Modern Soft Top Convertibles Offer All that Any Automotive Sun Seeker Will Ever Need
Like a modern day version of The Black Death, this plague has already ravaged Europe. Despite published reports of rampant mechanical problems and ridiculous engineering compromises not seen since the Eisenhower Administration—people are yet again being suckered into buying hard top convertible automobiles.
Each year as summer arrives many people find themselves being overcome by the notion of owning a convertible. The purchase of a convertible car is the least practical automotive proposition bar perhaps a Lamborghini Murcielago (although that vehicle does come in an even less practical convertible guise as well). While you buy an SUV for your family and your duties, you buy a convertible with your heart. Convertibles, like sports cars, are the purest form of the automotive art. If a convertible is no fun to drive and ugly—what is the point?
Sacrilegiously enough, some people are trying to turn convertibles into a quasi-rational proposition with highly technical hard tops that fold into the trunk. Or I should really say, what is left of your trunk. Hardtop convertibles may look cool when the metal roof folds into little pieces of origami but it will still leave you with no trunk space. Essentially the only time you can use the trunk is when the top is up.
So who do we have to blame for this? Well, in this country Mercedes started the trend anew (Lincoln used to sell a hardtop Continental in the 1950s) with the SLK but on the global stage it was Peugeot who took the lead. As the SLK is a pricey luxury car and not a low budget French compact it has taken a while for competitors from BMW, Lexus, Infiniti and Volvo to follow suit with inevitable copycats.
Currently selling 2 varieties of hardtop convertible around the world, the first Peugeot to use the technology was the low priced 206 hatchback. This regular version of the 206 that had a roof wasn’t very reliable or rigid in the first place so once they turned it into a hardtop convertible it turned out to be a downright tart French lemon. But that didn’t stop Peugeot from selling these convertibles by the absolute boatload. The fact that the hardtops had a habit of getting stuck as customers pulled off the dealer lot was beside the point.
Oddly enough, this summer we are seeing a huge influx of new hardtop convertibles on U.S. soil. No, Peugeot isn’t coming back to the United States yet but who knows? If Fiat can buy Chrysler then why can’t Peugeot take over GM? Scratch that. I don’t think we need Escalades assembled by unionized French employees. They already hate us enough.
Pretty much all of these new convertibles are from the luxury spectrum with the new Infiniti G35, Lexus IS350, BMW 3 series and Volvo S40 all making entries. The only mainstream manufacturers to offer them are VW with the Eos and Mazda with its hardtop version of the Miata. (Another act of heresy but I will get to that later.)
Many buyers rationalize the purchase of a hardtop convertible by saying that it affords them the quietness and security of a coupe mixed with the fun of being able to put the top down. Well, if you haven’t driven a modern day soft-top then you would be shocked by how quiet they are at freeway speeds. And if you are worried about car security, why aren’t you demanding shatter proof windows on your next car? A thief can put a hammer through a side window as easily as he or she can use a knife to cut open your soft top.
If you don’t believe that a cloth top convertible can be quiet then just mosey on down to any Audi dealer and test drive a TT or an A5. As one of the last luxury car makers to not buy into the hardtop convertible craze, this German automaker really has, along with Porsche, perfected the art. Beyond this, here are five good reasons NOT to buy a hardtop convertible this summer.
Hardtop Convertibles are Ugly—Due to the fact that hardtop convertibles need so much room to store that rigid roof, engineers are often forced to expand the dimensions of a vehicle’s rear end. Like a bored bon-bon eating housewife with too much time on her hands, most hardtop convertibles have too much junk in the trunk. Although technology is improving to make hardtops more compact, you can see the problem most clearly in the VW Eos and Volvo S40. Soft tops, on the other hand, barely take up any room at all and afford you the luxury of being able to go on a top down driving vacation all the while being able to use the trunk for your luggage.
You Cannot Carry Luggage or Groceries in the Trunk and Have the Top Down—What is the point of a convertible other than being able to take it out on weekends for a glorious trip to the desert, mountains or ocean? And what will you need for these trips? Clothes might be nice but hardtop convertibles force you to choose between having the top down and not getting arrested for public nakedness. Choices, choices.
Hardtop Convertibles Add Weight—Any automotive engineer knows that the enemy of any sports car is unnecessary weight. While the hardtop version of the Miata doesn’t add as much weight as many of its competitors, it flies in the face of the mission statement for that iconic roadster. A Miata doesn’t have the benefit of a huge V8 under the hood so it must instead rely on its razor sharp handling and cheetah-like reflexes. By adding the weight of the hardtop, motors, sensors and sundry related items it not only dulls acceleration but it also alters the perfect 50/50 weight distribution and low center of gravity.
Hardtop Convertibles Add Complexity—While recent hardtop convertible models have had far fewer incidents of breakdown when compared to their forebears, what happens when these cars are 10, 15 or 20 years old? No matter how well built they are once a sensor or motor for the hardtop decides to go haywire it is going to be the owner who has to decide to junk the car or pay a huge repair bill. The hardest thing to diagnose and fix is a sensor or chip problem in an automobile. And hardtop convertibles are just full of them.
Soft Top Convertibles Are Rich in History—From the instant you put down the top on whatever soft top convertible you buy—be it a Porsche Boxster, Mini Cooper, Audi TT, Mazda Miata or BMW Z4—you will know that you are part of a long tradition of open top motoring. These cars not only look great but they are refined, sporty and have a sense of handling balance that was once the preserve of Italian exotica. We may live in a technologically advanced golden age but that still doesn’t mean we have to buy into fixing an idea that wasn’t really broken. As the old adage K.I.S.S. says—Keep It Simple Stupid. And there is nothing simpler than the joys of driving a convertible with the soft top down on a warm summer day.