6 convertibles almost anyone can afford
For some, they're chick magnets. For others,
a sure cure for a mid-life crisis.
They're fun, they're sporty. They're the
stuff of dreams.
We're talking about convertibles, the embodiment
of carefree driving.
Once you've sat behind the wheel of one,
it's hard to think of driving anything else. The images that flash
through your mind: lazy autumn afternoons whisking along winding country
roads generating a wake of red and brown leaves, the wind ruffling
your hair. A quiet moment, parked with that special someone, watching
submarine races in the moonlight. Not to mention attracting hordes
of head-turners and car lovers at every traffic light and parking
We should all own at least one convertible
before we die. But many feel convertibles are too expensive and created
only as expensive toys for the rich.
Convertibles come in all shapes and sizes
and are tailored to meet the budgets of everyone from the working
stiff to the company CEO. There are more than 30 convertibles on the
market today from classic tiny, two-seat roadsters with high-performance
engines and superior handling, to family four-seaters and on up to
the luxury sport convertibles such as the hot new Cadillac
XLR and Ford's Thunderbird.
Those high-end models may be out of the financial
reach of most drivers. But there are plenty of affordable choices:
it's a little long in the tooth and it's not as fast as some in this genre, but
this perennially popular sports car is still loads of fun to drive. The light
and flashy little Miata, going for as little as $21,843 with wonderfully crisp
handling and a comfortable ride, is the ultimate proof that you don't need a lot
of horsepower to have fun behind the wheel. Sure, it's tiny and impractical with
just two seats and minimal trunk space, but it's the absolute distillation of
all the things that people love about convertibles. At the wheel of a Miata, you
feel like you're driving a racing car, especially if you can find a long, twisting
country road. But it's fun even to drive even in heavy traffic. The current generation
Miata has been around since 1998, so it doesn't turn heads much anymore; anti-lock
brakes are still available only as an option and stability control is not available
at all. But it remains a car to fall in love with.
Click image for larger view
With a price that ranges from $21,475 to $26,570, the Beetle
offers exceptional value for money. And of course, it's as cute as a bug. The
handling is tight and an optional six-speed manual transmission with 150-horsepower
turbocharged 1.8-liter engine ratchets up performance. But the Beetle convertible
isn't about performance. The ragtop Bug is about being seen and feeling good,
and it succeeds on both counts. It is remarkably cute, even more so than the regular
Beetle. It's also an extremely enjoyable car to drive, with strong brakes and
all the safety features you would expect. It's not very fast or powerful, but
it's a very solid, heavy and safe and a terrific value.
Click image for larger view
Stylish and practical, the Sebring is America's top-selling convertible. Despite
its base price of $24,590, it's a classy and elegant car that can carry four adults
comfortably. Combining practicality and affordability, Chrysler has positioned
the Sebring as a ragtop for people who want a big trunk and a back seat with room
for a couple of grownups. It's the only convertible in the price range of $24,600
to $30,000 that can carry four adults and their luggage.
Here's a convertible that can fit many people's budgets, slipping
nicely into the $24,000 to $29,000 price range. This is a car that has a great
deal of panache. Those who opt for the 260-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 over the
standard 190-horse V-6, are driving a very powerful car. Equipped with either
a four-speed automatic or five-speed stick, the rear-wheel drive Mustang lends
itself better to sporty driving, which means hard cornering and acceleration.
And of course, it carries the classic Mustang name. The 2004 Mustang will be changed
very little as an all-new model is planned for 2005, but all 2004 models will
bear commemorative 40th anniversary exterior badging, while V6 and GT models can
be ordered with a full 40th anniversary trim package. Still, strong engines and
low prices keep the Mustang plenty desirable next to the more refined convertibles
on the market.
Ranging in price from $24,300 to $30,000 the Spyder is a strong
competitor to the Miata and the Mustang convertibles. The front-wheel drive car
offers a good compromise of the two for convertible shoppers counting their pennies.
It offers more room and power than the Miata and greater fuel economy than the
Mustang. The Spyder gets high marks in the looks department employing the classic
convertible configuration of a long hood and a short trunk. With a power-operated
convertible top, the Spyder is attractive, and affordable -- with room in the
back for your kids. Its front-wheel drive makes it an especially good convertible
for snowy climates.
Toyota MR2 Spyder
similar to the Miata, the MR2 is fairly lightweight, a lot of fun to drive and
can be counted on to live up to Toyota's reputation for reliability. The engine
is behind the driver and in front of the rear axle, putting more weight on the
rear and adding to the fun of driving. A new Spyder will cost between $25,000
and $27,000 and don't expect to get a break on the price. Low production volume
keeps the demand up for these handsome two-seaters so dealers don't have to negotiate
to keep them moving off the lots.
Click image for larger view
Gandhi is a freelance writer based in Florida.
Posted: Dec. 9, 2003