Time was, you know, when it was unfashionable to wear a suntan. Among the richies, it only showed that you’d been working too hard. Well, I’m not rich; I’ve been workin’; and I’ve got a tan to prove it. Thing is, though, I’ve been riding around like some fat cat in a trio of hero convertibles that only fat cats can afford. It’s not bad work when you can get it, but just remember that there’s more to living with a ragtop than remembering to pack the SPF lotion.
2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK320 Cabriolet
The sight of a grown woman crying as you pry a set of car keys out of her white-knuckle grip is not a pretty picture. But dad-gummit, The Wife knows these test cars are only on loan for a week. She fell head-over-heels for the CLK320 anyway.
Not that I can blame her. Mercedes’ “entry-level” ragtoptechnically a four-seater cabrioletis a delight to the senses. True, its exterior design remains unchanged from last year, even while its hardtop coupe sibling sports swishy new duds for ’03. But the Cabrio’s persona is irrepressibly jaunty in a Reese Witherspoon sort of way, and that big three-pointed star on the hood is a centerpiece of self-satisfaction.
Underhood is M-B’s 3.2-liter V6, a workhorse of their fleet. It’s refined and reasonably powered; and as part of a rear-wheel-drive powertrain, it gives the Cabrio competent performance and balanced handling. With 215 horsepower and a portly 3,650-pound curb weight, acceleration isn’t particularly brilliant; but the car is very rigid and rattle-free for a convertible. And anyway, the sun is brilliant enough, right?
Popping the top means unlatching the roof manually with a simple twist-ring, then powering the assembly down into a covered boot with the push of a button. That boot preserves elegant lines, and the entire process takes only seconds. The roof contraption is a mechanical marvel, certainly; but when it seized up on me on two different occasions midway through retraction, I marveled as well at what might lay in store should repairs ever be required.
The CLK320 is what I call a fair-weather four-seater. With the roof up, you’ll struggle to recruit back-benchers into that tiny rear spacedespite the car’s very cozy, posh interior. And anyway, you’ll need the back seats for luggage, since the trunk holds only 9.4 cubic feet. No matter that, according to The Wife. She’d live out of her handbag if it meant doing some more quality time with a CLK Cabriolet.
2004 Volvo C70 Convertible
Comparing spec sheets between the CLK Cabrio and Volvo’s C70 Convertible reveals more similarities than differences. They’re very nearly the same overall dimensions; they boast very comparable power; and they’re equally as roomy in the front seats, cramped in the rear and scanty of trunk space. But at $44,165 as-tested, my C70 was about $9,000 less than the $53,265 Mercedes.
Two numbers manage to shed some light on the C70’s differences from the CLK: For one thing, it’s exactly 200 pounds lighter. For another, its 2.4-liter turbo inline-five produces a maximum 210 ft.-lbs. at a low 1,800 rpm. Even though the Mercedes produces more torque (229 ft.-lbs.), it does so at a higher 3,000 rpm. Being the lighter car with a lower-rpm punch, the C70 is feisty and exuberant where the CLK is stately and even a bit prim.
That is to say, the C70 Convertible is much the sportier of the two. The trade-off, however, is that it feels somewhat less substantial on the road. Front-wheel-drive is one reason why, perhaps; so is the turbo, which despite its low-pressure setup still evinces that bi-polar personality intrinsic to turbocharging. From the moment you decide to accelerate until the moment the turbo spools up and kicks into boost is a sort of one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi waiting game.
So, too, is the interval between top-up and top-down. Volvo uses a completely automatic retraction system; in other words, all pushbutton, no manual latch. Despite a scary “thump!” of the boot as it gets started, it works wellbut slowly. Here’s how I know: During an unexpected squall while I waited at a stoplight, I managed to get the Mercedes top up pronto without delaying anyone behind me. At another (longer) light in another squall, I dared not attempt to put up the Volvo’s top. I had to wait, semi-drenching, until the green light, then motor through the intersection and move off to the shoulder of the road before hitting the “umbrella” button. Ah, the joys of open-air motoring.
2003 Audi TT Roadster quattro
As the aforementioned impressions may suggest, women are from Mercedes, men are from Volvo. How apt, then, to point out that Audi’s delicious little jelly-bean of a TT Roadster is simply out of this world.
I really don’t know what to make of it. It’s one of my very favorite shapes on the road today, with that symmetrical profile and its push-me-pull-you pug-faces at either end. The interior is sporty and filled with gleaming, matte-finish aluminum; but there are spars and lids made of the stuff that seem to have no functional purpose.
Underhood is another turbo, this time giving an aggressive boost to a small 1.8-liter inline-4. Power is a perky 225 hp, but it’s got to share among all four wheels of Audi’s “quattro” powertrain, so a rocketship the TT is not. It is, instead, the quickest, most agile, most head-turning anteater you’ll ever drive.
At $41,960, it’s an expensive anteater at that. For a tiny two-seater with a 6-cubic-foot trunk, that’s asking quite a lot. But for Richie Ragtop with money to burn and an ego to feed, well, let’s just say the TT Roadster looks great with a tan.
The hypocrisy on both sides of this kerfuffle is astounding.
fork, you sound as if you don't know what the additional interventions Head Start brings…
Hmm... somebody creates a screen name just to make a political attack on Will Pinkston?…
They're private schools, publicly funded.
There is no substantive difference between the Congressman's and the Senators's statements on this issue…