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BUYING USED

I want a stylish but safe convertible for less than $15,000. What should I get?

We compare the 2008 Volvo C70 T5 and the 2008 Saab 9-3

My car was just written off in an accident and I've decided to go for a four-seater convertible now, rather than wait until spring. I'm still pretty freaked out about the accident, so I'd like something that's especially safe, like a Volvo. But I still want style. People tell me to try the Eos but I don't like the looks of it. I'm looking for something under $15,000, so I expect it'll have to be older. – Peter, Victoria

If you're looking for safety under $15,000, consider a Swede ride.

In 2007, the Volvo C70 and Saab 9-3 were the first convertibles to be top safety picks in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests.

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The next year, the non-Scandinavian Volkswagen Eos ($13,458 for a 2008) made the list. All three earned a "good" rating in front, side and rear crash tests.

The Eos and C70 had folding hard tops, but they don't actually make a car safer in a rollover than a soft top, the IIHS said.

Instead, you should look for rollover bars that automatically pop up in a crash – which all three had.

The Eos is worth checking out. In 2008 Consumer Reports tests, it took top place, ahead of the BMW 328i ($17,230 for a 2008), Saab and Volvo.

2008 Volvo C70 T5

2008 Volvo C70 T5.

  • Second generation: 2006-2013
  • Average asking price for base: $14,367 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Original MSRP for base: $56,495
  • Seats: Two front, two rear
  • Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual, five-speed automatic/front-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.8 city, 8.9 highway (manual), 12.9 city, 9.0 highway (automatic); premium gas

Playing it safe with the 2008 Volvo C70 meant giving up a few thrills in the road.

"It is hampered by its unimpressive turbocharged inline-5. Handling is competent but hardly energetic," review site Edmunds said. "Still, with its noteworthy trunk space and outstanding safety features, [the C70] excels as a reasonably family-friendly choice for those in search of a sexy drop top that doesn't sacrifice versatility."

Edmunds liked the three-piece retractable roof, which "elegantly assembles itself with the grace of an Arabian veil dancer," good visibility and accommodating interior with "fluid and graceful Swedish good looks."

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For 2008, the engine got a slight power increase, from 218 to 227-hp. But that still meant "middling" acceleration, Edmunds said.

Consumer Reports has no reliability data for the 2008 C70 but it got a three out of five for owner satisfaction. There were two Canadian safety recalls, including one for a power steering hose that could potentially rupture.

2008 Saab 9-3

2008 Saab 9-3.

  • Second generation: 2003-2009, 2011 (facelift in 2008)
  • Average asking price for base: $12,615 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Original MSRP for base: $53,635
  • Seats: Two front, two rear
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual, five-speed automatic/front-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.8 city, 8.6 highway (manual), 13.3 city, 9.4 highway (automatic); premium gas

Even though Saab was then owned by General Motors, the 2008 9-3 convertible still had an exotic feel – like those mysterious snacks with multisyllabic names near the checkout at IKEA.

"The Saab 9-3 has a distinct Scandinavian charm," Edmunds said. "Its styling looks as modern as any peer's, yet its design cues are a refreshing break from the mainline aesthetic."

Globe Drive liked the 9-3 convertible and called it "an immensely drivable, easy-to-get-along-with cabriolet that features a nicely co-ordinated drivetrain, top-of-the-heap ergonomics and one of the most comfortable sets of bucket seats in the industry."

Consumer Reports said the 9-3 had secure handling. And, while it called the 210-hp four-cylinder "powerful enough," it said the turbocharged, 255-hp, 2.8-litre V6 in the Aero ($12,949) had quick and smooth acceleration.

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"The ride is stiff, the cabin is noisy and cramped, and fit and finish aren't as good as buyers expect in this segment," it said.

Consumer Reports had no reliability data for the 2008 9-3, but it gave it four out of five for owner satisfaction.

There were two recalls, including one for a seatbelt retractor that could break, increasing the risk of injury in a crash.

Send your used car questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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