Words: Calvin Chan / Sammy Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 31, 2017
Everyone loves a good underdog story. Think Karate Kid, Rocky, or Seabiscuit. But today takes us to the tale of the convertible sports car. We’ve gathered three prime examples representing each end of the “attainable” price spectrum to extrapolate the answer to the question many of you have been asking: “How much should I be spending on a sports convertible? Do I really need to fork out $100,000 on a topless luxury yacht when I can get a similar amount of fun from a cruiser that costs half the price?”
That’s why we brought along the Ford Mustang GT Convertible, the cheapest car here and the bargain of the bunch. We call him Rocky. With a starting price of $49,948, this softtop bruiser comes with a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8, rear-wheel drive, and a proper six-speed manual. It’s got 435 hp and 400 lb-ft and goes like stink from 0-100 km/h (6.3 seconds). Our specific tester had the GT Performance Package ($3,700) which upgrades the brakes, tires, springs, rear-sway bar, and adds on a limited slip diff with a 3.73 final drive ratio. In fact, this Mustang has got all the right ingredients for an exciting everyday sports convertible, and yes and you can get one of these for less than $50,000. Let me repeat that: less than $50,000 for a 435-hp V8 convertible.
At the pricey end of the spectrum are the premium convertibles that we’ve brought along for the ride, the pinnacle of affordable luxury and what the average consumer dreams about owning some time in their lives. In the blue corner is the representative from Bavaria, the BMW 440i xDrive Convertible which starts at a cool $72,050 and comes equipped with a single-turbo straight-six that belts out 320 hp and 330 lb-ft (the lowest of the pack), all-wheel drive, and goes from 0-100 km/h comes in a tame 5.4 seconds. Our tester also had M Performance Packages I and II ($4,800), which added 35-hp and 30 lb-ft, adaptive dampers, variable sport steering, and an M Performance Exhaust.
The final contender in this three-way brawl is the Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC Cabriolet. Say what you will about AMG watering down their lineup in the same way BMW did with their pseudo M badges, but we have to admit that it does expand the accessibility to a lot more enthusiasts. Starting price? $68,800. That buys your way into a twin-turbo V6 that produces 362 hp and 384 lb-ft, more than the BMW but less than the burly pony. All-wheel drive and a 9-speed automatic are standard, and it scampers from 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds, the quickest here.
And who doesn’t love a topless sports cruiser? Sailing out on the open road with an abundance of power, a loud exhaust, sunkissed skin, and gusts of mountain air in your face. Sure, Canada doesn’t provide many months of suitable open-top weather, but when we do get those rays of glacier-melting sunshine, we make use of it to the fullest. So let us help you sunseekers make the best choice when choosing a Vitamin D sponge.
Of course, there are many other convertible sports cars out there that can be warranted an entry into this comparison but due to limited fleets in Canada, assembling these three cruisers was the best we could do. As such, we evaluated a range of factors affecting convertible buyers, both objective and subjective: wind buffeting, cabin insulation, roof mechanisms, cargo space, driving dynamics, rear seat accommodations, emotional appeal, and most importantly, value.
So let’s get down to it: does the Mustang really compete and offer more value than the pricey Germans? Well, in third place is the...
3) BMW 440i xDrive Convertible
Surprised that the BMW ended up in last place? We were too. This bright blue convertible has phenomenal build quality and perhaps the smoothest engine. It’s hard to argue against the potency and seamless power delivery of a straight-six, and the 8-speed transmission is a tour de force on its own as well. The 440i certainly appears as the most suave dancing partner amongst the three.
That doesn’t mean he can dance well, though. The biggest drawback with this BMW is its weight problem. As the only hardtop convertible in the comparison, we didn’t find that the 440i benefited much from it. Hardtops are generally known to be the safest, most stable, and best insulated convertibles on the market. However, with all that extra weight from the roof mechanicals and added bracing to reduce scuttle shake and increase chassis rigidity, the 440i handled quite poorly compared to the rest of the pack. Furthermore, the fabric softtop C 43 felt just as well insulated.
Tipping the scales at 1,964 kg, the 440i isn’t even the heaviest convertible here - that award goes to the 2,066 kg Mustang with its beefier stature and larger engine. However, the BMW handles like the heaviest, with weight dragging it down on corners and the feeling of inertial heft keeping you from fully exploiting its rigid chassis and remarkable engine. Weight is the BMW’s weakest link.
What is appealing about the 440i is the standard all-wheel drive (xDrive). The C 43 is all-wheel drive only as well, which makes the Mustang the only rear-driven sports car here. Having four driven wheels helps you make the most of your ‘vert during the winter months, along with the BMW’s Air Collar option (with three adjustable intensities) that blows heated air around your neck, extending the top-down season by another few weeks.
To our surprise, the 440i sounded the best out of the three but we didn’t exactly find this a fair fight since the Mustang and C 43 did not have any factory-installed performance exhausts like the BMW. However, we had eargasms every time this turbocharged engine sang its mellifluous song right up to a cochlea-wrenching 7,000 rpm. In comparison, the Mustang GT sounds fairly subdued for a V8 - side effects of a short lung capacity and muffled roar. The C 43 (with the AMG performance exhaust, $1,850) sounds nearly as good as the BMW but with a whinier and raspier pitch. Nevertheless, whenever you don’t have a roof to get in between you and the exhaust, there’s much more clarity to the soundtrack.
What really hit the nail on the coffin was the BMW’s as-tested price just shy of $90,000 ($89,485 to be exact). Our team agreed that we certainly didn’t have double the fun in the “nearly-half-the-price” Mustang.
2) Ford Mustang GT Convertible
Which is why we slotted the Mustang GT into second place. When it comes down to brass tacks, the Blue Oval pony delivers the best amount of frills per dollar spent. With the only free breathing V8 in this comparison, we were smitten with its iconic looks, simplistic interior, and supple ride.
The Mustang is also the only convertible here available with a manual transmission. Both of the Germans don’t offer one. We have actually tested both transmission options in the Mustang, and found the manual much more engaging to drive. The automatic felt archaic and was slow to shift.
Out on the open road, power from the V8 feels limitless. Though traction was a bit of a sore spot it was ten times more exciting to drive than the BMW due to its tail-wagging personality. This pony loves to drift. Unfortunately, the Mustang also had the most scuttle shake. The chassis wasn’t as rigid, and the side panels didn’t seem as glued down together.
The interior is charming, with a thick steering wheel and aircraft-inspired toggle switches to control the steering modes, traction, and hazard lights. A major plus was the SYNC 3 infotainment system, which we found was the easiest to learn thanks to its lag-free interface, touchscreen capability, and intuitiveness of inputting voice commands. We did experience some buggy issues and screen freezes from time to time, though. The Mustang also had the best cabin insulation and wind buffering when driving fast with the roof down. It doesn’t need a wind deflector like the BMW or Mercedes either.
The Mustang had the most storage space and strategically made use of its precious real estate. Its rear seats are the largest, and the trunk isn’t impacted by the storage of the folding fabric roof - whereas in the BMW, the folding hardtop meant trunk space was practically unusable. The C 43’s trunk wasn’t much better, but was still more usable than the BMW. With the Mustang, you can fit two suitcases back there with a small dufflebag or two. It’s the perfect four-adult weekend getaway vehicle. The a-little-too-soft seats are the widest in the group, so for those with bigger waists and hips, the Mustang will feel most welcome.
Be that as it may, there are sacrifices to be made for the Mustang’s sub-$50,000 price tag. The most noticeable difference after jumping between the three convertibles is material quality. Whereas the Germans are swathed in rich leathers, a multitude of interior colours, veneered wood panelling, and supple seats, the Mustang sides with a more spartan interior with cheaper plastics, unconvincing chrome panels, and questionable build quality. The roof cannot be operated when driving as well, while the other two can be operated at low speeds.
Though there are compromises with the Mustang’s low cost, our team of editors all agreed that we were willing to look past its faults, as the many pros seem to outweigh the few cons. The sixth-generation Mustang definitely punches above its weight class, and feels a few thousand grand more expensive than what it really is. There’s soul and character. There was one convertible however, that managed to tick all the boxes.
1) Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC Cabriolet
The winner of our comparison is the C 43, and with justified cause. We couldn’t find anything wrong with it other than the rather banal traffic-camouflage styling. The C 43’s demeanor is fresh but relaxed, and I wouldn’t exactly call it sexier or emotional than the other two. We do have to admit though that it was the best looking convertible here with both the top up and down. A white C 43 with a red roof? Now that’s one desirable colour combination.
The C 43 stood out with the best suspension damping and interior design. The BMW clinches the top for the powertrain and transmission. While the twin-turbo V6 in the C 43 wasn’t the most powerful in this company - that accolade goes to the V8 Mustang - this one by far feels the most accessible. Combined with its communicative steering and unyielding traction, we felt the most confident finessing the C 43 up rural roads north of the GTA. The power was explorable, attainable, and usable, whereas we mainly struggled for traction in the Mustang, and felt the weight drag us down in the 440i. The Merc’s 9-speed transmission was slightly below par compared to the ZF 8-speed in the BMW in terms of smoothness and quickness of shifts, but it’s not far off.
In this audience, the C 43 actually weighs the least. As such, the Mercedes rides with composure, the front end bites with confidence, the steering is nicely weighted, and body roll is minimal. Scuttle shake and chassis flex are absent, wind buffeting is effective, and the Cabriolet feels nearly as rigid as the Coupe, which earns it high marks. More importantly, when compared to the BMW, the C 43 feels a million times lighter and you don’t need a spec sheet to tell you that.
The classy interior is worth mentioning as well, justifying its higher price over the Mustang. Frankly, I like the layout of the BMW cabin more, but the materials of the Benz better. I wish I could combine them somehow but in the end, the C 43 offers a more open and luxurious atmosphere, The relocation of the gear shifter up to the steering column frees up a ton of space too, whereas the BMW struggles to provide any meaningful center console storage. Both the BMW and Mercedes have neck heating fans dubbed Air Collar and Air Scarf, respectively, but we found the BMW’s to be stronger and heated our necks up quicker. Nevertheless, these are one of those creature comforts that become hard to go without once you experience it. This comes from the guy who used to think heated steering wheels were nonsense. Now I can’t stand a winter without it.
Furthermore, we found that the Benz had some superior cabin features, such as an electric telescoping wheel (the others are all manually adjusted) and a switch to push the seatbelt forward for an easier time buckling up. The Burmester stereo also delivers the crispest notes, and it has an automatic wind deflector can rise or lower with the push of a button, whereas the others are all manually latched on.
So there you have it. Value does have its appeal and goes to show that you really don’t need to dish out $100,000 of coin to attain an exciting convertible sports car. The Mustang is case and point. However, if you do have the money to fork out, we’d recommend the C 43. This pseudo AMG is impeccably balanced, meticulously assembled, and ticks off every box that we’re looking for in a sporty topless boulevard cruiser. It may not be the loudest or the most dramatic, but it’s the one convertible that our team fought to drive the most. That must be worth something.
The Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC Cabriolet wins this three-way comparison but not by a tumbling landslide. After all, when the underdog doesn’t win the fight, there’s bound to be a sequel.
型号 Model: 2018 BMW 440i xDrive Convertible
顏色 Paint Type: Snapper Rocks Metallic
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $72,050
試車售價 Price as Tested: $89,485
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,810
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,639 / 1,825 / 1,399
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,964
引擎 Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
最大馬力 Horsepower: 320 hp (+35hp) @ 5,500 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 330 lb-ft (+30 lb-ft) @ 1,380 - 5,000 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 8-speed ZF automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 11.9 / 8.1 / 10.2
輪胎尺碼 Tires: 225/45R18
型号 Model: 2017 Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC Cabriolet
顏色 Paint Type: Selenite Grey Metallic
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $68,800
試車售價 Price as Tested: $79,280
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,840
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,696 / 2,016 (including mirrors) / 1,408
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,880
引擎 Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6
最大馬力 Horsepower: 362 hp @ 5,500 - 6,000 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 384 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 4,200 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 9-speed automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Front 225/45R18; Rear 245/40R18
型号 Model: 2017 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
顏色 Paint Type: Oxford White
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $49,948
試車售價 Price as Tested: $59,648
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,720
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,783 / 1,394 / 2,080
車重 Curb weight (kg): 2,066
引擎 Engine: 5.0L Ti-VCT V8
最大馬力 Horsepower: 435 hp @ 6,500 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 400 lb-ft. @ 4,250 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed manual
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 16.7 / 10.2 / 13.8
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Front 255/40R19; Rear 275/40R19