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Cruisin' with the Top Down?

Contact On the Road Weekly Publication

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

There are few experiences as pleasant as driving a convertible with the top down on a warm day with the sun shining, the wind blowing, and the open road beckoning.
Good thing automakers are introducing new convertibles just in time for summer fun.

Here’s a quick look:

Fiat 500 Cabrio
The retro-styled "Cinquecento," as it's called in Italy, now comes in a retractable cloth-top version that starts at around $20,000. An economical 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine generates an adequate 101 horsepower and can be paired with either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with manual-shift capabilities and a sport mode. It's small, even by subcompact standards, but it's distinctive and a blast to drive.

Chrysler 200 Convertible
This is a reinvention of the former Sebring Convertible, with updated styling outside and a nicely upgraded interior that makes it feel richer overall. While a lackluster 173-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission remain on the base version, other models include the far livelier new 283-hp 3.6-liter 'Pentastar' V6 and a smoother-shifting six-speed automatic. Heated front seats, a multimedia system with 30GB of digital storage and a navigation system are optional.

Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
Ragtop versions of this modern throwback muscle car were added this spring, powered by either a 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 engine that generates 312 hp, or a 6.2-liter V8 that commands a rousing 426 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with a six-speed automatic optional. Sticker prices start at less than $30,000.

Volkswagen EOS
VW's compact two-door convertible gets a modest makeover, yet retains its signature retractable hardtop that incorporates a power glass moonroof for added versatility. Starting at around $34,000, it's as quick and nimble as ever, with a reasonably roomy interior and 200-hp turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood that drives the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.

Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
The curiously cast CrossCabriolet is essentially the Nissan Murano SUV minus a fixed roof and rear doors. While it's roomy and comfortable for a convertible, seating is limited to four passengers and cargo room is reduced to a small trunk. It packs a 265-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine that drives all four wheels via a gearless CVT transmission. The cloth convertible top incorporates a rear glass skylight, and the vehicle comes with dual roll bars that pop-up to protect occupants in a rollover. It's priced at around $46,500.

Mercedes-Benz SLK
This tiny two-seater is redesigned with a more-aggressive exterior appearance inside and out, with a retractable hardtop to isolate occupants from the elements and road noise. Starting at around $50,000, it comes with a 302-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine and a seven-speed automatic transmission.

BMW 650i
BMW's stylish 6 Series convertible is revamped with added flair and finesse, featuring a fully lined cloth top with a nearly vertical rear window for a coupe-like top-up look. A turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine puts a pleasing 400 hp to the pavement; a quick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is standard, with an eight-speed automatic optional. Already sufficiently sporty, engaging a Driving Dynamics Control system enables quicker throttle response with reduced steering boost and more aggressive shifts, all for around $90,000.

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