2008 VW Beetle cabriolet, 2008 Mini Cooper, 2008 Mazda MX-5
VW Beetle cabriolet, Mini Cooper convertible and the Mazda MX-5 GX -- which should you buy?
Ford's president from the 1960s, Lee Iacocca, described any Mustang without a V8 as a "secretary's car."
Today, ol' Lee would be strung up by his chauvinistic wing tips for such a stereotypical statement. Regardless, society still considers some vehicles that are urbane, economical and fun to drive as stereotypical "chick cars."
That's too bad. Because one would have to be a soulless cretin not to crack a grin at the sight of any one of these three neo-retromobiles carving through daily traffic.
But which of these so-called chick cars is the one if you love to drive?
2007 VW New Beetle Cabriolet
Volkswagen's New Beetle Cabriolet is a direct descendent of the Wayne Gretzky of chick cars, the Rabbit Cabriolet.
The New Beetle ragtop comes with the lowest base price of the three, at $27,795. Even with an optional automatic transmission and a Highline package that includes leather furnishings, the test car's bill was only $32,190.
A well-built interior and downy ride will impress guys and dolls seeking on-road comfort. And its 150 hp, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder is fundamentally more low-key and smoother in operation than the shriller fours in the Mini and Mazda.
The VW took almost 10 seconds to get from rest to 100 km/h. And it was the thirstiest, with an as-tested fuel consumption rate of 11.6 L/100 km that matches a Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel I recently drove.
The last-generation, front-drive Golf underpinnings give away that there's nothing really "new" about this Beetle's chassis.
Over bad pavement, the VW's bloated body moans and groans. Handling can be best described as non-committal. There's such little feedback from the tires, suspension and steering that you tend to back off when exploring tighter corners at speed.
WHY BUY? Easy-going driving nature, price, quality interior.
WHY NOT? A grumpy, thirsty sloth when driven hard.
MACHO ALTERNATIVE: 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 Convertible $54,290
2007 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Non-supercharged Mini Cooper convertibles start at $31,600. The front-drive Cooper S test car adds a supercharger to the 1.6 L four, which brings horsepower up from 115 to 168 hp. Throw on the Sidewalk trim package and the Mini was the costliest of this trio, at $40,590.
At 7.4 seconds, it was only 0.3 of a second slower than the hardtop turbocharged Cooper S that's been updated this year.
In lieu of possessing the most powerful engine here, the Cooper S Convertible also sipped the least fuel, at 8.7 L/100 km.
Frugality aside, the Mini's wheels-at-each-corner formula still delivered determined stability when driven hard, soft or negotiating the drive-through at Starbucks.
Every turn of the steering wheel gained an immediate outcome. The only downsides were a decidedly firm ride, mild torque steer and a six-speed manual that got hung up on the two-three gear shift.
WHY BUY? Quick chassis responses, frugal at the pumps.
WHY NOT? Ride, pricy options, notchy shifter.
MACHO ALTERNATIVE: 2007 BMW M Roadster $69,900
2008 MAZDA MX-5 GX
Starting at $28,195, the $33,545 GX test car also came with a power retractable hardtop that surprisingly didn't impinge on the roadster's 142 L of trunk space.
All MX-5s come with a 166 hp 2.0 L four. At 1,444 kg, the Mazda is 234 kg heavier than the slighter Mini. Nevertheless, well-matched gear ratios in the standard five-speed manual means it was only 1/10 of a second behind the Mini in the run from 0-to-100 km/h, yet only slightly less frugal at 9.2 L/100 km.
On the road, MX-5 leaps into corners. Its stiff chassis is rock solid and wonderfully balanced. Even with low-profile 205/45R17 rubber, only the Bug betters it in ride quality.
Performance numbers aside, the Mazda's surgical precision from its steering and steady stream of consciousness from its chassis make it the choice as the chick car for drivers.
WHY BUY? Fun-to-dollar ratio, steering, handling.
WHY NOT? Only room for two.
MACHO ALTERNATIVE: 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 Roadster $98,600