May 2008
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Convertibles: Friendlier skies
Some convertibles are becoming almost practical

Volkswagen Eos, Saab 9-3 and BMW 328i
 
While convertibles are enjoyable on a sunny day, historically they've been impractical: Their tops were prone to leak and let in a lot of noise. Without the structure of a roof, their bodies tended to quiver and flex. Adding reinforcements to compensate for the lack of structure added weight, which hurt fuel economy and acceleration. Moreover, rear-seat and trunk space were usually compromised by the folding top and visibility was reduced by small rear windows.

But now there are signs of change, and our test of seven 2008 convertibles shows that price usually determines the level of sacrifice you can expect.

We tested the BMW 328i, Chrysler Sebring, Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, Pontiac G6, Saab 9-3, Volkswagen Eos, and the Volvo C70 for our 2008 convertibles Ratings (all available to subscribers). Five of the seven cars have retracting hard tops, while two have traditional fabric tops. All seven cars have power-operated tops. They range in price from $32,660 to $49,525.

Folding hard tops are the latest trend in convertibles. They improve visibility and security. The roof designs of hard tops are complex, take up considerable trunk space when open, and can't be operated on the move. The ability of the Volkswagen Eos to incorporate a sunroof for days when you don't want the full convertible treatment is nice. The soft-top Mini Cooper convertible does that too.

But noise and weather isolation have more to do with individual vehicle design than whether the top is hard or soft, we found in our tests. The folding hard tops of the Pontiac and Chrysler, for example, tended to squeak, rattle, or generate more wind noise than some fabric tops did. However, the other 2008 convertibles with either retractable hard tops or soft tops in our test felt solid and cozy inside with the roof raised.

All seven cars tested here have nominal seating for four people, though the rear seats range from merely cramped to virtually useless for human occupation. We found that those convertibles offer a wide range of capabilities and characters. In the end, clear winners emerged:The Eos and 328i were the two top scorers.But there were also some convertibles we wouldn't pick to drive even on the sunniest of days, most notably the Chrysler Sebring, which scored at the bottom.

We predict average or above reliability for the 328i, Eclipse, Eos, and C70 based on subscriber responses from our Annual Survey. Predicted reliability for the G6 is much worse than average and the 9-3 is worse than average. We do not have sufficient reliability data for the Sebring.

The 2008 convertibles Ratings (available to subscribers) include most of the affordable four-seat convertibles available. The Audi A4 is offered as a convertible, but is being replaced soon. The Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible has been discontinued, but some remain on dealer lots. Although the Mini convertible is based on the first generation platform, it remains competitive. BMW will be introducing a convertible version of its compact 1 Series coupe shortly and the Toyota Camry Solara will be discontinued after the 2008 model year.