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Fun In The Sun For Everyone!

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On: Thu, Jul 1, 2010 at 10:07AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Fun In The Sun For Everyone!

Not all convertibles are created equal. Similarly, not all convertible drivers are created equal either. Just because a car has a drop-down roof doesn't mean it can be lumped together with all others of that same category. In fact, aside from that feature, the only broader generalized grouping would be to place each in the 'automobile' category. Although July is probably the worst time to actually buy a convertible, it does happen to be the time that everyone takes notice of their roof status, especially if it's of the fixed variety. 

If you are in the market for a convertible, or simply want to learn a little more about some drop-tops that have come and gone for a future purchase, then look no further. Newer is not always better, especially if you have an eye for value, and know what a car has to offer. Detailed below is a series of cars that all fit in the convertible category, but each of their unique intrinsic and extrinsic differences and characteristics are laid out. Also, because this is Autoshopper.com, all of these cars were picked out of your local Autoshopper magazine.

2005 BMW 645Ci Convertible - $34,999
Options: 8-cyl, auto, ps, pb, air, 79,987 miles, leather int, CD, sat radio, navi, 20" wheels

The Chris Bangle-designed 6 Series is a very unique car, and as a convertible it serves up a multitude of upsides. The 645 exudes a sense of importance and its futuristic take on the classic long hood, short deck sports car proportions,and its off-beat sense of style will get you noticed by most everyone (including those pesky State Troopers). Its ample 4.4-liter V8 throws down 325 horsepower and 330 lb ft of torque, which is enough to get you to the speed limit in a hurry (0-60 in 6 seconds and 1/4 mile in 14.5@98mph). It's not a family car though, unless your family is still relatively new. The vestigial back seat can hold two very small humans or one large suitcase, but those up front won't mind the complaining while they are being held in place by very supportive and supple leather seats. The Bimmer is a very stable car at speed and its six-speed automatic transmission shifts seamlessly through the gears. The biggest drawback is that the 2005 variant of the 645CI is that it is burdened with the infamous iDrive system, which make simple tasks like turning on the radio and adjusting HVAC controls difficult for the average user. The only other real drawback is that replacing BMW parts is usually more expensive than most other vehicles. According to updated EPA regulations, the 4200 pound 645Ci shows its weight at the pump, getting 16 city /24 highway MPG. Fuel mileage aside, there are few cars that will outmatch the 645 in terms of pure style and comfort.

2004 Chrysler Sebring Convertible - $5995
Options: 6-cyl, auto, ps, pb, air, 70,311 miles, p-lcks, p-win, cruise, leather int., am/fm stereo, air bags, alloy whls.

The perennial convertible rental car, the Chrysler Sebring is middle of the road on just about everything. Its styling is inoffensive to just about anyone, though the word 'bland' does come to mind. The restyle for 2004 did improve the look of the car substantially though, with a far more aggressive front end and new tail lights. The car leaves behind the very oval shape and takes on a much more gender-neutral motif. The V6 is responsive and torquey for being a relatively commonplace corporate motor putting down 200 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. The Sebring gets going and can cruise at 80 mph with little clamor, and fuel economy is pretty reasonable at 19 city /26 highway. Acceleration isn't spectacular with 0-60 times of 9 seconds and a 1/4 mile time of 16.70 seconds, while torque steer makes its presence known by rearing its ugly head on hard launches. The biggest upside to the Sebring is that it provides plenty of room for four full size adults to travel in relative comfort compared to most other convertibles. The power top comes down without much work from the driver or passengers, leaving plenty of room in the trunk for suitcases. The downsides to the very popular rental car are that it feels like a rental even if you own it. The interior is cheap and as plastic-filled as a coin-operated prize machine near the exit of a supermarket, and the fit and finish of the car leaves something to be desired. The HVAC controls and central-mounted power window and door lock switches take some getting used to, as well. Yet, if you want a reasonably reliable do-it-all convertible, the Sebring is just the car that will get you there in drop-top, if mediocre, fashion.

2000 Ford Mustang GT Convertible - $9995
Options: 8-cyl, 5-spd, ps, ABS, air, 89,584 miles, p-seat, p-lcks, p-win, cruise, tilt, leather int., am/fm CD, air bags, custom wheels, tires & exhaust

The millenial pony car is a different kind of convertible. It isn't just a car, the Mustang is a way of life. Buying one of almost any year is a rite of passage into a subculture of the automotive world. If you've never taken the time to row through a few gears with a thunderous exhaust note coming from all angles while the wind blows your hair every way imaginable... make time. It is a liberating experience worth of a Jack Keroac novel. The Mustang's 4.6-liter SOHC motor puts 260 horspower and 302 lb-ft of torque through a Tremec five-speed transmission that feels heavy, yet appropriate in a way that a drop-top muscle car should. From the outside, the 'New Edge' design is dated by now, but it still holds true as the last new design (read: not retro), and, as such, has its own personality instead of taking cues from its great-great grandfather. The Mach 460 sound system will not disappoint, even when the top is down. The Mustang will blast onto the highway, leaving most of the world behind in a dash to 60 mph in about 5.6 seconds and running through the 1/4 mile in 13.8 seconds at 101 mph. The Mustang does not pretend to be something it is not, which is a virtue or a vice depending on how you want to look at it. It is very clear about its intentions from the get-go. There is room for two full grown adults and barely enough room for anything but children or luggage behind the front seats, although the trunk is roomier than you might think, even with the top down. The ergonomics are not anything to brag about, using generic Ford parts-bin HVAC controls and seats that are supportive enough to get to where you want to go in moderate comfort. If you are looking to arrive in calm, casual, sophisticated style, then, by all means, look elsewhere. But if you want a no-nonsense escape pod that is built for fun in the sun, then look no further.

2008 Saturn Sky Red Line - $22,995
Options: 4-cyl, auto, ps, ABS, air, 8712 miles, p-lcks, p-win, cruise, tilt, leather int., am/fm CD, air bags, alloy whls., turbo

The Saturn Sky Red Line is a car that will get you noticed, period. Buying this car is like being the first of your friends to own an iPad. Everyone wants to know what it is, what it can do, and if they should get one too. The hot rod Saturn is a car that has a lot of perks, but unfortunately an equal number of downsides. One of the biggest pluses is the turbocharged 2.0 liter Ecotec motor that puts down an impressive 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque through a chassis that chimes in at a relatively svelte 3000 pounds. Its five-speed automatic 'mission makes highway cruising comfortable and fuel economy of 19 city MPG and 26 highway. The well matched gear ratios team up with the direct injection powerplant to rip off 5.2 seconds and 1/4 miles times of 14 seconds flat at 98mph. Unfortunately though, its dashing good looks are only a little more than skin deep. Though the Sky Redline has earned the nickname 'Mini-Vette' in some circles, the car is actually closer to a Lotus Elise in terms of a driver and car relationship. The seats are comfortable, but the large transmission tunnel makes it difficult for those that shop at Big & Tall stores. The top is difficult to stow, and there is almost no room to store anything in the awkwardly reverse-opening trunk. The interior pieces don't come close to matching the style of the car's exterior, and quickly dampen the high expectations set on the walk to the car. But, all in all, if you are looking for a unique drop-top, there's almost nothing like it this side of a Solstice.

2009 Mini Cooper Convertible - $23,997
Options: 4-cyl, auto, ps, ABS, air, 8,762 miles, p-lcks, p-win, cruise, tilt, am/fm CD, air bag

The Mini Cooper Convertible is essentially the male gymnast of the automotive world. Some people will respect it for its abilities in a small niche, and others will just laugh at it, citing a lack of testosterone. The non-S Mini is a fun car that provides a driving experience all of its own, despite being a bit anemic in the engine compartment. The six-speed automatic transmission and less than monstrous 1.6-liter four cylinder engine produce an adequate 120 horsepower and 116 lb-ft of torque using BMW-derived variable valve timing. The Mini convertible introduced pop-up roll bars in 2009, and a new gauge called the ‘Openometer’ shows up to tell you how much time you have spent with the convertible top in the 'down' position. The back seat can seat non-obese adults for some time, although road trips might tend to cause joint pain after a while. The Mini does not impress with 0-60 times of 8.5 seconds and a 1/4 mile time of 17.6 @ 80 mph. But where the Mini shines is at the pump, providing a heroic 22 city/34 highway MPG. Although quirky, the Mini is the car you want if you want to have fun, cruise around for a while, and are not in a hurry.

2004 Porsche Boxster - $19,995
Options: 6-cyl, 5-spd, ps, pb, air, p-seat, p-lcks,, p-win, cruise, leather int., am/fm CD, Alloy whls., 60,284 miles

The mid-engine Boxster is a car that you need to drive, even a six-year-old used version of one. But do yourself a favor and drive quite a few other cars before you get behind the wheel of the ‘Poor Man’s Porsche’, as it is often referred to. Once you experience what other, less refined, attempts at the automotive experience are like, only then will you truly appreciate the Boxster. Its supple, yet agile ride, its perfectly balanced tracking through fast corners, its precise, responsive steering all feeding your desire to push it just a little further up the tachometer to hear all 225 horses neighing in unison at 7000rpm. Rowing through five speeds, you’ll hit 60mph in 5.8 seconds and run through 1320 feet in 14.3 @ 99 mph. The Boxster won’t even offend at the gas station, averaging 18 city MPG/27 highway MPG. Sitting snugly in the leather seats, you can begin to understand why some people truly enjoy driving. The only real downside to the Boxster is that it isn’t the more powerful ‘S’ variant, and you can share the experience with only one other person at a time. There are two trunks, one in front and one in the rear of the car, that provide enough storage for two normal people going away for a weekend. But after a ride in the Boxster, you might never want to come home again.

2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4x4 - $16,990
Options: 6-cyl, 6-spd, ps, pb, air, 57,491 miles, am/fm CD, Alloy whls.

The wild card of convertibles has to be the Jeep Wrangler. Technically not a convertible in the classic sense, a Jeep can offer, in some cases, more fun than your average drop-top. The most Spartan of automobiles this side of an H1, the Jeep deserves a very no-frills review. A Jeep, by the numbers, seems like the worst choice imaginable for a summer car. Its 4.0-liter OHV V6 offers 190 horsepower and 235 ft-lbs of torque that propels the 3700 pound box to 60 in 10.2 seconds, and surpassing the ¼ mile in a meager 17.4 seconds at 77.4 mph. It averages a very carbon-heavy 13 city/17 highway MPG. The Jeep offers little in the way of true comfort, with a very minimalist approach at ergonomics being not much more than a stereo, seats, gauges, a roll bar, and doors. Yet, somehow the Jeep is fun… a lot of fun, as a matter of fact. Its personality exudes through every gearshift of its six speeds. The Wrangler is the type of open air fun that grows on you, and soon enough you find yourself defining its flaws as quirks. And, as any Jeep owner will tell you, once you take a Jeep off the highway and onto the dirt, there is nothing better.

So maybe it’s a first car you’re looking for. Maybe it’s a second or third car you are interested in. Depending on your budget, and your priorities, you might just be able to find that perfect convertible in time for the best parts of summer after all. There are a lot of factors to keep in mind, but there is a perfect car out there for you, maybe at a price that is a lot more affordable than you thought. You just have to know what you looking for, and what you looking at.

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