2000 Ford Mustang
2000 Ford Mustang
2000 Chrysler Sebring Limited
2000 Chrysler Sebring Limited
2000 BMW 323ci
2000 BMW 323ci
2000 Porsche Boxster
2000 Porsche Boxster
2000 Plymouth Prowler
2000 Plymouth Prowler
2001 BMW Z8
2001 BMW Z8
2001 Toyota Solara
2001 Toyota Solara
1999 Volvo C70
1999 Volvo C70
10th anniversary edition Miata
10th anniversary edition Miata

by Greg Wilson

At least 12 new convertibles – most of them all-out sports cars – have been introduced in Canada in the past five years. BMW opened the floodgates in 1996 with the Z3, a rear-drive, two-place sports car that was soon followed by the Mercedes-Benz SLK, Jaguar XK8, Porsche Boxster, Ferrari F355 Spider and Plymouth Prowler. More recent entrants include the Audi TT and Honda S2000 two-seaters, and the larger Volvo C70, Mercedes-Benz CLK, Saab 9-3 and Toyota Camry Solara.

And more convertibles are on the horizon: the Lexus SC430, BMW Z8, a redesigned Mercedes-Benz SL and Rolls-Royce Corniche will be introduced in the next year or so. To the disappointment of many, there are no current plans to bring the new Toyota MR2 convertible to Canada. It’s a far cry from the 1980s, when barely a handful of ragtops were available.

So with all these new convertibles on the market, you might expect to see more of them on the road, right? Don’t hold your breath.

While exotic and niche-market convertibles have captured the imagination of car enthusiasts, magazine editors and James Bond movie patrons, the combined 1999 total sales of all convertibles was just 29,804 – a tiny percentage of the total vehicle sales of 1,501,250.

Our short summers are one likely deterrent. High sticker prices no doubt are another. Of the 30 or so convertible models currently available in Canada, 19 are priced above $50,000, and seven are over $100,000!

It will be no surprise that the best-selling convertibles in Canada last year were all under $40,000. The most popular convertible passenger car was the Ford Mustang (base price: $25,195), with sales of 2,949. The Mazda Miata ($26,995) was the best-selling two-seat sports car with sales of 1,198.

But the big prize goes to the Jeep TJ sport-utility ($19,455), with sales Of 5,980.

The TJ’s success can be attributed in part to the popularity of SUVs. But it’s also one of Canada’s least expensive convertibles, a big draw for value-conscious Canadian car-buyers. If you don’t see a lot of convertible TJ’s roaming the streets, there is a good reason. A lot of buyers purchase the optional hardtop and leave it on all year! Besides that, the TJ’s soft-top is a complicated multi-piece affair that takes genuine commitment to put up and down. Technically though, it is a convertible and tops the convertible sales charts.

Though not as popular as the TJ, the two-door Suzuki Vitara convertible, which was new last year, sold 1,500 units. Surprisingly, the Chevrolet Tracker convertible, the same vehicle with a Chevrolet badge, sold only 425 copies.

Like the TJ, the Vitara and Tracker arre relatively inexpensive when compared with other convertibles. Vitaras start at $18,495 and Trackers at $19,710. Another convertible SUV is the two-door Toyota RAV4, but only 82 of these were sold in 1999 because it was discontinued mid-year.

Four-passenger convertible cars under $35,000 were the most popular convertible cars in 1999. The top-selling cars were (in order) Ford Mustang, the Chrysler Sebring, Volkswagen Cabrio, Pontiac Sunfire, and Chevy Cavalier. The Chevrolet Camaro sold only 171 units and the Pontiac Firebird had sales of 410 – these GM convertibles are hindered by an older design and rumours they will be discontinued in 2002.

In the over-$40,000, four/five passenger category, the BMW 3-Series convertible was the leader with sales of 621. For 2001, the 3-Series has been redesigned and offers a bigger 3.0 litre inline six cylinder engine as well as the 2.5 litre powerplant.” Other choices in this luxury category include the Mercedes-Benz CLK320/CLK430, Volvo C70, Porsche 911 Cabriolet, Saab 9-3 and the extremely low-volume Aston Martin DB7 Volante and Bentley Azure. A new player in the market is the Toyota Solara convertible, which starts at $39,065 – expect this Camry-based convertible to challenge the sales leaders in this class for the 2000 model year.

With the exception of the Mazda Miata, all two-seater sports cars are priced over $40,000. Not surprisingly, the Miata which starts at $26,995, was the best-seller. More than any other current convertible, the Miata, introduced in 1989, is responsible for the resurgence in drop-tops. The next most popular sports cars were the Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche Boxster and Honda’s high-revving new S2000. Other choices are available from traditional sports car makers BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Ferrari, as well as the Acura NSX-T, Dodge Viper RT/10, and Plymouth Prowler.

Though the least-expensive convertibles were the best-sellers, it should be noted that convertibles typically cost 15 to 35 per cent more than their coupe counterparts (where there is one) – which also means higher tax and insurance costs. A drive in the country on a warm June day with the top down may be the easiest way to forget about those loan payments.

Here are my choices for cars in which to take that drive:

Four-seat sporty car: The Chrysler Sebring is the most stylish, the roomiest, and the easiest-to-drive convertible in this category. It’s also the most contemporary vehicle in this group.

Four-seat sport-utility: The Jeep TJ is my pick. With the optional in line six-cylinder engine, the TJ is the most powerful in its class. Plus it’s got classic looks, a good resale value, and an available optional hardtop. The softtop is a pain to put up and down, but they all are in this class.

Two-seat sports car: Not only is the Mazda Miata the best value in this class, it’s more nimble and fun-to-drive than most of its competitors. The Boxster would be my second choice, but for the price of a Boxster I could buy a Miata, a powerboat, and a new roof for my house.

Four-seat luxury convertible: In a dream world, I’d love to have a Porsche 911 Cabriolet or a Bentley Azure, but back here on Earth, the BMW 3-Series would be my choice. The reasons? Terrific handling and driving dynamics, excellent quality of workmanship, and superb safety features.

4-seat sporty cars 2000 MSRP 1999 model year sales
Ford Mustang $25,195 – $33,240 2949 (calendar year)
Chrysler Sebring $32,585 – $37,555 1031
Volkswagen Cabrio $29,100 – $34,750 703
Pontiac Sunfire $28,215 607
Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 $27,200 551
Pontiac Firebird $33,790 – $45,150 410
Chevrolet Camaro $33,090 – $42,680 171
Total 6422
4-seat SUV’s
Jeep TJ $19,495 – $26,020 5980
Suzuki Vitara $18,495 – $22,795 1500
Chevrolet Tracker $19,710 425
Toyota RAV4 $22,150 – $23,520 82 (discontinued)
Total 7987
2-seat sports cars
Mazda Miata $26,995 – $31,095 1198
Chevrolet Corvette $66,965 643
Porsche Boxster $59,010 – $76,885 617 (calendar year)
Honda S2000 $48,000 524 (08/99-04/00)
Mercedes-Benz SLK230 $57,900 521
BMW Z3 $45,900 – $55,900 412
Mercedes-Benz SL $116,500 – $169,000 223
Jaguar XK8 $99,950 193
BMW M Roadster $62,900 183
Ferrari F355 Spider $214,415 n/a
Plymouth Prowler $61,000 107
Jaguar XKR $110,950 35
Audi TT $50,500 – $59,000 n/a in 1999
Acura NSX-T $140,000 5
Dodge Viper RT/10
Total 4661
4-seat luxury
BMW 3-Series $51,500 – $62,800 621
Mercedes-Benz CLK $68,500 – $76,900 510
Volvo C70 $59,595 – $63,995 238
Porsche 911 Cabriolet $109,750 – $114,580 222 (calendar year)
Saab 9-3 $50,650 – $63,500 148
Aston Martin DB7 Volante $225,000 n/a
Bentley Azure $499,900 n/a
Toyota Camry Solara $39,065 n/a in 1999
Total 1739

Connect with Autos.ca