Ray Ho – 07/03/17

The result came in for my recent physical; my doctor informed me that I seriously lack Vitamin D. He told me I should either take supplements or go out in the sun more. Hmm, what would any serious auto enthusiast do? Go out and look for a convertible of course!

Lucky for me, as a newly minted member of the MPG, I had the privilege of test-driving a whole array of convertibles in the MPG’s “Droptop and Dirt” event a couple of weeks ago. Hard to beat skipping the day job on a Tuesday, going through twisty scenic Malibu canyons on some very exciting new convertibles, with winds going through my thinning hair while getting a good dose of vitamin D. There were many convertibles available for test drive, from tiny ones like the Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio to the interesting Land Rover Evoque droptop.

I still have fond memory of driving the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth at the Fiat Proving Ground event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana California. So I decided to first try out the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth convertible (er Cabrio). Unfortunately, this time around, I found the car lacks power at 160HP even for such a small car. The steering wheel is nice and thick but feels too loose and does not provide sufficient feedback. The aggressive exhaust note is exactly like I remembered. I am glad they don’t use any mufflers and just rely on the turbo to help muffle the sound. The short wheelbase and the tall body makes the car feel….well…tall. The high sitting position does not help either. The convertible top is unique and if you like the styling, it can be had with a starting price of $21,490. The tested price is $25,910.

It is hard to ignore any BMW with the “M” designation, but no one will confuse the BMW M240i with the M2. Even though it has good power, it is not as fast as I was hoping. The steering feel is good and it is easy to drive. However, the clutch is too hard and it grabs too much for smooth driving. With a starting price close to $50 grand, I expect a little more performance from the 335HP Twin Turbo inline 6. Unless you are really fixated on convertibles, I would spend another $3K for 30 more HP in the M2 coupe.

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Ever since I auto-crossed the F-Type S at the Auto Club Speedway… parking lot a few years ago, I always wanted to drive it on the open road. Naturally it’s next on my list. The F-type is arguably one of the most beautify cars available today. It is a bonus that this test car happens to be the more potent R model. Once inside, I am wrapped around in the impeccably appointed cabin.  I press the start button and the V8 comes alive. This V8 is no bad testing vegetable drink; it is a 5 Liter Supercharged engine producing an astonishing 550HP.  Unlike my overweight pet, this big cat is definitely not lazy. It sprints from 0 to 60 in 3.9s. It has neck snappy torque, confidence inspiring brakes, with great sounding exhaust to boot. The big tires stick to the pavement and devours the cannon roads effortlessly. It is incredibly easy to drive fast and extremely comfortable.  Even with the top down, the air conditioning does more than a decent job of keeeping us cool.  With the top up the cabin is also very quiet. Sadly just like many finer things in life, it is out of reach for most people with a starting price of a tad shy of $100K. So, point out the F-type next time someone tells you money can’t buy happiness.

A tough act to follow, it seems unfair that the Camaro is next. Could Bumble Bee in beautiful Hyper Blue metallic be the next best thing to a Corvette? BTW, it is a bummer that the Corvette is not available for test drive this year. I spoke to the factory rep and he said they decided to mix things up a little and feature the Camaro instead. This Camaro in 1LT trim comes with the RS “appearance” package, which notably includes 20” wheels, decklid-mounted lip spoiler and LED lighting. The headlights, though not as mean as the House Healthcare Bill, still look menacing. The aggressive styling suggests it can flatten the Fiat 500 like a road kill.   Speaking of looking flat, the LCD display for the fluid temperatures and fuel level could use better resolution. Whatever happened to good old analog gauges? The paddle shifters (yes it does not have a third pedal either) are very slow which almost render them useless. It’s a 4 seater but the rear legroom is severely limited. Due to its bigger size, it indeed feels heavy. It has good power but does not have a strong pull. With the EPA clinging on lifesupport, why not opt for the SS model with a 6.2 Liter V8?

Moving on to another 4 seater convertible, the unique Land Rover Evoque. Without the short-lived Nissan Murano Crosscabriolet, the Evoque convertible truly is in a category of it’s own. Once getting over its unusual form, I stepped inside the luxurious cabin. Wait, am I in a Jaguar? It is not surprising for them to share some parts since both Jaguar and Land Rover are under the same parent company (TaTa Group in India).   What is surprising is it drives much smaller than it looks. It is powerful and very comfortable. However, perhaps I did not setup the vehicle correctly, it seems the car is not quite in the correct gear and the regenerative braking will take sometime to get use to. If you are into luxury top down motoring with your pose, $52K is the starting price of admission.

The day went by fast so I didn’t get a chance to test drive the Miata RF or the Fiat 124 Abarth. It would be nice if a Porsche Boxster were in the mix. Anyone seriously looking for a convertible would be crazy not to consider them.

I really enjoyed the convertibles. However, after a full day of 100-degree weather with the sun beating on us, I couldn’t wait to get back into my little coupe. I am not sure if I am ready to buy a convertible yet. Though I am sure I will be hitting the Vitamin isle at Walgreen.