2007 Convertible War Opening Up

Ever thought about buying a convertible? The thought might not have crossed your mind, but you might be surprised to find that dedicated convertibles comprise 5% of BMW, more than 10% of Mercedes-Benz, and a whopping 18% of Porsche sales.

With the stakes high, you can imagine the unease at the Porsche camp last year as BMW upped the power to its mid-cycle revised Z4. Rebranded 3.0 and 3.0si (from 2.5 and 3.0), engine output grew to 215 and 255 hp, respectively, corresponding to its 3 series brethren. Of course, the larger threat to Porsche was the potent $51,000 M Roadster, which conveniently slices between the two Boxster models. The M Roadster delivers an M3-inspired 330 hp and accelerates 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds.

Outperformed and out-priced, Porsche responds this year with its own power increase to its Boxster line. Incorporating Porsche’s version of variable valve timing called VarioCam Plus, the Boxster’s output grows 5 hp to 245 hp, and displacement remains unchanged at 2.7L. But the larger upgrade is the M-challenged Boxster S, with engine displacement growing from 3.2 to 3.4 liters and power increasing from 280 to 295 hp. That’s good for 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds and a top speed of 169 mph. Pricing for the Boxster and Boxster S grows modestly to $45,600 and $55,500 respectively.

Mercedes-Benz holds its footing as the SLK enters its third year. Available in 3.0L, 3.5L, and an AMG 5.5L, it is unlikely there will be any power upgrades for 2007, as indicated by the E-Class press release. The SLK55 AMG competes effectively with the Boxster S and M Roadster, generating 355 hp and sprinting 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds. However, due in part to its standard retractable hard-top, the SLK55 is priced significantly higher at $62,275. An even more powerful Special Edition version generates 400 hp and goes 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, but is currently not available in the US.

More down market, Volkswagen offers the first retractable hard-top convertible priced below $28,000 for 2007. Based on the Golf platform, the Eos enters the market as a 2-door 2+2 convertible and available with a 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder generating 200 hp or a 3.2L 6-cylinder generating 250 hp. Standard equipment includes Electronic Stability Control, 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, fog lights, panoramic sunroof, power windows, and cruise control. Upscale options include the double-clutch 6-speed automatic transmission (DSG), automatic and bi-xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, ten-channel 600-watt Dynaudio sound system, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The Eos was suppose to launch around summer but was delayed due to quality issues related to the retractable hard-top. Made by German-based supplier Webasto, who also makes the retractable roof on the Volvo C70, prototypes exhibited noise levels that were unacceptable to Volkswagen standards. Compared to the C70, the Eos’ roof is faster and more complex, having five folding panels instead of three and incorporating the world’s first built-in sunroof. Company officials say that it has “fixed the glitch, along with a problem in the production process.”

With the introduction of the Eos, Mazda’s Miata is now forced to offer a retractable hard-top. Although its starting price is significantly lower than the Eos at $21,000, the upscale Grand Touring model with automatic transmission starts above $26,000. With less than $2,000 separating the two, a retractable hard-top, with more security and reduced interior noise, would give the Eos a significant advantage over its soft-top rival. The additional cost of the hard-top roof will almost certainly position the high-end Miata directly against the low-end Eos. A retractable hard-top option can also aid Mazda in battling the GM convertibles, with both the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky available only with a soft-top. At this point, it is unclear if the retractable hard-top will be available throughout the Miata lineup or whether it will be standard or optional.

Beating Volkswagen to the market, Volvo launched its all-new Pininfarina-inspired C70 in April, selling an encouraging 435 units in its first month. Sporting a retractable hard-top roof and its usual safety marketing mantra, including a door-mounted inflatable curtain, Volvo hopes it can move its $39,000 convertible to the tune of 16,000 units globally. Safety aside, the C70’s Achilles heel is undeniably the turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. Generating only 218 hp, the unconventional odd number of cylinders doesn’t fundamentally balance out as well as even numbered ones. Honda tried unsuccessfully a 5-cylinder engine with the Acura Vigor, while most other manufacturers avoided them. Like the Miata, the C70 will face stiff competition from the high-end 6-cylinder Eos. With more engine power and a more sophisticated transmission and roof, the Eos is also priced almost $2,000 lower.

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