rating: -
    • Child Sensor: Yes
    • Park Distance Control: Yes

    Safety

    • Airbags: Yes
    • ABS Brakes: Yes
    • Traction Control: Yes
    • Stability Control: Yes
    • Safety Rating: -
    • Child Sensor: Yes
    • Park Distance Control: Yes
    • Airbags: Yes
    • ABS Brakes: Yes
    • Traction Control: Yes
    • Stability Control: Yes
    • Safety Rating: -
    • Child Sensor: Yes
    • Park Distance Control: Yes
    • Airbags: Yes
    • ABS Brakes: Yes
    • Traction Control: Yes
    • Stability Control: Yes
    • Safety Rating: -
    • Child Sensor: Yes
    • Park Distance Control: Yes
    • Sunroof: No
    • Air Conditioning: Yes
    • Power Windows: Yes
    • Power Door Locks: Yes
    • Leather Seats: Yes
    • Power Seats: Yes
    • Music System: Yes
    • Navigation System: Yes
    • Cruise: Yes
    • Keyless Entry: Yes
    • Rain Sensing Vipers: Yes
    • Heated Seats: Yes
    • Climate Control: Yes
    • Steering Wheel Controls: Yes
    • Power Mirrors: Yes

    Comfort & Convenience

    • Sunroof: No
    • Air Conditioning: Yes
    • Power Windows: Yes
    • Power Door Locks: Yes
    • Leather Seats: No
    • Power Seats: No
    • Music System: Yes
    • Navigation System: No
    • Cruise: Yes
    • Keyless Entry: Yes
    • Rain Sensing Vipers: No
    • Heated Seats: No
    • Climate Control: Yes
    • Steering Wheel Controls: Yes
    • Power Mirrors: Yes
    • Sunroof: No
    • Air Conditioning: Yes
    • Power Windows: Yes
    • Power Door Locks: Yes
    • Leather Seats: Yes
    • Power Seats: Yes
    • Music System: Yes
    • Navigation System: No
    • Cruise: Yes
    • Keyless Entry: Yes
    • Rain Sensing Vipers: Yes
    • Heated Seats: Yes
    • Climate Control: Yes
    • Steering Wheel Controls: Yes
    • Power Mirrors: Yes
    • Sunroof: No
    • Air Conditioning: Yes
    • Power Windows: Yes
    • Power Door Locks: Yes
    • Leather Seats: No
    • Power Seats: No
    • Music System: Yes
    • Navigation System: No
    • Cruise: Yes
    • Keyless Entry: Yes
    • Rain Sensing Vipers: Yes
    • Heated Seats: Yes
    • Climate Control: Yes
    • Steering Wheel Controls: Yes
    • Power Mirrors: Yes
    • Max. Seating: 2
    • Number of Doors: 2
    • Seats: 2
    • Power Adjustable Seats: Yes
    • Specialty Seats: Yes
    • Interior: Yes
    • Leather Seats: Yes
    • Power Seats: Yes
    • Heated Seats: Yes

    Interior

    • Max. Seating: 2
    • Number of Doors: 2
    • Seats: 2
    • Power Adjustable Seats: No
    • Specialty Seats: Yes
    • Interior: Yes
    • Leather Seats: Yes
    • Power Seats: Yes
    • Heated Seats: Yes
    • Max. Seating: 4
    • Number of Doors: 2
    • Seats: 4
    • Power Adjustable Seats: Yes
    • Specialty Seats: Yes
    • Interior: Yes
    • Leather Seats: Yes
    • Power Seats: Yes
    • Heated Seats: Yes
    • Max. Seating: 4
    • Number of Doors: 2
    • Seats: 4
    • Power Adjustable Seats: No
    • Specialty Seats: Yes
    • Interior: Yes
    • Leather Seats: Yes
    • Power Seats: Yes
    • Heated Seats: Yes
    • Awards: -

    Awards

    • Awards: -
    • Awards: -
    • Awards: Residual Value Awards - Near Luxury Car, 2012-02-16

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