Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 16, 2017

Mazda MX-5 convertible.

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Going topless

From showboats to powerhouses, get the skinny on the most boast-worthy convertibles

The typical opening for just about every story ever penned on convertible cars embodies some (if not all) of the following elements. Season: summer. Weather: warm. Sun: shining. Roads: winding. Music: pulsating. Top: down. Wind: whipping through the driver's hair.

There you have it -- the de rigueur convertible experience, as much cherished as it is cliché. Yet, while top-down motoring on a balmy summer day can make for a life-affirming experience, the real bragging rights don't come while zooming along winding, sun-kissed country roads.

Rather, the show-off factor is best enjoyed when the driver is stopped at a traffic light, the convertible's roof firmly tilted into an upright position. In a nifty display of time management (and, okay, shameless showboating), the driver presses a button, activating a series of automated movements that culminate in the top's disappearance.

This is not merely a routine mechanical exercise; in a sense, the descent of a convertible's roof is an outright performance. Pedestrians and fellow motorists take notice as the various servo motors hum and whirr into action. What was once a mere car soon evolves into a bona fide Transformer robot: the trunk opens, the roof folds unto itself like an oversized accordion and, eventually, a ceiling of canvas or steel sinks into the car's rear end.

The whole act is very much akin to a male peacock unveiling his full plumage. And the spectacle of a convertible roof's descent has the power to make observers pine for the day when they, too, will have the financial wherewithal to acquire the ultimate summertime toy.

Whereas a few decades ago the convertible was an endangered species, the good news is that we are currently living in a golden age of convertibles. Convertible roof technology continues to improve, and each year there are more hardtop convertibles coming on to the market. A hardtop convertible offers the owner the best of both worlds: topless motoring when it's a nice day and a secure, solid roof that offers better sound insulation, security and weather resistance when it's not so nice outside.

Alas, one thing that hasn't changed is the high premium of convertible ownership. As the old saying goes, "When the top goes down, the price goes up." Yet, as the following appraisals surely suggest, should you possess the necessary disposable income, these vehicles are doubtless worth the extra expense.

Best Looking
Saturn Sky
Price: from $33,125
The skinny: Granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the Saturn Sky offers world-class exterior design. Indeed, of all the convertibles driven during our test period, the Sky easily garnered the highest number of compliments and double-takes.

It's also hard to believe that something so breathtakingly gorgeous costs so little, comparatively speaking. On the downside, the Sky is not nearly as performance minded as its closest competitor, the Mazda MX-5; as such, Sky owners should expect a car that is more of a boulevard cruiser than a purebred sports car.

Also take note, when the roof is down, you best not pack anything bulkier than a gym bag -- trunk space is far from cavernous.

Should you take a shine to the Sky, consider spending a few grand more for the Red Line version. This souped-up Saturn offers a turbocharged engine generating 260 horsepower (versus 177 on the base model), and it makes a staggering difference. As well, the Red Line boasts uprated springs, shocks, bushings and stabilizer bars, all of which go a long way to upping performance.
What we liked most: The Sky receives numerous compliments and a head-turning quotient befitting a vehicle that costs five times as much.
What we liked least: The Sky's roof leaves much to be desired. It seems somewhat cheaply constructed -- the vehicle committed the cardinal sin of convertibles; it allowed water to leak in.

 

Best Off-Road
Jeep Wrangler
Price: from $19,995
The skinny: If you have an urge to go off-road, the convertible that best fits the bill is the Jeep Wrangler. While not a convertible in the truest sense of the word, the Wrangler does have a removable roof, and the windshield can be lowered flush to the hood -- talk about an open-air feeling. Plus the Wrangler features Jeep's legendary four-wheel-drive system, enabling it to go places other convertibles (and even some all-wheel-drive vehicles) dare not venture.
What we liked most: If you're partial to a macho look for your vehicle, the Wrangler screams rugged.
What we liked least: While the Wrangler is a fantastic off-road performer, you likely wouldn't want it for a long-distance commute, given its harsh ride. As well, its 3.8-litre V6 engine is a thirsty devil (our tester averaged a gas-guzzling 17.6L/100 km).

Most Bang for Your Buck
Mazda MX-5
Price: from $28,195
The skinny: Perhaps best known by its original name, Miata, this car was an overnight sensation when it was introduced in 1989, and it continues to impress thanks to its razor-sharp steering, awesome handling and peppy engine. Better yet, the MX-5 is now available as a hardtop convertible. Not only that, the hardtop weighs only 30 kilograms more than the ragtop version.
What we liked most: This Mazda provides a great relationship between car and driver -- you feel almost organically connected to this feisty little roadster.
What we liked least: While the current MX-5 is bigger than the first and second generations, it is still a tight squeeze for drivers over 182 centimetres.

Best Sounding
Ford Mustang GT
Price: from $38,099
The skinny: To clarify, when we say the Ford Mustang GT is the best-sounding ragtop, this has absolutely nothing to do with its fine stereo system and everything to do with the purr-cum-roar of its motor. When it comes to the Ford Mustang GT, it's love at first sound. Crank the engine and listen to the rumble of the Mustang's 300-horsepower 4.6-litre V8: it's downright seductive. In fact, the engine is such a delight to listen to from a retro perspective, you may never want to turn on the stereo. It's also very fun to drive.
What we liked most: Who says they don't make 'em like they used to? This car is a nostalgia machine thanks to its old-school V8 engine coupled with a rear-wheel drivetrain, as well as design cues inspired by the legendary Mustangs of the '60s.
What we liked least: As usual, there's a downside to rear-wheel-drive cars: they just don't perform that well in slippery driving conditions. Then again, who wants to drive a convertible in that kind of weather?

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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