Going topless in 2016 without getting arrested
By Jim Bray
Top down motoring continues to be a popular pastime for Canadians and others, especially at this time of year. It's a niche that was nearly dead some 20 years ago, yet now it flourishes. And that's great! It's always nice to have choices.
I'm not really a convertible guy, though I've owned a few - decades ago - and do enjoy driving the occasional drop top during my car reviewing duties. I'm more of a sunroof guy, though (or moon roof, though I've never managed to get my moon up through one); as I age I don't enjoy the sun beating down on me like I did when I was a kid - possibly a tribute to thinning hair. Heck, I even keep the sunroof closed, mostly, during the heat of the day; I'm more likely to open it once the sun has set, or during warm winter days such as those provided by Chinooks here in Alberta than during the hot scorchers of summer.
Obviously, I'm not the right guy to be prattling on about convertibles despite the sunshine beckoning. Fortunately, the folks at autoTRADER.ca have a handle on what Canadians are looking for when it's time to go topless in a car - regardless of what you're wearing.
AutoTRADER.ca bills itself as "Canada's number one automotive marketplace," and in a media release claimed there's an increasing number of Canadians who are looking to go topless this summer, or at least buy a convertible. The site says its statistics point to a 30 percent increase year over year in convertible searches during May of this year when compared to May 2015.
The site also offers some top picks for new convertibles - of which there are many these days - as well as tips for buying a used ragtop and a list of the most popular drop tops on their site.
Here's a selection of the highlights from their convertible knowledge base, with my own snarks included for the halibut:
Favourite new convertibles:
Road Trip: 2016 Mustang GT
The original and most iconic muscle car! As autoTRADER notes, the Mustang GT convertible seats four, so you can pack three of your closest friends with you on your open road adventure. And the car, in its GT livery, comes with a great-sounding five litre V8. I'll be driving this car in the next few weeks, so check back for my review of this great pony car. I'll even put the roof down as I put my foot down.
Bringing that Indy feel to your local commute: 2016 Mazda MX-5
As someone who, quite stupidly as it turned out, owned three MGB's in my youth, the Miata has appealed to me since its original introduction, which also helped spur the return to convertibles in the marketplace. Mazda's MX-5, as it's called now, is easy to drive and about as much fun as you can have on the road legally. I haven't driven the new version yet (which causes me to cry myself to sleep every night), but if it's as good as the previous generations it's a fantastic car. The new version doesn't have the retractable hard top of its immediate predecessor, which I loved, but at least you can put the ragtop up or down with one hand - preferably someone else's.
Hitting the beach: 2016 Jeep Wrangler
I've never been a Jeep guy, but can understand why others love 'em. With the Wrangler, you can remove the roof and the doors, creating about as close to a dune buggy as you can get at a car dealership. Wrangler's AWD capability and simple (some might say "proven") and rugged design mean you can cruise down to the beach - or, better still, into the mountains - confidently. I remember being ferried in the back seat of one of these, across a rocky mountain road by the Salmo river in southern British Columbia about 40 years ago and thinking I was going to die. I didn't, though, and I'm rather pleased that the Jeep kept us safe. That was a drive that definitely gave me the Willys!
Luxury mountain climbing:2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible
I haven't driven this other than a quick first impression of the hard top version when it premiered, but the Evoque will take you right through the boonies in style and comfort. I just spent some quality seat time in the larger HSE diesel and loved how it coddled my family while it gobbled up the miles. The Evoque is basically a smaller variation on the Land Rover/Range Rover theme, and there's nothing wrong with that!
Looking to see (and be seen) downtown? 2017 Jaguar F-Type
Oh, boy, the F-Type. To me, Jaguar's newest sports car is the most beautiful vehicle on the road today and a lovely (but late) sequel to the venerable E-Type. I had a quick few days in the coupe version (which is even nicer) and fell so much under the spell of its design, its performance and the outrageously gorgeous sound of its supercharged V6 (you can up that ante to a V8, but why bother?) that it has made me question my long term lust for Porsche's 911. I still love the Porsche, but the F-Type is rarer, better looking - and, depending upon how you configure it, possibly tens of thousands of dollars cheaper. Sounds like a winner to me.
Wine country touring: 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL
Think of the S Class but smaller and sportier. And the thing is available with massaging seats, Mercedes-Benz' "wind scarf" system that blows warm air onto the back of your neck when the top is down (and it works, too!). Add to the mix that German "je ne sais quoi" that makes the car seem as if it's carved out of a single block of metal and you have the mighty SL. It's going to cost you dearly (the "entry level" SL starts at over $120,000), but if you have the lucre you'll love the SL's lustre. It also has a retractable hard top that buttons up like a standard coupe when you want it to. The AMG is the sportiest version; I've driven it briefly at Mercedes-Benz' Driving Academies and it nearly left me a gibbering fool. I know, that explains a great many things.
I might add the Porsche 718 Boxster and Nissan 370Z convertible to this mix as well. Both are wonderful cars, but if you have the money for a new Z you might want to look at a gently used Boxster instead because the difference between the Porsche and the Nissan is day and night in Porsche's favour.
AutoTRADER also offers some "Top Down Buying Tips" on their site, and it's good stuff, such as taking your potential buy through a car wash with the roof up before you sign on the dotted line. This isn't just to see if you can use the car wash to double as a shower thanks to a leaky roof, but so you can look for signs of water getting into the trunk or other places you don't want it. Check for signs of water damage or leakage in the recess where the roof folds, too, and if there's a mildew or Febreeze smell inside, head for the hills.
It should go without saying that you should raise and lower the roof a few times to make sure the action is proper, the roof doesn't bind or catch on anything and that it isn't damaged. If it is, think twice or bring out your best dickering skills. Check the seats to see if they're okay, too. They could be faded or cracked from too much direct sunlight, they could have water damage, or they could have merely been ignored when it came time for the previous owner to give them some TLC over the years. Ditto for the rubber - not only the tires (they shouldn't be bald, after all!) but the seals and gaskets and stuff you can find: they shouldn't be cracked, dried out or - worst case scenario - not even there. This may require a bit of research on your part to see what's on the specific model after which you're lusting. Check out customer reviews on autoTRADER for insights. And remember to have a shaker of salt handy so you can use a grain or two with each review.
It never hurts to have a mechanic you trust look over the car before you sign on the dotted line. I once saved my due diligence for after I'd bought the car (it wasn't a convertible, but the point is just as valid regardless of what vehicle it is), only to find an immediate need to drop a few grand replacing the plastic guides on which the timing chain ran. The manufacturer denied there was such an issue, but if I'd checked out the appropriate owners board in advance I'd have known enough to run in the other direction. But NOOOOOOO!
A pre-purchase inspection will probably cost you some cash, but it could be cheap insurance.
Finally, a quick personal note about autoTRADER.ca itself. I've found it to be a terrific place to find cars and even to research them to find what's out there. You can search by model, type, whatever, and your search can bring up private sales and dealerships at the same time. I used the site when I was looking to buy my current car and thanks to it found my perfect set of wheels: a 2005 Audi A4 Avant that had everything (V6, manual transmission, sport suspension…) I wanted in a car except for Bluetooth, which only became available with the 2006 model year. I wouldn't have found that car without autoTRADER, so I'm grateful the site is there.
Naturally, as with anything automotive-related, your mileage may vary. And always remember: Buyer Beware!
Now get out then and snag that drop top before some underserving oaf beats you to it!
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
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