buying an affordable family convertible
cabriolets handle with care !
by jonathan crouch
If the 'Buying an Affordable Family Convertible' title to this piece leads you to believe one of these cars to be practical, then you've been misled. There are convertibles you can buy that comfortably seat two adults in the back but you won't find them amongst the ranks of converted drop-top family hatchbacks, the cars we're considering here.
Convertibles in the larger so-called 'Sports' or 'Luxury' classes are based on the underpinnings of much larger executive cars. Which is why models like the Saab 9-3 Convertible or Volvo's C70 Cabriolet can claim to be genuine long distance four-seaters. The problem is that these are cars that will generally cost you an awful lot more money - both to buy and to own.
If you want something more affordable, you could consider one of those cheap out-and-out sports cars, a convertible in the so-called 'Roadster' class - something like a Lotus Elise or indeed a Mazda MX-5. But these are tiny, compromised two-seaters, unable even to cope with a weekend couple's luggage, let alone kids or the weekly shop. The noise and the rock-hard sports suspension set-up can get irritating too if you're wanting an everyday car.
Which of course is why the market for 'Affordable Convertibles' has sprung up, popularised by cabriolet versions of the Vauxhall Astra, the Renault Megane, the Peugeot 308 and the Ford Focus. We've called them 'Affordable 4-Seaters' here to differentiate them from Roadsters, a class which really needs to be addressed separately. While Roadsters are generally bought as second or third cars, these hatchback-based Cabrios are usually expected to function as everyday tools, come wind, rain or snow.
So what's on offer on the new market? Here are three great choices for three very different budgets..
Before the Peugeot 206CC appeared back in 2001, the folding hard top convertible was strictly the province of luxury cars. This car changed all that leaving a lot for its 207CC replacement to live up to.
Operating the roof is simplicity itself as it is an entirely automatic operation. In other words, no more of the manual release handles that ladies used to break their fingernails on. The only manual operation consists of pressing the control button for around 25 seconds, during which time the opening or closing cycle is completed; after all four windows have been lowered automatically. To ensure optimal roof sealing and to assist the opening of the doors, the electric front windows are equipped with an "automatic window drop" system.
Three powerplants are offered and, somewhat oddly, they're all 1.6-litre 16-valve units. Two are petrols with either 120 or 150bhp, the other an economical and refined common-rail 110bhp diesel.
Ford Focus Coupe-Cabriolet
Although Ford aren't going to score any points for leading the way with the Focus Coupe-Cabriolet, they might well win some plaudits for doing a very thorough job in developing their take on the folding tin top theme.
A full four-seater, the Focus Coupe-Cabriolet may not be the answer to the family motorist's prayers but it's a lot more practical than its fun-loving agenda may suggest. The two-piece electrically-operated hard top roof operates at the touch of a button and takes just 29 seconds, with no catches, latches or levers needing to be manhandled. Once stowed in the boot, the Focus Coupe-Cabriolet's lines are a good deal more elegant, with a classic rising waistline and clean rear deck.
There are three trim levels on offer - CC-1, CC-2 and CC-3 - but all come with alloy wheels, electronically operated and heated door mirrors, a Thatcham 1 Cat alarm, a CD player and air conditioning. Three engines are offered - 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol units, plus a 2.0-litre TDCi diesel.
Volkswagen's Golf-based Eos coupe convertible has been on sale for a little time now and in the potent the flagship 210PS 2.0-litre TSI petrol unit we look at here, it feels truly fast.
This Golf GTI unit means that the eos will crest sixty from rest in 7.8s on the way to 148mph. Over 60 per cent of Eos customers though, opt to fill their cars from the back pump, choosing the 140PS 2.0 TDI diesel variant which wafts you along on a wave of torque and feels faster than the 10.3s 0-60mph time would suggest. Both these 2.0-litre models come with the option of a clever 6-speed twin-clutch semi-automatic DSG gearbox with lightening quick changes but a price tag which will take your total outlay well above the £25,000 mark.
The 1.4-litre TSI petrol models offer an alternative, but perhaps no less appealing, combination of virtues. There's a 160PS variant that's not much slower than the top 2.0-litre petrol turbo, but the model driven here is the entry-level 122PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol unit, which manages rest to sixty in 10.9s on the way to 123mph.
So, the Volkswagen Eos is a coupe convertible that can entertain with a bit of smooth, open road ahead of it. Its folding metal roof is the classiest of its genre, going from overhead to out of sight in a matter of seconds. Plus it also includes a system that incorporates a sliding glass sunroof.
Whatever you decide upon, choose soon - and make the most of it.