By Tony Whitney

Maybe it’s the arrival of spring weather, but I’ve had quite a few reader queries recently about convertibles – and most of them have centred around the bigger ones capable of accommodating four, or even five passengers.

One of the things that’s appealing about new convertibles is that their convertible tops are not what they used to be. The draughty, flapping, canvas of yesteryear is just a bad memory now. Today’s cabriolets have beautifully-fitted, padded and lined tops that provide much the same quietness and comfort as a sedan or coupe when secured in place.

A quick look at the market for cars like this reveals that the segment is very healthy right now with lots of choices at many price points. I’ll take a look at some of the standouts, but will pass over those convertible products with little more than an “occasional” rear seat, like Porsches and Aston Martins. The readers I heard from wanted room for at least a couple of grown-ups in the back, so that’ll be my focus.

2005 Audi A4 cabriolet
2005 Audi A4 cabriolet. Photo: Audi

2005 BMW 3-Series convertible
2005 BMW 3-Series convertible. Photo: BMW

2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT Convertible
2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT Convertible. Photo: Paul Williams

2005 Chrysler Sebring convertible
2005 Chrysler Sebring convertible. Photo: DaimlerChrysler

2005 Ford Mustang V6 convertible
2005 Ford Mustang V6 convertible. Photo: Paul Williams

2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder
2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. Photo: Mitsubishi

2005 Saab 9-3 convertible
2005 Saab 9-3 convertible. Photo: GM

2005 Toyota Solara convertible
2005 Toyota Solara convertible. Photo: Toyota

2005 Volkswagen New Beetle convertible
2005 Volkswagen New Beetle convertible. Photo: Volkswagen

Audi has a very attractive convertible version of its A4 and it certainly fits our profile with a decent amount of room for four adults. It’s one of few convertibles available with all-wheel drive and if serious power is on your agenda, Audi offers an S4 variant with a V8 under the hood (basic engine is a turbo four).

Rival German automaker BMW has long offered a full 4-seat convertible version of its 3-Series model and it’s always been a popular choice in the upscale market. Like Audi, BMW offers “basic” and high-performance variants of this product and the swift M3 Cabriolet is especially respected by enthusiasts.

Chrysler’s PT Cruiser convertible is one of the least expensive ways to get into a 4-seat ragtop and it has lots of style as a bonus. Even without its top, the PT maintains its unique “retro” look and makes a very distinctive statement. It’s also quite economical to run with its 4-cylinder powerplant – a sought-after quality these days.

Chrysler’s Sebring has long been Canada’s top-selling vehicle in this class, thanks to sleek, stylish looks, a nice level of fit and finish and a very reasonable sticker price. It’s also available in three trim levels, all of which come with V6 power.

Another strong seller for many years is Ford’s Mustang convertible and the newest version of this model was recently introduced with all-new styling and engineering. Not too many performance convertibles have been as consistently popular as the Mustang and few doubt that this success will continue as long as Ford chooses to offer this model.

Mercedes-Benz has a range of CLK convertibles in the premium class with V6 and V8 engine options. These models are superbly built, roomy and comfortable and offer one of the most skillfully engineered tops in the industry. This kind of performance and quality comes at a price, but even so, this model enjoys widespread popularity.

Mitsubishi boasts of “room for five” in its Eclipse Spyder, but only just squeaks into this review because there really isn’t much space behind the front seats if they’re occupied by taller folk. Even so, this is an attractive and affordable product with the choice of an economical 4-cylinder or a peppy V6.

Sweden’s Saab is another premium automaker that has offered a convertible 4-seater for many years. Currently, the 9-3 convertible graces the showrooms and features all those stylistic, engineering and safety highlights that make Saabs very distinctive automobiles. You won’t confuse a Saab ragtop with anything else out there and if disaster strikes, the car has all kinds of clever security features – including rear rollover bars that pop up automatically in an accident.

Toyota’s Solara convertible is a high-style V6 powered car that’s built in Canada and also boasts 5-passenger capacity. Like so many of today’s convertibles, the Solara was designed from the outset as an open car, so there are no worries about lack of rigidity. The car seems as rigid and flex-free as its coupe sibling – even on rough roads.

In years past, manufacturers created convertibles by simply chopping the top off a coupe and attempting to stiffen the bodywork as a kind of afterthought. That’s all changed now thanks to advanced engineering and computer-aided design and it’s unlikely that even the least expensive convertible will suffer from the creaks and rattles older models in this configuration featured.

A couple of model years after the introduction of Volkswagen’s stunningly successful New Beetle, the company came up with a convertible variant that’s proven almost as popular. The car really “works” as a convertible and looks good top up or top down, at least to my eyes. It’s also very keenly priced for such an interesting model and its 4-cylinder engine – in normally aspirated or turbo guise – is impressively economical. As with many other convertibles in this class, a little cargo room is lost when the top is stowed, but that’s a small price to pay for a car that combines so much fun and passenger space.

For auto buyers who like to take a friend or three along when they head out for some wind-in-the-face motoring, the picture hasn’t been better since the days when almost all cars came with a convertible in the line-up. Price of the aforementioned ragtops range from the affordable low thirties to close to $100,000 for really upscale models. Most sales volume in this class is probably in the sub-$45,000 range.

Editor’s note: for pricing information on these convertibles, check out Autos’s New Car Price Guide.

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