Reasonably priced convertibles are hard to find

Most motorists don't notice a particular car or truck until they consider leasing or buying one. With as many cars as I drive in a year, I am no different. I may not pay attention to a vehicle until I am driving one or writing about it.

So, I noticed something a few weeks ago while test driving a 2014 Ford Mustang convertible. Or, perhaps, it's what I didn't notice: convertibles. And it wasn't my imagination.

According to industry publication Automotive News, convertibles, which accounted for 2 percent of the U.S. car market in 2006, barely reach 1 percent today. This is backed up by my own research.

Earlier this year, I wrote a story on affordable convertibles, with base prices starting at less than $35,000. I was hoping to do 10 but could find only eight.

Have we forgotten how to have fun? Or are we too concerned about skin cancer? Actually, the culprit may be sunroofs. According to Edmunds.com, 45 percent of 2013 model-year rides have sunroofs as standard equipment.

Consumers still like dropheads — the term the British use for convertibles — but many mainstream automakers don't offer them. Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Scion, Subaru, Mitsubishi and Toyota don't sell any. Nissan does, but its 370Z roadster starts at $41,470 before options. That's not budget-friendly.

Of course, high-end auto manufacturers realize that even if they don't sell a lot of them, droptops add glamor to the line. That's why almost every premium marque has one.

There are some wonderful, less-expensive convertibles out there too: The Ford Mustang, Fiat 500C, Mini Cooper, Chrysler 200, Mazda MX-5 Miata and Volkswagen Beetle all can go topless for less than $30,000.

Ironically, when automobiles first appeared more than a century ago, they were all convertibles. Early on, the closed sedan was the most difficult to build, and usually the costliest model in the lineup. This is why so many cars, even luxury makes, had open cabins. It wasn't until General Motors perfected a way to build an all-steel body affordably in the 1930s that sedans surpassed other body styles in popularity.

By the 1960s, convertibles were still fairly common, whether full-size or midsize or even a handful of compact models. But that changed in the 1970s when Congress threatened to pass rollover standards. In response, most mainstream automakers killed their ragtops.

When the threat seemed to have passed, Lee Iacocca revived the idea in 1982 with the Chrysler LeBaron and Dodge 400 droptops.

Since then, their popularity has waxed and waned, and now, it seems to be the latter. Mainstream manufacturers seem captivated by the big sales afforded by the dull-but-practical crossover. Well, it's time for carmakers to let their hair down and produce more glamorous, reasonably priced ways for us soak up the sun.

Reasonably priced convertibles are hard to find 09/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 10:32am]

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