By on April 16, 2013

When I was a kid, I knew there to be two universal automotive truths. Number one was that the Lamborghini Countach was really cool. I, like all kids, had a Lamborghini Countach poster on my bedroom wall, which I’m convinced was part of a cunning decades-long Lamborghini marketing scheme: first, hook them when they’re seven. Then, thirty years later, come out with a model that’s actually drivable. And now that buyers are getting older, confuse them with special editions.

The other universal truth was that if you wanted a convertible, you were going to the Chrysler dealer to buy a LeBaron.

In today’s world, this is hard to believe. That’s because the only people who go to Chrysler dealers are employees, plus the occasional tourist who visits Chrysler of Manhattan in search of a bathroom after leaving the Intrepid Museum.

But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were two different Chryslers. One was the Chrysler who made impressively awful crap like the Dodge Monaco, which is probably the car least suited for actually visiting its namesake. (Close runner-up: Pontiac Parisienne.) But the other Chrysler made some decent vehicles, like the original Jeep Grand Cherokee, the minivans, and – most importantly – the LeBaron.

Chrysler’s Convertible Domination

The LeBaron was perfect because it meant that people who wanted a convertible with four seats (in other words, your wife’s mother) didn’t need to buy a performance car like a Mustang or a Camaro. Instead, they could get a comfortable, reasonably attractive, well-priced Chrysler and cruise around all day visiting salons. While Chevrolet and Ford competed for discerning enthusiast buyers, Chrysler walked away with the “relaxed convertible” set whose low standards consisted primarily of: make sure the top goes up and down.

When the LeBaron died in 1995, Chrysler made a rare bold move and actually offered an all-new model. This time it was called the Sebring, making it the car most suited for actually visiting its namesake. (Close runner-up: Chevrolet Suburban.) The Sebring continued the LeBaron’s tradition by offering four usable seats, a cushy ride, a reasonable price and – most importantly – a top that went up and down. No, it still wasn’t a great car. But the ragtop Sebring sold in such high numbers that you had to wonder: “are there really this many mothers-in-law?”

Toyota Joins the Party

Toyota must’ve been wondering the very same thing. That’s because the 1999 model year heralded the debut of the Camry Solara, a two-door Camry with an available soft top that appealed to Sebring buyers with slightly higher standards. Once again, these sold in enormous numbers, a fact that Toyota commemorated by creating a second-generation model that actually was enormous. Seriously: at 192.5 inches, it was the exact same length as a Land Cruiser. Most of that bulk was in the rear, as Toyota wanted to include a place to store the top, trunk space, and – from the looks of it – a lighted indoor racquetball court.

For several years, Toyota and Chrysler went at it in the four-seat droptop market, with Chrysler earning the price-conscious bottom-feeders and Toyota snagging people who wanted a well-built convertible the size of a botanical garden.

But the rivalry only lasted a few years.

In 2008, Toyota announced it would be cancelling the Solara after the 2009 model year. And with the Sebring’s 2008 redesign, prices rose to stratospheric levels that the droptop’s build quality simply couldn’t justify. Today’s Chrysler 200 convertible starts at $28,000 with shipping, and it includes an interior that looks like this:

Ouch.

What Happened?

My question is: what the hell happened to the world of reasonably-priced four-seat convertibles? During the early 1990s, it wasn’t possible to cruise around in the summer and not see 40-year-old divorcees driving LeBarons. During the early 2000s, every single middle school had a teachers’ lot full of Sebring convertibles. And in the late 2000s, you couldn’t enter a parking garage without getting stuck behind a Solara owner hitting everything in close proximity while backing out of a parking spot.

Yes, the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro still exist. But both of those are rear-wheel drive sports cars with beefy styling and a high-performance image. That’s not quite suitable for the Sebring convertible set, who just wants to cruise around in top-down bliss without concern for performance, or acceleration, or anything, really. The Volkswagen Eos would be perfect, but its base price is more than $35,000. Truly. In fact, the “Eos Executive,” whatever that is, starts at $42,000. For a four-cylinder Volkswagen based on the Golf.

Interestingly, it seems like Honda and Nissan could enter this segment tomorrow and walk away with it. Both already offer two-door versions of their midsize sedans. Would it be so hard to chop off the roof, create a convertible, and price it around $25,000? Or maybe $27,000, if the interior has a little less cheap plastic than the Chrysler 200?

Apparently, it would be too hard – or Nissan and Honda think the market just doesn’t exist. That means today’s children will grow up with only one universal truth: the Lamborghini Aventador is really cool. See you in thirty years.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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144 Comments on “What Happened to the Four-Seat Convertible?...”


  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Sure, the VW Eos is big dollar. But the Beetle Convertible starts at $25k. Recent reviews say the back seat is more usable than the previous gen.

    $26k will get you a MINI convertible, but the back seat is barely usable.

    $28k doesn’t seem unreasonable for the Sebring/200. Heck, the average new car is north of $30k these days. Not that the Chrysler is a great car, but it seats 4, the top goes down, and it sells for less than the average new car.

    I fail to see an issue here.

    • 0 avatar
      MLS

      That, and I don’t find the 200′s interior plastics to look/feel appreciably “cheaper” than those in most of the midsize competition.

      • 0 avatar
        ezeolla

        I have to agree with this. I don’t see anything wrong with that interior.

        Even though it isn’t filled with touch screens and gazillions of buttons, it looks pretty nice to me. And if it is anything like my fiance’s ’12 Liberty, it probably feels more solid than most of the others in this price range.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I agree. The 200′s interior may be a bit dated because it’s using circa-2006 Chrysler Group components (like the sat-nav, switches and instrument cluster), but that’s no worse than GM’s full-sizers or Ford’s Expedition/Navigator. I don’t find the interior fit and finish to be subpar; it’s just that our standards have been raised tremendously in the last few years by Fusion, Optima, Accord, and even Chrysler Group’s own 300 and Charger twins. I would compare the Sebring’s interior to that of the Volkswagen Passat: not the most upscale, but it looks clean and gets the job done. Plus, it must have been kind of difficult to polish the turd that was the Sebring into something even remotely decent without reengineering it or creating a substantial price increase, and so I think Chrysler did pretty good with what they had.

          And whether or not the 200 is overpriced, it is the only midsized drophead that isn’t either a performance car or (priced like) a true luxury car, and that means that Chrysler is in a position to ask a little bit more for it than people might like.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “That, and I don’t find the 200′s interior plastics to look/feel appreciably “cheaper” that most of the midsize competition.”

        Not particularly when you consider the price point. Chrysler is just a convenient punching bag, even when the punch lines aren’t really true anymore.

        • 0 avatar

          The only decent Chrysler 200 interior is on the top-level models which, in convertible form, cost $34k or more. Base models still have some of the worst cabins in the business.

          • 0 avatar
            Thatkat09

            The only thing that changes in the limited models are a leather wrapped steering wheel and leather seats, everything else stays the same. The interior is fine, the only issue i have is the plastic steering wheel.

          • 0 avatar

            One key point is that the upscale models also have standard Uconnect, which gets rid of the awful pixellated base radio. Compared to what everyone else offers, Uconnect is actually quite nice. But on a 200 Convertible, it’s $30k+.

      • 0 avatar

        Look at the area around the gear lever! And you should feel the play that the steering wheel horn pad has. You can basically pull it about an inch forward or backward without issue.

        • 0 avatar
          MLS

          I’ve driven a rental 200 convertible before. I know what the plastics are like, and they’re not bad. Also, I don’t see how Chrysler’s “pixellated” display is any worse than the dimly lit, calculator-style LCDs that other OEMs deploy on low-end head units. If anything, the last-generation Uconnect system with the tiny touch screen is sub-par compared to both the competition and the newer system offered in the 300, Charger, Grand Cherokee, Ram, Durango, etc.

        • 0 avatar
          philadlj

          I’d also have to disagree. Even if you DON’T take into account what the last Sebring looked like in there, no trim level of the current 200 should elicit an “ouch,” and not every new car needs a huge touchscreen in the center of the dash.

        • 0 avatar
          Kevin

          I also have to disagree. Chrysler has come a long way since the 2007 rental-grade Fischer Price hard plastic interiors they had. Daimler did a lot to make Chrysler into a joke in the automotive market, and Cerberus didn’t help much; but Fiat has done a presentable job of making Chrysler’s designs (both inside and out) repsectable.

        • 0 avatar
          Compaq Deskpro

          Why does anyone care about interiors? I threw $60 junkyard leather seats and a Pioneer head unit in my Crown Vic and I feel like a million bucks.

    • 0 avatar
      Cubista

      I drove the previous gen VW Beetle convertible in the Dark Flint trim offered for the 2005 model year (it looked like Emperor Palpatine’s Vee-Dub), and I wouldn’t even go so far as to say the back seat in THAT car was unusable…we were able to keep our then-infant son’s car seat moored securely with my wife (who is 5’0″) sitting behind me while my teenaged daughter (who is probably about 5’7″) rode shotgun in front of her brother.

      Of course, that arrangement was good for local travel only…no way in hell we were getting any luggage in the trunk if we wanted to go anywhere at all that required a change of clothes.

      I drove a 1994 LeBaron convertible before that, and until the canopy seal gave way and the car flooded everytime it rained I had absolutely no complaints. Even when the motor on the top went (probably shorted out as a result of all the water), I was still able to raise and lower the top with minimal difficulty when I really wanted to. Amazingly I got $900.00 in trade from the Vee-Dub dealer for the Dark Flint Beetle and was able to continue sun worship for the next 6 1/2 years/90-plus thousand miles before giving up the ghost and buying the Cube.

    • 0 avatar
      Windy

      Four seat drop top! Heck, what about 4 door convertible cars.

      I have fond memories of my grandmother’s Lincoln Continental from 1961 where the rear doors even opened the wrong way( it was painted in black with a red interior) it not only looked great but as I was only 12 in early 61 when she bought it I got to ride in back a lot for she preferred the less wind blown front seat ( that I think is why she replaced it with the hardtop continental in 66) she never learned to drive and I think she felt a bit odd sitting next to her chauffeur as well. On reflection I think she humored me a bit by acceding to my requests to put the top down when ever the weather permitted but I sure loved it on drives of the back roads of New England sightseeing and perhaps getting an ice cream or a hot dog at a remote roadside stop.

      Are 4 door convertibles that hard to engineer that they for all practical purposes no longer exist?

    • 0 avatar
      patgolfneb

      When Chrysler decided to make it a hard top / soft top they killed it. The extra costs, design compromises, weight, etc were not reflected in more sales and resulted in a less attractive over priced vehicle.

      Eee

    • 0 avatar
      KindaFondaHonda

      In 1988 my parents ordered a Chrysler LeBaron Premium Turbo Convertible with every box checked, including the Infinity II Sound System with CD player (almost unheard of back then), the full computer monitoring system, and everything in between. The car cost $22,000 in 1988.

      It was Black with a black top. It had the snowflake alloy wheels and Eagle GT+4 tire/suspension pkg. The interior was taupe beige leather.

      The car was stunning.

      The LeBaron had some rubbery twist/cowl shake, and the 4 cyl. turbo sounded unrefined for such a beautiful car, but for it’s time it was quick, roomy for 4, and made ‘ya feel like a million bucks driving it. It really turned heads (especially with the top down, and at night with all the digital gauges and system readouts lit up like Times Square). The interior had that squared off dash, but the wood trim and beige color with the seats from the Daytona Shelby looked fantastic.

      It was actually quite a terrifically thought out ragtop. The trunk was decent sized, the top was a marvel with it being fully lined with a plush headliner that hid all the supports, hidden headlights with doors that slid underneath instead of popping up, awesome aluminum wheel design, and a power antenna that not only telescoped up and down, but was anodized black to match the black paint (hey I noticed the details!).

      Lest you think it was all rainbows and unicorns, my mom only had it 3 years. Why? Simple: build quality, reliability, and widespread dealer incompetence.

      The LeBaron was delivered to my parents with probably 20 body, trim, and mechanical defects. The list is long and sad: Said power antenna was defective, body panels woefully out of alignment, oil leaks, failed to stay running on first try when cold (even with MPFI), the top developed a spot that rubbed when lowered and got scary thin (and was destined to develop a big hole), water leaks from the glass back window surround into the top well behind the back seat, computer monitor buttons that began to fail to respond at all, console armrest trim that split apart, leather seat bolsters that lost their finish, and rear speakers that were a disaster (vibrated like the devil and made the system unusable most times). That’s just SOME of what I can remember.

      A beautiful car let down by build-quality only a Yugo owner could covet.

      Now, if a new Chrysler ragtop today is $30K nicely equipped, that is not much of an increase over what my parents paid some 25 years ago. Considering that in the garage at the time, my dad was driving a 1988 Honda Accord LXi Coupe that probably set him back $15-$17K. Today a top-line Accord Coupe would be in the $30K+ range easily. So to me, the 2013 Chrysler 200 is actually quite a bargain.

      Would I buy one? Not on your life. Chrysler hasn’t changed enough. But I’d rent one in a second. Cuz, despite the trauma and angst that LeBaron caused some 25 years ago to my family…

      I still love the GOOD memories of that 1988 LeBaron Convertible!

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    >> I, like all kids, had a Lamborghini Countach poster on my bedroom wall,

    Heh. Although I never had the poster on my wall, to me, the ultimate definition of “exotic supercar” will always be the Lamborghini Countach. Preferably in a loud red, yellow or blue, with a big tacky whale tail.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I was the kind of kid who had a poster of the first generation Oldsmobile Aurora on my dorm room wall. It was the one they handed out at the NAIAS back when the car debuted and yes I attended in person. It hung in a place of honor right next to the Pet of the Month.

      • 0 avatar

        Dan: I actually have a 1:24 scale model of an Oldsmobile Aurora on a nearby end table. It sits right next to a 1:24 Dodge Stratus and first-gen Ford Taurus. You are not alone.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          You know, it was always hard to find the mediocre model 1:24 or 1:18 cars. After I had 3 different colored Countaches and every other exotic, I set out to collect the average cars.

          In the model car world, the mundane are the exotics.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Don’t forget the first gen Transformers in the ’80s used the Countach for a few Autobots. That actually had a big effect on a lot of kids.

    • 0 avatar
      JD23

      I was born in the early 80s and I actually did have a Countach poster on my wall from around 2nd grade into high school.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      My son had car posters on his bedroom wall back in the day but his favorite poster was the famous Farrah Fawcett poster mounted right next to his bed.

  • avatar
    daviel

    We had a Red Lebaron – pretty good car. Turbo 4 cylinder. Expensive rear window motors. Headlight retractors expensive to fix. We even got a new top for it. I got a $400.00 ticket in that car (work zone, alas).

  • avatar
    carguy

    It’s a small niche market but the R&D costs are considerable in order to avoid body flex and pass safety requirements.

  • avatar
    LeadHead

    Have you actually ever even sat in a 200? It’s interior is not just cheap plastic.

    • 0 avatar

      I assume you’ve sat in one at an auto show! The base-level cars (the ones that cost $28k in convertible form) have basically the interior shown above. It’s awful.

      The upscale models DO have a nice interior – but they cost $35k. Which is mad money for that car.

      Of course, after Chrysler incentives…

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        I’m coming to Doug’s defense on this one, and not because he gave me post of the day kudos in one of his recent stories. ;-)

        I had a 200 as a rental (not a convertible) and I found the car “acceptable.” It was competent, comfortable, relatively efficient and had the right boxes checked off – for a rental. But the interior was definitely low, low, LOW rent.

        Is the interior horrible? No. And I think that is getting lost in translation. Does the interior stand up to it’s midsize competition. Not even close. It is definitely in last place in the segment.

        But I think what people are missing is, last place in the segment is really a “bad” thing today. If you are looking to buy a car in the B, C or D segments, or a compact or midsize SUV – there are no dogs. There are no “bad” choices. Yes the Corolla in the C segment is woefully outdated – but it isn’t a “bad” car. Yes the Malibu took a step backwards and has no backseat leg room, but again, it isn’t a “bad” car. Yes, the ILX is the Cadillac Cimmaron of Honda, but again, on its own merits, it isn’t a “bad” car. The Chrysler 200 isn’t a “bad” car on its own. But it definitely doesn’t measure up to its competition.

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        You keep saying that, but the interiors are identical save for the radio, leather steering wheel, leather seats, and some blank buttons.

        • 0 avatar

          …and the stuff that WASN’T changed just stayed bad. The signal stalks, those awful green backlit odometer and gear gauges…

          Anyway: we can agree to disagree. Regardless of your view on the 200, the point of the story was the fallout of the four-seat convertible, NOT the 200′s interior. These are just the tangled webs that unravel in the TTAC comments section!

  • avatar
    Speed3

    Enter the Opel Cascada, er I mean Buick Velite?

  • avatar
    Dan

    Safety happened to the big convertible. Keeping an open tub long enough to hold two real rows of seats intact in a crash takes about 400 pounds of body reinforcement.

    The Chrysler 200 weighs 4,000 lbs empty.

    So does the 335 convertible.

    Even the dinky little Eos, which is a Jetta underneath only shorter comes in at 3,600.

    For comparison the enormous Solara was 3,500 and change. The still pretty big prior generation was 3,300 and change.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    Here we go again, dumping on the Chrysler Sebring/200. I guess the 4 seat convertible has moved up market to BMW/Mercedes/Porsche territory. Well, Porsche if your rear seat passengers starred as Munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz”.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    Why are you dissing the Monaco? You don’t like 440 powered American iron?

    EDIT: Nevermind, I just found out that Chrysler rebadged a Renault in the 90′s and called it a Monaco.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! I suppose I should clarify. I was referring to the ’90-’92 Monaco. Remember that thing? Eagle Premier twin?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I rented a Renault Monaco for a few weeks in college. It was actually pretty decent to drive and ride in for a big FWD American car of the time. I don’t think owners were happy with reliability or support from Chrysler, but the one I drove didn’t break while I had it. It replaced a rental Tercel that developed a transmission or halfshaft issue after a few days of abuse. Then they gave me a Camry that left the lot with many warning lights glowing. They were going to give me a Beretta next, but then asked me which of their remaining cars I wanted. The Monaco was a strangely obvious choice. The minor controls were very French and pivoted up and down with the tilt steering column. Other than that, most of the weirdness had been ironed out.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        I can’t fault anyone for not remembering the last Dodge Monaco. I can’t recall ever seeing one in the wild.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          You’re referring to the four door Dodge Monaco, the Eagle rebadge?

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            That’s right, the forerunners to what whould become the Chrysler LH cars.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            In 2002 when I worked in golf, there was a gentleman who at one time owned a Dodge dealer and had a fire engine red/black cloth 1990 Dodge Monaco, he loved that thing. It was very classy looking for Dodge of the period (considering K-cars were still around)

  • avatar
    Coley

    Funny reference to the teachers’ parking lot. I knew only two people who drove Chrysler Lebarrons: my third-grade math teacher, and George Costanza (but his was once owned by John Voight).

  • avatar
    JSF22

    Doug, you were born too late. I had a 911 poster up on my wall, and if you wanted a four (or more) seat convertible, you went down to the Chevy dealer and chose between the extremely cool Impala or the even cooler Malibu. My unbelievably cute sixth grade teacher Miss Jenkinson had a ’63 Impala SS convertible, silver blue with a matching interior and a white soft top. The more advanced boys in the class wanted to screw her. All I wanted was her car. But, as Dan says above, everybody stopped developing convertibles when they thought the safety laws would outlaw them, and low sales potential, plus side impact and rollover standards, made it prohibitive for most companies to bring them back. Only a small part of what has gone wrong in America, of course, but not insignificant.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    With ragtops in general it is best to let someone else take the initial hit and buy used, your choices get way better for a 4 seat vert, A4, 3 series or my favorite a Saab 9-3, I just bought one for a summer car, my third Saab so I know what I am in for, would have loved a miata but needed to put the kids in the back from time to time so no 2 seater, Saabs sit 4 are safe can get a 5 speed and are decent on gas, and they are cheap compared the Audi and BMW . If I had to I would have no issues driving my 05 9-3 vert as a everyday car.

  • avatar
    jco

    “Interestingly, it seems like Honda and Nissan could enter this segment tomorrow and walk away with it. Both already offer two-door versions of their midsize sedans. Would it be so hard to chop off the roof, create a convertible, and price it around $25,000? Or maybe $27,000, if the interior has a little less cheap plastic than the Chrysler 200?”

    well, apparently Nissan would rather chop the top off their midsize crossover and charge $41,000 for it.

    Pontiac did sell a convertible G6.

    but if you actually want something that’s not embarrassing with 4 seats and a convertible top, it’s probably best to buy a certified 3-series, A4, Volvo, or C-class. just don’t keep it past the certified warranty expiration.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Wifey and I have a history of owning convertibles. My first was a 1964 Impala SS I owned in the air force from 1970-1973. Wifey once owned a 1964 Impala convertible, too. Same color, too, Goldwood Yellow, but not an SS. She drove a 1970 Mustang convertible when we met.

    We bought a 1992 LeBaron convertible in 1999. Red – of course! It had a charcoal interior with white seats, accents on the door panels, and a brand new, black top. A very nice car, but the engine let go in 2007. We loved that car, as it was so comfortable.

    Our next was a 1992 Wrangler, same color red we bought in 2008. Sold it in 2010.

    Our last was a 2007 gray MX5 bought in 2010, sold to a neighbor last summer.

    We considered an EOS, but watching the top operate gave me nightmares…no deal!

    Nothing else on the market floated our boat, so we bought our 2012 Impala LTZ instead. For my 100-mile-a-day commute, the comfort I enjoy proves we made the right choice.

    No more toys for the foreseeable future, as our 2002 CR-V is showing serious signs of age, and wifey wants another one when the Imp is paid off – IF I’m still working…

    I’d have to say a Chrysler 200 is one’s best bet for the purpose intended if I had to choose.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I think all those older women have somehow come into some money and they all buy Volvo C70s.

    Let’s not forget the other convertible options from the LeBaron era.
    The Chevy Cavalier convertible came out in 1983 and soon after followed the tropical rental car mainstay Pontiac Sunbird convertible (later Sunfire). They were around for nearly 20 years and even outlived the LeBaron by 5 glorious wobbly J-body years.

    • 0 avatar
      bills79jeep

      The cowl shake from even moderately rough roads is just horrendous in the C70 (at least the 1st gen). However, you must be right that the owners came into some money, and I bet they spend it too, just to keep them on the road. There is no excuse for a vehicle made in the 21st Century to eat through components like that car did. I bet the Sebring wasn’t blowing out every rubber suspension bushing at 50k. Ditto for the trans, hard and irregular shifting after 70k. If written on toilet paper, the list of electrical issues I chased would wipe ass from sun up to sun down.

      Thank god my girlfriend dumped that thing for a Cruze.

  • avatar

    I think the new S-Class will have the bomb.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    It may have been a God awful car Doug, but on your 2000′s list of true 4 seat non-performance convertibles you did leave off the Pontiac G6 hardtop convertible. It could seat four and not require the rear passengers to be amputees, it had Solara-ish looks, and I see it on the bottom of the quality used car lists on many sites today. Interior and performance wise it was no worse than the Sebring.

    This is not in defense at all of the unacceptable steaming pile that the G6 convertible was – but just saying there was another true 4 seat squishy convertible choice.

    And with that said, although the G6 was uncompetitive (convertible or not) and was still afflicted with ridiculous spoilers and styling in some trims, it was LIGHT YEARS better and more reliable (convertible and its Rube-Goldberg power roof aside) than the steaming pile know as the Grand Am that it replaced.

    • 0 avatar

      True. But, of course, the G6 is also gone now. I actually never did mind its convertible variant.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        My favorite of that ilk, was the grotesque G6 GTP/GXP. Somehow, someone at Pontiac always thought that the top-of-the-line of their marks (Trans Am, Bonneville, Grand Am, Sunfire, G6) needed to mimic the BatMobile in styling.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Unless they can get the roofs as sleek and unobtrusive as those of the Mercedes-Benz SL and Lexus SC 430, I *really* dislike hard-top dropheads like the G6. I much prefer the cloth-top look, especially on British dropheads like the Jaguar XK, Aston-Martin Rapide and (defunct) Bentley Azure…

  • avatar
    joberg73

    “Or maybe $27,000, if the interior has a little less cheap plastic than the Chrysler 200?”

    Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that anything will have less cheap plastic than the Chrysler 200?

  • avatar
    daiheadjai

    FR-S/GT-86 convertible beckons on the horizon….
    Although it’s still a concept, it also looks practically production-ready.

    At least, assuming you consider a nominal 2+2 to be a 4-seater…

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Nominal? The car has a nominal backseat as it is now, as a convertible it will be little more than a parcel shelf that just happens to have seatbelts to keep the insurance companies happy.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      You should see the seats in the Jaguar XK (coupe and drophead). Unless you like having your knees in your chest, those rear seats are a complete joke. The ones in the Mustang and Camaro really aren’t much better.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    You forgot about the other popular 4 seat convertible of that era- the VW Rabbit convertible (or cabriolet in later years) I’ve owned both the LeBaron convertible and the Rabbit convertible. The Rabbit had a slightly more comfortable back seat. The Chrysler’s back seat was a little too small and upright. The Rabbit also had a 2 layered insulated top, vs the single layer top for the Chrysler. The power top on the Chrysler does come in handy though.

    • 0 avatar
      JSF22

      You are exactly right. To this day my wife’s favorite car ever was a triple white VW Cabriolet, and it actually would accommodate four reasonably sized people. Of course, they couldn’t bring any bags and the car wouldn’t accelerate, but they would be seated. I have never driven any other car where the steering wheel moved quite visibly side-to-side even on relatively smooth roads. A real lesson in how warmly someone can feel toward a truly horrid car.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Uh…our 1992 LeBaron had a double top, whether insulated, I don’t know. No bars visible on the inside. It was a very nice top and really kept the noise level down.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        And a glass rear window?

        • 0 avatar
          Zackman

          Yes, defroster-equipped, too – and it worked well!

          For the record, the back window mechanisms broke, as they did, but I kit-bashed them from odds and ends in the toolbox, fixed them, and they never failed again.

          It was a stunningly beautiful car, but we decided after 8.5 years, spending the bucks for a new engine just didn’t make sense. Sold it to our mechanic for &500. If this were “Curbside Classic”, I’d post a photo.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I saw two Solara convertibles at a stoplight with a convertible 6-series BMW of the E64 variety the other day. The similarity was uncanny.

  • avatar
    xantia10000

    Awesome and funny as always, Doug. You brought up a great topic: cars that are totally far from their namesake. Could you do a piece on that? I’m thinking Chevy Corsica, Chrysler Cordoba, Honda Legend, Dodge Spirit, Mitsubishi Carisma, etc. Could be amusing!

  • avatar
    Mazda Monkey

    I can’t think about the LeBaron without thinking of this piece of cinematic mastery:

    Where is your LeBaron Freddy? Where is your LeBaron!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wzzC-6T0Mk

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “…the Dodge Monaco, which is probably the car least suited for actually visiting its namesake. (Close runner-up: Pontiac Parisienne.)”

    Add the Dodge Aspen and Pontiac LeMans (of ’80s fame). Actually, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo has never really lived up to the glitzy playboy city of its name either.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    A neighbor’s wife had a mid-life crisis upon turning 50. She now has a Lexus IS250 convertible. Except for the trunk space with the top down, she seems very happy.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “Interestingly, it seems like Honda and Nissan could enter this segment tomorrow and walk away with it.”

    Be very, VERY careful with that query, Doug. Nissan has already graced our presence with the putrescent Murano CrossCabriolet. Let’s not get crazy with the cheeze-whiz having a Juke CrossDresser or Leaf CrossBlower on the market.

  • avatar

    @Doug,

    How popular for the Saab 9-3 convertibles in the USA? I know they were lapped up in the UK. The UK brought more of them than the rest of Europe combined.

    • 0 avatar

      Popular, but expensive. And these days, a used one is kind of a sketchy bet, what with the demise of Saab.

      Answer me this: WHY are convertibles so popular in the UK? It’s always raining there!!

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Same as in New England – they really let you enjoy those rare nice days. It’s too damned hot for convertibles in the South, but there is nothing finer than top down on a New England Fall day with the heat cranked and the seat warmers on…

      • 0 avatar
        spreadsheet monkey

        Convertibles are popular in the UK because we get so little sunshine, we like to maximise the impact of it when it arrives. Four seat folding metal roof convertibles are big here – Renault Megane, Peugeot 307, Ford Focus, Opel Astra/Cascada, VW Eos, in addition to the premium Audi/BMW/Merc offerings. All with stick shift and diesel engine, obviously.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      All over the place in New England, just like the previous three generations of Saab convertibles. I owned a ’92 900 Turbo convertible for a number of years, great car. Good friend bought it. I replaced it with an Alfa Spider as I never used the back seats.

  • avatar
    patgolfneb

    The decision to sell it as a hardtop / soft top killed it. The extra, weight, complexity, clunky design, resulted in an over priced and less attractive vehicle. If they had kept it soft top only, I think most people want you to know they are driving a convertible, the lower price would have been worth more than any additional hard top sales.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I have a strong feeling that GM will bring the Opel Cascada here to the U.S.–perhaps,as the Buick Riviera–but it won’t be as roomy as a Camry Solara or the older Sebrings, and the price won’t be so reasonable.

    To answer your question, I think that relaxed, FWD, spacious convertibles kind of went out with midsized coupes. A lot of that is because cars these days are strongly caricaturized and exaggerated, pushing more-modest cars and segments out of the picture. If it’s a truck, it has to be big and have an enormous grille. If it’s a compact car, it has to have all sorts of creases and swoops thrown into it so that it’ll definitely appeal to the youth. And if it’s a convertible, it’s got to be some kind of muscle car or luxury car, with looks (and a lack of space) to match.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Four-door convertible… would a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited count? I haven’t driven one, but I was surprised to see on the Jeep website that they start under $26k. I haven’t driven a Wrangler since about 1991 but if memory serves, the ride and top raising and lowering procedures wouldn’t satisfy your mother-in-law.

    I happened to be thinking about this the other day. I have a 1994 Mercedes E320 Cabriolet which I bought about 5 years ago. This car cost about $86k when new but these days, a good driver can be had for about $8k – $12k with some ultra-clean low mileage examples selling north of $20k. My car is more of a very nice driver with about 110k miles on it but it still doesn’t rattle and the interior still looks like new. I do live in fear that the power top mechanism may fail someday, but for now it’s living up to the mythical 124 series reputation for build quality. I was thinking the other day of selling it but couldn’t think of a recent model convertible I would like more that would be comfortable for long trips and roomy enough to carry my two kids and my wife. Her wheelchair even fits in the trunk.

  • avatar
    MK

    Scanned the replies quickly and no one seems to have mentioned it…..the reason is because 4 seat convertibles SUCK. (Especially if your older than 5 and have to ride in the back seat). Seriously they’re worthless.

    Nobody in their right mind would volunteer to ride in the back seat of ANY of those cars if they wer driven over 40mph.

    Wind buffeting is farkin’ horrendous, your kids wont even ride there when theyre at your house for visitation, so why be a lame-ass and get a 4 seat convertible? Just buy the 2 dr spyder/cabrio and be happy.

    Case closed.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I think for a convertible, something like a TT, Z4 or SLK is best. The roadster w/folding hard top is the best set up. No one regularly carries 4 passengers in a convertible (defeats the point of having one). The folding hard top is much better than the soft-top anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      I think so, too. You have to hate your in-laws very much to offer them a ride on the backseats of a 4-seater convertible, even when restricted to cruising speeds. I actually can’t remember to have seen a 4-seater convertible manned with more than 2.

      “Something like a TT, Z4 or SLK is best”, of course, as they are moderately lean and mean and you can drive a lot of miles alone until one of your family members decides to go with you. Very relaxing…

      Back in 97 I drove a Sebring convertible as a a rental for a week and enjoyed it. But I was alone, there were no other convertibles to rent and the sun was shining. The brake fading was scary, however, and the interior was cheap. No need to own it, I’ve concluded then and nothing seems to have changed in the meantime.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    You’d think So Fl would be ideal for a rag top but vandalism is rampant, mostly from either those who try to steal radios or those who do it just for spite, cause they want one and can’t afford it.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      The other problem in So FL – its too hot 8 months out of the year. Most people would keep the top up and the A/C cranked to MAX. Unless they were cruising A1A… at night.

  • avatar
    Reino

    The peak of the “comfort convertible” was the big boats of the 70′s, and there is something deeply nostalgic about them in movies. Three of my favorite clips below, can anyone identify these great cars?

    Dr. Dre video ‘Nothing but a G Thang’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gK1e2TCFAA

    ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmvFNR_6CZU

    ‘Swingers’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlEXOzC6vqE

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      This! My Friend’s dad had a pile of crap 70 Galaxie 500 XL convertible growing up with a 429 and I can’t think of a car that I have fonder memories of.

  • avatar
    stuki

    In progressive bailoutopia, the ideal is that one are either amongst the bailed out classes, driving one of ones gaggle of expensive Euro cars to demonstrate ones sophisticated tastes; or one should shut up and be happy that those bailed out guys have seen to it that one can afford to drive an econobox; or provided one with bus tickets.

    Less and less room for anything but minimalistic penalty boxes for the sub BMW set.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      What does “progressivism” (however you’re defining it, because there are various definitions) have to do with bailouts? I don’t think you could characterize any of the bankster-types being bailed out as being progressives in the typical definition.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        They certainly weren’t market based, nor were they the act of a government with acknowledged limitations. They were justified with the usual safety net mumbo-jumbo, and Obama pressed banks that were solvent into participation so the government would have leverage over them. Pretty progressive. Bush is a progressive too, before you try playing your card.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          Obama has very little to do with bank bailouts that happened almost exclusively before he was president, so I’m not sure why his name even comes into this.

          I still don’t understand how the bailouts are “progressive” — that’s a bizarre characterization. Lots of people have continually been against the bailouts on any part of the political spectrum.

          I think the constant desire by some people to label things goes overboard with stupidity sometimes — “progressive” “conservative” “liberal” “tea party” = anything I hate. Labeling generally results in a lazy and unintelligent (and often unintelligible) argument. That’s why you see lots of poorly written arguments on TTAC written by people who don’t understand what “socialist” means. If instead, they supported their arguments with facts and logic, they would be considerably stronger.

          If anything it’s corporate welfare or moral hazard or something else, and has nothing to do with any plausible definition of progressivism. Banksters are not progressives — they are not likely tea partiers either (hence the old joke about the CEO, the tea partier, and the union guy splitting a dozen cookies).

          For that matter, liberal and conservative in their traditional definitions don’t mean what most people think they mean either — what we think of as “liberal” vs. “conservative” is a ridiculous Nixonian artifact.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            “If anything it’s corporate welfare or moral hazard or something else, and has nothing to do with any plausible definition of progressivism. Banksters are not progressives —”

            Some ‘bankster’s are progressives. Progressivism is the belief that returning the middle class to serfdom can be achieved through the gradual erosion of rights and morals.

          • 0 avatar
            CamryStang

            Way to perfectly illustrate Corntrollio’s point about labelling, CJ.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Progressivism is the belief that activist government can be used for good ends. Hence alcohol and drug prohibition, the war on anything fro poverty to drugs to terrorism, wealth redistribution; and active intervention in private markets, which is what bailouts, bankster friendly subsidized interest rates, too-big-to-fail nonsense etc., etc. is but a part of.

        Absent progressivism, there would be no excuse for any branch of government to be large, powerful and well funded enough to have the slightest hope of neither drone bombing Pakistani children nor backstopping the bonus payouts at Goldman Sachs. Nor most of the other nonsense government has been doing since it started being taken over by ambitious progressives, i the aftermath of the war between the states.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          That specific example is BS though. Any true progressive (and I’m glad you realize what era we’re talking about) would not have wanted to bail out a bankster. You’d have to be on some awesome drugs that you really need to share if you think progressivism stands for corporate welfare.

          Using the word “activist” is a canard and yet another label (see above). Social conservatives would LOVE to have government regulate certain moral issues, and that’s “activist” too. Yet social conservatives are usually the first ones to complain about so-called “activist judges.”

          Activist just means “stuff I disagree with” and is another form of labeling leading to lazy and unpersuasive arguments.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Oh for crying out loud…Learn to wrench on your own junk and buy used. I hate boring cars too so I wrench. I’ve driven BMW’s, Benzes, and currently am enjoying a Land Cruiser. Sure I spend some time under the hood or on other projects, but I actually enjoy my ride.

      And funny enough, wasn’t the “K” car that spawned the Lebaron the product of a bailout?

  • avatar
    gpolak

    In the words of Jeremy Clarkson: “Anyone who sits in the back of a four-seater convertible looks like Hitler.”

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Yeah, Cali is the perfect place for a rag top, as long as you avoid the smoggy areas.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I think you kind of answered your own question. Four seat convertibles are expensive now. People resisted paying so much for low rent product like the Sebring. People who can afford such price, often can swing a little more, and get the genuinely luxury brands instead, like BMW’s 3-series and such. Chrysler’s problem is their failure to hold down prices, or improve their product enough to warrant their now premium prices.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    GM and Ford’s last interest in this segment seemed to be in 2002 when the Chevy Bel Air and Marauder convertible concepts were shown. The former was GM’s answer to the Thunderbird, but when Thunderbird sales tanked not long after introduction (at first mostly due to wild dealer gouging, then it was quickly discovered that the last 2-seat T-bird just wasn’t very good at much of anything), GM decided to build the ill-fated SSR instead. Lutz’ decision on that one wasn’t exactly inspired.

    Likewise, the Marauder convertible would have been Mercury’s T-bird. But when sales of the regular Marauder (as well as the T-bird, too) ended up being a far cry from the hoped for sales figures, any notion of Marauder convertible production was unceremoniously dropped, as well.

    It’s a pity because both the Bel Air and Marauder convertible were good looking cars and it would have been interesting to see if there would have been enough interest to rekindle the interest in the big, American convertible with a usable backseat.

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      The T-Bird reprise was a total flop. Built on the LS/Jag/Mustang shared platform, it was not good at anything, even nostalgia.

      The problem w/ the Sebring and Mustang and Solara is that they are not sleek, the sides, like the Fusion, are too high and ungainly. Bathtub comes to mind. The old Sebring was relatively sleek, the new, not.

      Convertibles were sold as mistresses. Todays’ are total frumps compared to their heyday. The Eos is just about the worst of the lot.

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        That’s a good point on the high beltlines that seem to ‘de rigueur’ on everything these days. I’ve often wondered if it’s simply a styling trend or if there’s an actual, legitimate engineering reason for it. I suspect the latter, as the higher beltlines may be some sort of way to increase overall structural rigidity while decreasing the amount of metal in the chassis.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          From what I gather, pedestrian protection drives higher hoods, hence beltlines in Europe, and better interfacing with jacked up cars/suvs/trucks in a collision (as in, a steel beam provides better protection from an intruding truck bumper than a glass sheet) does so in the US.

          In all cases, a higher hood/beltline, and narrover greenhouse, makes it easier to keep the cabin free of wind noise.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I’ll have to disagree with you on two points Doug. First, I’ll join the others in saying that I don’t think the 200 is unbecoming at it’s price point. I haven’t found the interior to be that offensive, and it’s certainly not worse than average. If anything I’d rank it above average. The worst part are the shapes and parts that are structural to the Sebring that they couldn’t do anything about without redesigning the car.

    Also, the Sebring is most definitely not the car most suited to visiting it’s namesake. You really want to take one of those on Sebring International Raceway? One thing I’ve never forgiven Chrysler for is sullying the name of such an American motorsports icon by attaching it to such a mediocre and non performance oriented car.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, based on the crowd at Sebring Raceway, a Sebring is probably a little TOO upscale. But I was more referring to Sebring the town, whose prime attraction is a lake and the house where some novelist committed suicide. (No, not Ernest Hemingway, who wouldn’t be caught dead in Sebring, though he WOULD be caught dead in Idaho. Too soon?)

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        This is hilarious because I live in Highlands county and work in Sebring.

        We’re not trying to be Vegas or anything.

        Plus, in our defense, most of the crazies at the track aren’t locals. Our population is pretty much very old retired folks and poor meth heads that can’t afford to go to a race.

        It’s not like Zolfo Springs or Frostproof have anything going for them either. What’s Polk county’s claim to fame? A grocery store and sink holes?

  • avatar
    Maymar

    In 1990, a base LeBaron convertible cost about $15,825. Taking inflation into account, that comes in around $27,500 or so. A new 200 Convertible starts at $27,100. It’s not really a price issue, is it?

    I’d moreso think that fewer people are buying two-door cars in general, whether they had two or four seats, and with or without a roof. On the other hand, the crossoverication of the market may well mean the Murano soft top is a sign of things to come (that, and the relative success of the Wrangler Unlimited).

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Touch screens are stupid. A desperate ploy to attract the youth market, who doesn’t seem very interested in cars, anyway.

  • avatar
    needsdecaf

    Doug: Of course Nissan thinks the big 4 seat droptop market exists. Why else would have created the Murano Convertible?

    • 0 avatar
      musiccitymafia

      Murano CrossCabriolet
      • 265 hp 3.5-liter V6
      • 17/22 city/hwy mpg [*]
      • Seating for 4
      Power convertible soft-top
      Intuitive All-Wheel Drive (AWD)
      Four full-sized adult seating capacity
      Auto-adjusting audio for convertible top up or down
      Dual pop-up roll bars

  • avatar
    gottacook

    In one way I wish it were still 1967 (when my parents’ friend was a Pontiac sales manager) – and that is the sheer variety of convertibles with proper rear seats. In 1967 Pontiac alone offered Grand Prix, Bonneville, 2+2, Ventura, Catalina, GTO, LeMans, Tempest Custom, and Firebird convertibles, representing three different bodies on four different wheelbases – although even in the 124-inch-wheelbase Bonneville there wasn’t much rear legroom.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Wait a minute, did you write this because you want a 200 convertible, but you think it’s too pricey or do you want a better vehicle for less money? I just went to Chrysler’s sire and did a build on this 200 convertible.It comes standard with most of the normal options. Additional options are few, but I did opt for the Uconnect 430 communications center which is really a small lap-top built into the dash.

    Total LIST price came to 27,795.00 Right now, according to the site, Chrysler is offering 1000.00 cash back on the convert which brings the LIST price down to 26,795.00 and that’s before any negotiating… I’ll bet you could get that 200 convert for under 25K. That’s tough to beat.

    • 0 avatar

      Fair point. It’d be nice to have the V6, though, now that I know the damn thing weighs 4,000 pounds.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        I agree, although I did have one as a rental with the 4 and was surprised at how well it moved the 200 around, but the v6 would just make it a better car… Use the 6 as your negotiating tool

    • 0 avatar
      vcficus

      Buy it while you can… development costs have killed the next 200 convertible; the 2015 Chrysler UF is a 4 door only. I can tell you as a supplier that the extra safety, structure and sealing requirements of the car add 3 to 5 grand to a 4 door convertible. 2 doors are a little cheaper as the bodyshell has more structure.

  • avatar
    2012JKU

    Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. It is the only 4 door, 4wd, BOF convertible available. I will agree raising/lowering the top isnt the easiest but there is nothing else like it. Get the hard top for winter and you have the best of both worlds.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Audi A5, it is by far the best looking boulevard cruiser convertible and although a little spendy certainly worth the premium over a well-optioned 200.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    A buddy’s well-to-do father bought the precursor to the 200/Le Baron convertible, the very first Big Three convertible after the end of the El Dorado convertible . IIRC it was in 1979 or 1980 , and a surprisingly big deal at the time for a not-so- glorified K-car, which impressed the friend and I as much as the grey market Mercedes sedan his father bought at the same time . I believe it may have only been a two -seater ,remember taking it out on some late summer nite run when his parents were vacationing but even tho the buddy kept lighting up and we were both pretty lit I recall thinking what a cheesy dash it had and the top looked very flimsy and no better than any of the independently done convertible conversions of the era and the windshield seemed quite shaky . I seem to remember some girls in a Maverick pointing at the car and laughing at us .The Mark Cross leather interior , on the other hand , seemed quite luxurious to me but at the time I wished we had taken the Mercedes instead .

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    The Audi A5 is a nice convertible. The big problem though is with the extra 500lbs a convertible ADDS you want to go up to the S5 convertible and they we are talking crazy cheddar..

    Its a niche market is america though. Total convertible sales are around 1%. The only state where they sell decently is Hawaii at 3.5%.

    I know all this because car and driver just did a special on convertibles. They have one really well written article about the need for convertibles. It’s hilarious.

    BTW whats with the constant Japan love on this site..

    “Interestingly, it seems like Honda and Nissan could enter this segment tomorrow and walk away with it. Both already offer two-door versions of their midsize sedans. Would it be so hard to chop off the roof, create a convertible, and price it around $25,000? Or maybe $27,000, if the interior has a little less cheap plastic than the Chrysler 200?”

    The Japanese aren’t really interested in spending millions of dollars to go after a tiny segement. And Nissan tried with the Murano – they didn’t walk away with a whole lot cept a bunch of worst car jokes..

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    There’s a new VW Golf convertible in the pipeline allegedly. I would expect it to be priced right around the Sebring.

    Down south here, a convertible is great about August -> April, and then nighttime only during the summer.

    I looked very closely at the Solara towards the end of its run…I thought the design was fascinating and well done. What crossed it off my list was automatic only (and chassis flex).

    If you turn a wrench, rolling the dice on a Saab is a cheap proposal. My Aero drives like it’s on rails…


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