This country is blessed with glorious weather for the vast majority of the year. As I write this article in what is commonly referred to as gloomy February, the sun is shining in all its splendor and the warm breeze has resulted in families going out of their houses en masse to enjoy the weather outside. And if cars mean anything to you, this is the perfect country to own and enjoy a convertible all year round. Ironically, the days when you cannot enjoy a convertible are when it is too hot, but on those days simply drop the top at night and enjoy the magic.
I’ve spent a few years with a convertible as a daily. For four years I drove a MK1 Mazda MX5, and I eventually moved on to a Honda S2000. Both are lightweight, front engine, rear wheel drive sports cars and both cars are easy to enjoy top down. There is something about dropping a top that is hard to describe in words. Those who know me will know that I’m no authority on ‘wind blowing in your hair’ experiences but the convertible experience is more than this. It is a sense of freedom in a way. A sense of being more at one with the road. And a way to wind down after a day at the office on your drive back home.
Convertibles have always been popular with car enthusiasts and traditionally a convertible was associated with sports cars. Iconic classic sports cars such as the E-type, MGB, Triumph Spitfire and Lotus Elan were considered to be the ultimate convertibles to own and over the decades the demand for convertibles grew and the prices went down. As convertibles grew in popularity, they became available across most budgets and today numerous car companies offer a convertible version of some of their models. Volkswagen with the Golf Cabriolet in the early eighties and Mazda a decade later with the MX5 brought convertibles to the masses and most brands now offer their iconic cars in convertible versions. The Porsche 911 for example, is one of the most iconic coupes ever made yet almost all variants of the 911 are also available in a convertible version. Porsche went on to build the Boxster in 1996, which three generations on is still considered by many to be one of the best handling convertibles you can buy. Today, we are spoilt for choice and after having ticked the boxes on what type of car you need (or want) you can almost certainly find a variant which is topless. From Smarts to hatchbacks, two to four seaters, jeeps, saloons and coupes all can be found as convertibles and in 2012 Range Rover teased car enthusiasts at the Geneva Motor-show with an Evoque Convertible concept. I’m sure that this concept will become a reality within a couple of years such is the demand for both SUV’s and convertibles. Sports cars, family cars, off roaders, SUV’s: there’s no longer an excuse not to.
Types of roof
Different car manufacturers offer different mechanisms on convertible cars. The main distinction is between hardtops and soft-tops (fabric, rag-top). Soft-tops are either mechanically operated or simply ‘dropped’ manually and generally require that you manually unlatch a buckle to get them open or closed. Most hardtops are fully automated and will retract at the touch of a button.
Certain tops can be lowered while driving up to a certain speed, while others only operate when the car is stationary. The trade-off with hardtops is that they tend to eat space from the luggage boot, and they are also heavier than a soft top. The advantages offered by a hardtop are that the car still retains its lines aesthetically and that it is easier to maintain and clean especially if you do not have a garage. Hardtops are generally more secure and also offer more visibility when the car is closed. The advantages of a soft-top on the other hand, especially if it is not automated, are that it is super fast to drop, it generally doesn’t take any space from the luggage boot, it has less to go wrong in general and it is lighter. Soft tops are also being designed with multiple layers to insulate the car from noise and elements when the car is closed. One potential draw-back on soft-tops is that not everyone will be happy taking it to an automated car-wash. I, for one, have read quite a few horror stories on car-forums in this respect and would think twice before taking my soft-top under those psychedelic, aggressively spinning, soap spitting thistles unless absolutely necessary.
Space is an important factor to be considered when buying any car really – but in a convertible it is especially important because the roof might be sharing your limited precious space with your shopping while the top is down. This can prove to be a deal breaker for some, especially those wanting to go on road-trips with the car or those who need to carry push-chairs, prams, baby-seats, shopping bags etc. My advice is to ask the car dealer to put the roof down whenever you’re buying a convertible whether this is new or second hand. When buying used, apart from visualizing the space (or the lack of it) when the roof is down, you are also ensuring that the mechanism is fault-free. Especially when buying a two-seater, also thoroughly check out the storage space available inside the car for phones, sunglasses, keys, cigarettes, maps etc… Traveling with objects running around the passenger foot-well for lack of alternative storage space can prove to be frustrating and potentially dangerous.
The most obvious issue is the general lack of rear doors in four seater convertibles. Most cars today though offer seatbelts that move out of the way for rear passengers, as well as seats that move back and forwards automatically. Also look out for features which are super useful on convertibles such as wind deflectors, heated and cooled seats, powerful blowers, speakers behind the seats or in the head-rests and sun-reflective leather and interiors. A wind-deflector is not to be underestimated as wind turbulence can be frustrating in the cabin while driving with the top down. Some car manufacturers (Mercedes offers the ‘air-scarf’) also offer heated air blowers which are channeled to the neck and shoulders and in the winter this can come in super handy. When dealing with rear seats, make sure that they are sufficient for the intended use of the car. Generally, the seats will be good for children but might not be intended to carry adults on long journeys.
What would I buy?
If I were on the market for a convertible today I’d sit down and think long and hard about what is most important to me in a car. It has to be fun to drive. It must be powerful and handle like a sports car. I want a super sound system to listen to my favourite music and the seats must be comfortable and supportive. I want to be able to enjoy it every day and it must have enough luggage space for my frequent road-trips to Sicily. I’d buy a Porsche Boxster S.