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Buick introduces 'halo' convertible hoping to tap into emotional side

The market for convertibles is small but largely upscale – and it's one that comes with a price tag born of passion.

"Vehicles range from the emotional to the very rational," says Rob Peterson, marketing manager for crossovers at Buick. "Crossovers are very rational. On the emotional side, you can't get any more emotional than a sports car or a convertible. There's a passion in the customer base that, as a marketer, you want to tap in to."

In fact, Buick's market research found that – with competitors' models that offered both a sedan and convertible – almost 50 per cent of drop-top buyers had a higher income, while they were also six years older on average than sedan consumers, indicating that a convertible is a secondary car for most people.

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Which is why Buick is introducing its first soft-top in 25 years: the Cascada.

"This is entering in the market at the ideal time," says Peterson, who is also in charge of marketing for the Cascada. "There are players below us, and players above us, but that little niche right there is something we can do."

Buick doesn't have plans to bring the four-seat Cascada north to Canada yet (in the United States, expect the price to top out at $37,300 U.S.). But that doesn't mean it isn't an important vehicle for the brand. It won't be a high-volume seller, but does bring a flair that Buick has been missing for years, and will play its part in Buick's continuing resurgence.

"It's a halo vehicle," Peterson says. "It's the first new nameplate for Buick in three years, and in those years we've seen sales grow. What's exciting is that the brand is on the verge of a new product offensive, and this is the first vehicle that comes into play.

"The Cascada is designed to bring people's attention and turn it to the Buick brand and, as they get more familiar with the brand, they'll begin to see a whole new product cadence come up behind it."

And it's proof that you don't need to have summer homes in the Hamptons to afford a convertible. The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro both offer drop-tops, as does the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and the Smart fortwo, while the redesigned Mazda MX-5 supplies that old British roadster feel.

The Cascada will be aimed at buyers looking for both luxury and sportiness, but for the performance enthusiast, there's Fiat's all-new 124 roadster. The 124 is based on the MX-5, but with its own turbocharged, 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a different look. Expect it to start a few thousand dollars more than the $31,900 base price of the MX-5.

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The 124 offers Fiat that "wow" factor, too.

"The Spider is something that plays to the top purchase reason of the Fiat brand – which is fun to drive," says Bob Broderdorf, director of Fiat in North America. "That halo element is why it makes it so special; it provides that performance element, that something we don't have today in our lineup that expresses what this brand is all about.

"We're not going to blow the doors off with volume, but any time you can bring more rear-wheel-drive roadsters into the marketplace, you will expand that market."

Meanwhile, for those who can afford a home in the Hamptons, Mercedes has just updated its SL Roadster, and BMW, Audi, Alfa Romeo, and other luxury makes offer drop-tops. Land Rover will also introduce its Range Rover Evoque Convertible, a soft-top version of its small crossover, this year. No prices have been released yet.

Further up the exclusivity club is Bentley's Continental GT Convertible, that starts at more than $240,000. Ferrari last year unveiled its 488 Spider in Frankfurt, Germany, with a 660-horsepower V-8. No prices have been set but it should appear this summer in showrooms. And Rolls-Royce unveiled its Dawn convertible in Frankfurt as well. With a 563-horsepower V-12, it's based on the platform used by the Ghost and the Wraith, promising more sportiness than the larger Drophead Coupe. Prices also have not been announced.

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