It's time to flip your (car's) lid for summer

August 22, 2003|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

You just can't beat a convertible when it comes to enjoying summer.

The idea of flipping your lid and allowing those penetrating solar rays to nibble at your sun-block-coated skin has a certain unmatched appeal.

Although the Mustang, New Beetle and Sebring convertibles have their own distinctive personalities, all will achieve the same goal of making you look and feel good behind the wheel while giving everyone around you a serious case of the wide-eyed - and in most cases, jealous - stares.

So, if you've had it with practical, boring and necessary A-B vehicles that simply supply a means of gettin' there, then any of these fun machines will set your soul and your spirit free, not to mention mess up your hair a bit.

'04 Chrysler Sebring - The classy cruiser

With an entry price of around $25,000, the Chrysler Sebring is the most expensive of the group. However, when you consider the fact that its German and Swedish convertible counterparts sell in the $35,000-$45,000 range, this made-in-Detroit soft-top seems downright bargain-priced.

The 2004 Sebring has undergone a mild makeover, but continues with clean and classy lines, spacious rear-seat room, generous trunk and a power-operated top that looks good in the element-protecting position.

The base LX runs with a 150-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine while the GTC, LXi and Limited receive a 200-horse 2.7-liter V-6. The new-last-year GTC comes with a sport-tuned suspension, rear deck-lid spoiler and two-tone seat coverings. A five-speed manual transmission is available with the GTC while a four-speed automatic is standard on all models.

Although the Sebring is conservatively styled, its plush and pampering nature makes open-sky touring a breeze in more ways than one.

Volkswagen New Beetle - Retro style, Euro flair

"C'mon, let's play!", is the New Beetle convertible's loud-and-clear message. With its saucy, retro looks and state-of-the-art engineering, this new-for-'03 model has managed to inject some new vitality into a four-year-old design.

It's also a worthy successor to the recently departed Volkswagen Cabrio name, which served the needs of sun worshippers for the past 23 years.

When lowered, the New Beetle's available power-operated folded top sits in plain sight behind the rear seat, just like the Beetle of yesteryear. Flip a switch and in 13 seconds you have a neat roof in place that's arguably better-looking than that of the coupe.

There's a choice of two powerplants: a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter SOHC four-cylinder on GLS models; and a 150-horse 1.8-liter SOHC turbocharged four-cylinder that's optional on the GLS, but standard on the GLX. Either motor can be connected to a five-speed manual gearbox, or optional six-speed automatic.

At a starting price of $20,500, the New Beetle convertible arrives loaded with plenty of premium content, including no-extra-cost ear-to-ear grins for all passengers.

Ford Mustang - Welcome to Muscle Beach

Rapidly approaching its 40th birthday, the venerable Mustang name has staying power to spare.

It's also your only choice in a domestic-built, four-passenger rear-wheel-drive convertible since General Motors ended Camaro and Firebird production in 2002. The secret to the Mustang's success is great looks and performance versatility. The beginning point is the model equipped with the relatively benign 190-horsepower V-6 that, for 2003, can be dressed up with a hood scoop and alloy wheels to mimic the V-8 GT. Choose that model and the rumble of a 260-horsepower 4.6-liter SOHC V-8 permeates the cabin. At the top of the scale - actually way off the scale - is the awesome SVT Cobra that outruns the sun with a 4.6-liter DOHC supercharged V-8 that pounds out 390 horsepower. For a starting price of around $23,300, you can work on your tan and look cool.

If you've got the summer-cruisin' itch, then these soft-roofed wonders will quicken your pulse and rejuvenate your senses. Sure, there are other ways to get from Point A to Point B, but in a convertible the point is in the journey, not the destination. So, fold down, kick back and enjoy your solar flair.

© 2003, Wheelbase Communications

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