Hello Vaughan and Cato: Now that winter is here, it seems like a good time to get a good buy on a hard-top convertible off the showroom floor. What do you guys recommend? – Alex in Forest Hill, Ont.
Vaughan: Here is one of life's eternal questions: hard-top or soft-top? Choosing between a steel or canvas roof takes real understanding. I have spent countless hours contemplating this crucial matter and I can guide Alex to true enlightenment.
Cato: Hmm. New Year's Eve was Monday. Either you're lost your mind or the bubbly is still working.
Vaughan: My in-depth analysis, conducted rigorously over the years, has lead me to startling conclusions. A few years ago, when I was driving around in my 5.0-litre Mustang convertible, I would have said hard-top unequivocally. The old 'Stang's ill-fitting roof let in so much wind, rain and noise, well, goggles with ear plugs were required – with the roof up.
Cato: Yes, but that Mustang was a vintage piece, so old that if Ford hadn't sold thousands, yours would be a collectible. In the decades since, all the car companies have upped their game. Real ragtops today are beautifully sealed from wind and weather and, from the inside, they're finished like a hard-top.
Vaughan: Another point to consider is the structural integrity of a topless car. Long before the 'Stang, I had an old VW Beetle convertible. With the roof down, it flexed so much the doors would fly open when going over a bump.
Cato: Now that's an image. But again, auto engineers have learned a lot about how to tighten up a ragtop. Under the skin of, say, the latest Porsche Boxster, you'll find all sorts of braces and reinforcements. That roadster, like its rivals, has a rigid ride. Just put a lid on all your old Mustang ideas.
Vaughan: And the safety issue. At one point, most manufacturers stopped building ragtops because of the rollover issue. Not good landing on your roof if you have no roof.
Cato: Let me share something with you: pop-up rollbars. They're everywhere. Take the latest 2013 Volkswagen Beetle convertible. If you'd read my recent review, you'd know it – like others – has rollbars that explode into place to protect your lid when you're on the car's lid.
Vaughan: So after careful study, I have concluded hard-top or soft-top makes little difference today – although I'll make one final point later. Alex, we'll mention a few hard-top convertibles of note, but go look at the canvas-topped variety.
Among the hard tops, first up, check out the handsome Infiniti G37 convertible ($58,400). It has a three-piece steel roof that folds up and gets stuffed in the trunk in seconds. Of course, that leaves about enough storage room to carry an envelope or two. The back seat is also less than human size, but what a pleasure this car is to drive on a sunny day.
Cato: Love the lines of this car with its top down. Sweet. Alex, you might want to go for the cheap lease rate from Infiniti Canada: 1.9 per cent for two years.
Rent this car for two years and, if you like it, buy out the lease. If the value has gone up – and Infiniti has the best residuals among luxury cars – then sell. Or keep it.
Vaughan: Next, among hard-tops, consider the Mercedes-Benz SLK. Cato will shortly go into his usual rant about this being a "chick car," but it's one of the greatest little roadsters out there. It's been restyled to look more than ever like the larger, more expensive SL and comes with either a turbo-charged four or a V-6.
It does not have the race track feel of a mid-engined Porsche, but it will put a smile on your face every time the sun shines and that little roof disappears into the trunk. Yes, forget about storage space and forget about a back seat. This is strictly a two-seater.
Cato: Good to see you channelling your inner Penelope Cruz. Alex, you'll want the V-6 ($67,000) even though it's $15,000 more than the SLK with the 1.8-litre turbo ($52,200).
Vaughan: Who's Penelope Cruz? Alex, here are a couple of choices in the ugly category: The VW Eos and the Lexus IS250. Both have nicely functioning fold-up steel roofs, but we want a little style, too.
Vaughan: Our final choice is the Mazda MX-5 ($33,995 for the SV), still commonly referred to as the Miata. This is the best-selling roadster of all time. The one with the folding steel roof might suit you well. It costs about $2,300 more than the canvas-topped version and here's one good reason to go with steel. A friend had his roof cut through by a thief who took his briefcase.
Cato: I say the G37. Gorgeous and a great ride.
Vaughan: The MX-5 with the six speed manual – a traditional sports car with all the modern refinements.
HOW THEY COMPARE
|2013 Infiniti G37 Sport convertible||2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK350||2012 Mazda MX-5 SV|
Track, front (mm)
|3.7-litre V-7||3.5-litre V-6||2.0-litre four-cylinder|
|325/267 lb-ft||302/273 lb-ft||167/140 lb-ft|
|Rear-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive|
|Seven-speed automatic||Seven-speed automatic||Six-speed manual|
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
|11.9 city/7.8 highway||9.7 city/6.9 highway||9.7 city/7.1 highway|
Base price (MSRP)
Source: car manufacturers
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.