Drop-Top Gorgeous

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Friday 15th October 2010
In this article
  • Five new convertibles: pros, cons and technical statistics.
  • Choosing the one for you.
  • Where to go for more details.
Drop-Top Gorgeous

Remember the days when convertibles were few and far between? That was back when cars went through an "it’s-just-transportation" phase. But suddenly, from about the early 90s on, cars became fun again. And what could be more fun than a car that can go topless? Answer: not a heckuva lot.

As SharpMen in the top half of the world bear down on a long, cold winter, what better time to fantasize about driving with the top down? Check out the SharpToys scoop on these five convertibles:

Audi TT Roadster

When the Audi TT arrived on the scene back in 1999, it put heads on a swivel. Since that time, the German carmaker has added an all-wheel drive (or Quattro) version, a more powerful engine and a convertible, the Roadster.

It’s a rare thing for the convertible version of a car to look different, yet equally appealing in its own way. The TT Roadster manages to do just that, creating a modern silhouette that cuts a bold swath across the motoring landscape.

Where it scored: The design — inside and out: the TT sets the standard among this fabulous five-some. The handling is impeccable, especially in the Quattro version; the car sticks to the road like glue on tar. The 180-horsepower, turbocharged engine is a solid one, but for more thrills, the optional 225-horsepower turbo should be considered. The cool quotient on this car is very high.

Where it missed: Interior space is severely limited and tall drivers will have a hard time finding a comfortable seating position. The car, built on the VW Beetle platform, is a bit crude-feeling and noisy for its price range. Some of the paint options are odd, particularly the gun metal gray. Similarly, the expensive "baseball glove" optional leather interior is totally unsuited to this car.

The image: Sleek, refined and intellectual.

The ideal setting: The autobahn — or any other bahn-like road.

The SharpWoman factor: A potential "chick car," but also a definite chick magnet.

For more info: Visit www.audiusa.com.

Audi TT Roadster Stats

MSRP $36,100

Engine 1.8-liter turbocharged dohc inline 4

Drive configuration Front engine/front drive

Transmission(s) 5-speed manual

Brakes 4-wheel disc w/ABS

Horsepower 180 hp @ 5500 rpm

Torque 173 lb-ft @ 1950 rpm

BMW 325Ci Cabriolet

large_p0004155.jpg
Every time this Bavarian carmaker releases a new model, questions arise. Mainly, how do they always manage to take an already great car and make it even greater? Their 3-series is a prime example. In 1999, they introduced revisions to this line of smallest cars and managed to make the previous group — the standard-bearer in its category — look very ordinary in comparison.

A number of models have been added to the new line including, for the 2001-2 model year, the 325Ci Cabriolet. Need a measure of how great the pace of development at BMW is? The chassis of the new convertible is as strong as that of the old sedan. When you’re missing a roof, this is an engineering feat worthy of heaps of praise.

Where it scored: The 325Ci Cabriolet is the only car in this category with seating for four and a serious trunk. In terms of creature comforts, it sets the pace. As with any and every BMW, the overwhelming feeling one has when sitting behind the wheel is one of solidity. And as with any and every BMW, safety features abound.

Where it missed: Performance-wise, it’s the least inspiring car in the group; more of a touring machine, less of a sports car. In terms of personality, it also takes a back seat to the others. Although the chassis is strengthened from previous models, there’s still some shaking over bumps in the road.

The image: Footloose and fancy-free.

The ideal setting: En route to the beach.

The SharpWoman factor: OK, the 325Ci may be more suited to the female driver … which makes it the perfect gift!

For more info: Visit www.bmw.com.

BMW 325Ci Cabriolet Stats

large_bmw4202.jpg

MSRP $35,990

Engine 2.5-liter dohc inline 6

Drive configuration Front engine/rear drive

Transmission(s) 5-speed manual

Brakes 4-wheel disc w/ABS

Horsepower 184 hp @ 6000 rpm

Torque 175 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm

Ford Thunderbird

In this all-new convertible, the venerable Ford Motor Company has erased all signs of recent Thunderbird heritage and gone back to the archives. In fact, this car makes Thunderbirds from the late-1970s through 1994 seem like nothing more than an extended bad dream.

The design team drew inspiration from T-Birds of the 1950s and 1960s to come up with the "afterburner" tail lamps, the reverse-wedge profile — nose high in the air and tail low — and the porthole rear windows on the removable hardtop. In terms of mechanics, the 3.9-liter V8, in conjunction with the high-performance dual exhaust system, creates a throaty roar and more memories of days gone by.

Where it scored: This is the perfect ride for those who enjoy basking in the sunlight and the spotlight. The interior look is classic, but has all the modern power options, including a six-disc in-dash CD stereo. The car is spectacular, particularly in Inspiration Yellow or Thunderbird Blue.

Where it missed: The new T-Bird is really an old guy’s car, more suited to gentle cruising than anything else. Accordingly, there’s only one transmission available: the 5-speed automatic. People much over six feet tall will find it difficult to wedge their way into this Ford.

The image: Powerful, unique, classic.

The ideal setting: Cruisin’. Anywhere, anytime.

The SharpWoman factor: A definite head-turner, likely to attract women who enjoy being the center of attention alongside you.

For more info: Visit www.ford.com.

Ford Thunderbird Stats

thunderbird.jpg

MSRP $35,495

Engine 3.9-liter dohc V8

Drive configuration Front engine/rear drive

Transmission(s) 5-speed automatic

Brakes 4-wheel disc w/ABS

Horsepower 252 hp @ 6100 rpm

Torque 261 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm

Mercedes-Benz SLK320

large_slk3202.jpg
This little two-seater is the anomaly in the Mercedes line-up. Whereas most Mercs cater to the austere executive, the SLK line explores the fun side of driving. Unfortunately, the original SLK, the 230, had all the top-down appeal, but lacked some gumption. But the new SLK320 (and its even more powerful sibling, the SLK32 AMG) is a real fire-breather. Of course, being a Mercedes, it also feels solid and luxurious, with an interior dripping in rich leather and wood.

Where it scored: The folding hardtop roof is the coolest feature of any of the cars reviewed… and it’s fast. (People actually stop and stare in awe as the metal splits and disappears behind the back seat.) Safety standards in the car are so high, they’re stratospheric. With its powerful engine and six-speed manual transmission, the car is immensely fun to drive.

Where it missed: The transmission has a slightly imprecise feel as compared to other performance cars, and reverse is counter-intuitively found by lifting the gearshift. The fancy roof takes up quite a bit of luggage space.

The image: Solid and business-like, but sporty.

The ideal setting: Winding your way through the Black Forest.

The SharpWoman factor: The base model, the SLK 230, is unquestionably a chick car. With more power on tap, the 320 edges closer to being the SharpMan vehicle you’re looking for…

For more info: Visit www.daimlerchysler.com.

Mercedes-Benz SLK320 Stats

large_slk320.jpg

MSRP $43,900

Engine 3.2-liter sohc V6

Drive configuration Front engine/rear drive

Transmission 6-speed manual

Brakes 4-wheel disc w/ABS

Horsepower 215 hp @ 5700 rpm

Torque 229 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm

Porsche Boxster

This "entry-level" model in the Porsche line-up has been bettered since its introduction in the 90s and has now become an even more serious driver’s car. With engine output boosted to 217 horsepower and 192 l.-ft of torque, the new baby Boxster offers the giddy-up to match its sporty look and race-tuned handling.

More than anything, what this convertible proves is that there’s no substitute for experience when it comes to creating a two-seater with raw sex appeal and speed. The German carmaker has been at the forefront in this department since the 1950s and the Porsche 356 Spyder… with no signs of letting up.

Where it scored: The most fun-to-drive of any car in this review. The handling of the Porsche is so nimble and responsive; it practically dares you to toss it around like a go-kart. Compartments front and rear offer storage large enough for golf clubs or weekend luggage. A surprisingly comfortable car with much attention paid to driver positioning.

Where it missed: The only convertible in this group with a plastic rear window, a real no-no (plastic windows become scratched and cloudy after just a few trips into the storage compartment.) Fewer amenities than the competition and one of the more expensive models here, so the bang for buck quotient is a tad weak.

The image: Pure, unadulterated fun.

The ideal setting: The Pacific Coast Highway.

The SharpWoman factor: What discerning female doesn’t like a Porsche?

For more info: Visit www.porsche.com

Porsche Boxster

hackingporsche.jpg
MSRP $42,100

Engine 2.7-liter dohc flat 6

Drive configuration Mid engine/rear drive

Transmission 5-speed manual

Brakes 4-wheel disc w/ABS

Horsepower 217 hp @ 6500 rpm

Torque 192 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm

The Post-Game Wrap-Up

Car Engine Handling Braking Comfort Styling Totals
Audi TT Roadster 8.5 9.0 8.5 8.5 9.5 44.0
BMW 323ci 8.5 8.5 8.5 9.5 8.5 43.5
Ford Thunderbird 9.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 9.5 43.5
Mercedes-Benz SLK320 9.5 9.0 9.0 8.5 8.5 44.5
Porsche Boxster 9.0 9.5 9.5 9.0 9.0 46.0
  • Cars used for these ratings were base models.

Editor’s Note: These dream cars a bit rich for your blood? Stay tuned for SharpMan.com’s upcoming reviews of more affordable cars that make the grade!

This article last updated on Friday 15th October 2010
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