ByJim Gorzelany|Forbes – Mon, Jun 6, 2011 3:38 PM EDT
There are few motoring experiences that are transcendent as piloting a convertible with the top down on a temperate day with the wind billowing through one’s hair and the open road beckoning ahead. Convertibles are not objects of need, but of desire, and their allure is nothing short of magnetic.
While this automotive genre had been languishing in recent years along with the economy, an expanding fleet of new open-air rides hints at better days ahead, at least for the benefit of those who prefer to do their drivingal fresco.
Scroll down for a look at the hottest new convertibles just hitting the road that truly deliver a “vroom” with a view.
Audi R8 Spyder: It starts with a rumble and races the clouds to the horizon. While the newly added roadster versions of the rakish and low-slung R8 aren’t exactly built for the masses, those who can afford to indulge themselves can avail themselves of either a quick 420-horsepower 4.2-liter V-8 or an insanely fast 525-horsepower 5.2-liter V-10 engine that can make the zero-to-60 mph run in around 3.7 seconds. The R8 is surprisingly easy to drive, with a choice of a six-speed manual or dual-clutch seven-speed automated manual transmissions, Audi’s road-holding “quattro” all-wheel-drive system and a sophisticated adaptive suspension that maintains crisp handling while avoiding a too-harsh ride. Its tightly packed interior is more comfortable than it might seem, and it’s loaded with high-tech features. MSRP: $127,700-$162,700.
BMW 650i Convertible: BMW’s stylish 6-Series convertible is redesigned with added flair and finesse as an early-2012 model, featuring a fully lined cloth top with a nearly vertical rear window for a coupe-like top-up look. A turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 engine puts 400 horsepower and a launch-happy 450 pound-feet of torque to the pavement that BMW says is good for a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds; a quick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is standard, with an eight-speed automatic optional. Already sufficiently sporty, engaging a Driving Dynamics Control system enables quicker throttle response with reduced steering boost and more aggressive shifts. An Active Cruise Control system that not only maintains both a set speed and distance from the traffic ahead, it incorporates a Stop-and-Go function which brings the BMW 650i Convertible one step closer to being a vehicle that drives itself. MSRP: $90,500.
Chevrolet Camaro Convertible: Ragtop versions of this modern-throwback muscle car come powered by either a 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 engine that generates 312 horsepower, or a 6.2-liter V-8 that commands a rousing 426 horses. A slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is standard, with a six-speed automatic optional that includes steering wheel-mounted manual “TAPshift” controls for the clutch averse (the V-8 is gelded to “only” 400 horses with the automatic). A nearly ideal front-to-rear weight distribution and a fully independent suspension at all four corners delivers steadfast cornering prowess, with the top SS version receiving suspension tweaks to make it even better in that regard, along with a Launch Control feature with the manual transmission that enables smile-inducing, tire-squealing takeoffs. MSRP: $29,275-39,775.
Fiat 500 Cabrio: The “Cinquecento,” as it’s called inItaly, now comes in a retractable cloth-top version that opens this diminutive retro-styled car up to the heavens. Its dual-layer cloth top can either be partially opened to create a sunroof-like effect, or retracted all the way, folding up like an accordion behind the rear seats at speeds up to 60 mph. An economical 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine generates an adequate 101 horsepower and can be mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with manual-shift capability and a sport mode. Available in “Pop” and “Lounge” models, it’s small, even by subcompact standards, but comes reasonably well-equipped, is undeniably distinctive and is a blast to drive. And it’s an affordable indulgence, to boot. MSRP: $19,500-$23,500.
Mercedes-Benz SLK350: The tiny SLK350 two-seater is redesigned for 2011 with a more-aggressive appearance borrowed from the top-of-the-lineMercedes-Benz SLS AMG, including its forward-cast grille that’s divided by a thin blade with the Mercedes logo prominently at the center of it all. As before, a retractable hardtop helps isolate occupants from the elements and road noise when the weather turns nasty. The SLK350 comes powered by a new direct fuel-injected 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces a peppy 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. A smooth shifting seven-speed automatic transmission is the only available gearbox. Mercedes says the SLK350 will reach 60 mph from a standing start in 5.4 seconds. Optional “AIRSCARF” neck-level heating vents built into the seats help to extend the convertible season, and the retractable top can be fitted with an optional Magic Sky Control glass panel that can switch from light to dark transparency at the push of a button. MSRP: $54,800.
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet: The curiously cast CrossCabriolet is essentially the Nissan Murano crossover SUV minus a fixed roof and rear doors. While it’s unusually roomy and comfortable for a convertible, seating is limited to four passengers and cargo room is reduced to a smallish trunk. It packs a 265-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine that drives all four wheels via a gearless CVT transmission that delivers seamless acceleration. The cloth convertible top incorporates a rear glass skylight, and the vehicle comes with dual roll bars that pop-up to protect occupants in a rollover. Standard features include push-button entry and ignition, a heated steering wheel, GPS navigation system, a rear backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and a Bose stereo with a 9.3-gigabyte hard drive for digital media storage. MSRP: $46,390.
Volkswagen EOS: VW’s compact two-door convertible gets a modest makeover for an early 2012 model-year release, yet retains its signature retractable hardtop that folds and hides away under a solid cover in just 25 seconds. What’s more, the top incorporates a power glass moonroof for four-season versatility and the climate control system automatically compensates to maintain a steady cabin temperature whether the top is up or down. The front-wheel-drive EOS is as quick and nimble as ever, with a reasonably roomy interior and 200-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood that drives the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission that can be operated in manual or automatic-shift mode with lightning-fast gear changes. MSRP: $33,995-$39,220.