Cars.comparison: Retractable-Hardtop Convertibles

It's taken a few years, but the power-retractable hardtop, once reserved for luxury models, has made its way onto a number of mainstream convertibles. Here we compare three new retractable hardtops to see which one rules the summer.

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The Contenders
2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited2007 Mazda Miata MX-5 Grand Touring2007 Volkswagen Eos 3.2
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Base MSRP
$32,055$26,520$36,970
Price as tested
$37,840$28,670$39,930
Engine and transmission
The Limited's 3.5-liter V-6 is the best of the Sebring's three engines, but our test car's six-speed automatic was clunky on downshifts and when moving the gear selector out of Park. The Miata's four-cylinder engine makes most of its power above 4,000 rpm, but it becomes raspy when you rev it. The six-speed manual, meanwhile, is a pleasure to shift. The most powerful of the three with 250 horsepower, the Eos' 3.2-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic deliver strong responses when needed.
Gas mileage* (city/highway, mpg)
16/26 21/2819/26
Ride and handling
The Sebring keeps things nice and easy with its soft suspension tuning, which can bring on some bounciness at times. The sensation conjures up thoughts of Detroit's big cars of the '70s. The driver's car of this trio, the Miata offers the greatest connection to the road, though the optional sport suspension makes for a harsh ride on some surfaces. The car's steering and controllability are legendary.Front-wheel drive and a heavy nose result in understeer that can't match the Miata's balance. Still, the Eos' solidity, suspension tuning and size make it livable on real roads, yet sporty-feeling when you need it.
Top up/down appearance
The looks turn us off, but during our time with the Sebring, more than a few passersby stopped us to comment on how gorgeous it was. Oh, that eye of the beholder. It's not everyone's bag, but you have to admit the Miata's design is well-executed. The hardtop changes the look enough to confuse people; they don't know what car it is, but they like it.The Eos has a nice enough face, but it looks like a plain-Jane VW when the top's up. The look improves when the top is lowered, but even then it's an oddly proportioned wedge.
Power-top operation and trunk space
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The Sebring's large, 13.1-cubic-foot cargo area offers the most room. With the roof lowered there's 6.6 cubic feet that's easy to get to. Chrysler says this is enough for two golf bags, but we had trouble getting even one in there. The heavy, awkward trunklid is a pain to use.
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The fast-acting retractable hardtop doesn't intrude upon the cargo area, which is a plus, but at 5.3 cubic feet the Mazda's trunk is the smallest of the three.
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The top's operation is clean and relatively quiet. VW gets extra credit for the integrated moonroof and the global window switch. For the car's size, the 10.5-cubic-foot trunk is generous. With the top lowered, there's decent accessibility to the 6.6 cubic feet that remain.
Comfort and roominess
Chrysler got it right on this front. The leather seats in our test car were supportive and cushy at the same time. There was plenty of legroom up front, while the backseat was above average for its class. The Miata's headroom is the lowest of the three, but legroom is actually better than the others. Comfy sport seats make the snug overall fit more tolerable. Typical of VW, these are seats an osteopath could love, though legroom in front isn't great. Typical of convertibles, the backseat's usability is marginal.
Interior quality
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"Pitiful" is the word that comes to mind in describing how toy-like the cabin plastic felt and looked. We've seen worse, but not in a car that costs nearly $38,000.
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The overall quality and piano-black finish really work in this car, and it puts the Sebring to shame.
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The Eos has Volkswagen's characteristic high-quality materials and detailing, and here it extends to the underside of the retractable hardtop, where there are no visible mechanicals.
Top-up quietness
The Sebring's quiet, well-isolated cabin could easily be mistaken for a sedan. Only minor wind noise intrudes. It's downright loud at cruising speeds in the Mazda, as engine, wind and road noise vie for supremacy. They all win; you lose. The solid roof does its job here, limiting the noise. Unfortunately, our Eos made some noise of its own in the form of squeaks when traversing bumps.
Likely to be driven by
A Hertz customer. A fun-and-sun worshipper or a driving enthusiast.A woman. It's no Beetle convertible, but the Eos is still likely to appeal more to VW's loyal female buyers. Like the Jetta, black paint and big wheels might lure some dudes.
Safety features
There are antilock brakes and side-impact airbags for the front seats, but even on the top-of-the-line Limited, a stability system is still optional. Like the Sebring, the Miata comes with ABS, four airbags and an optional stability system. While its nimble handling could be considered a safety feature, its pint-sized dimensions and low profile are a negative in the U.S., land of SUVs. With a standard stability system, traction control and popup roll bars in addition to ABS and side-impact airbags, the Eos has the most safety features.
Overall value
At this price, there are better retractable hardtops out there, like the Volvo C70. Even the Pontiac G6 is better as a value buy. The Miata spawned a roadster revival that rages to this day — yet none of the models that have followed can touch it for the price. At $1,870, even the hardtop option is reasonable. Volkswagen has long gotten away with charging premium prices. One could argue that the Eos has the usual VW attributes, like a refined cabin and sporty driving experience, but it's certainly not a bargain.
 
Editors' choice
Chrysler's suspension-tuning decision for the Sebring convertible is puzzling in light of where this segment is heading. You get the feeling the automaker is going to have a Thunderbird on its hands in the near future, wondering how it's going to get rid of them. The Miata's retractable-hardtop option inches the roadster closer to being a four-season convertible without watering down its famous dynamics. It might be too hard-core for some, but not for us.The Eos is a well-rounded convertible that's fit for four-season duty, but its price is an oft-cited turnoff. Interested buyers should consider one of the turbo models; they make a better argument with pricing around $30,000.
*To allow comparison between 2008 and 2007 convertibles, gas mileage estimates shown are based on the EPA's new fuel economy testing procedures that went into effect with 2008 models.
Posted on 8/31/07
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