I think my colleagues would agree that we, as automotive journalists, do not devote enough attention to the burgeoning convertible SUV segment. This is partially my fault. I stood idly by when the segment doubled in size with the 2011 arrival of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. And again, I’ve hardly batted an eyelash at reports of yet another entrant: the Range Rover Evoque convertible.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to provide a highly useful convertible SUV buyers guide, which you can use later, once the inevitable craze hits, to determine which model is right for you. Here it is:
1. Jeep Wrangler: This is apparently a convertible, although you’d never know it from the number of rich people who drive around in four-door Unlimited models and never take off their body-colored plastic tops, which are manufactured from the same material as their body-colored plastic noses. Although the Wrangler was completely redesigned for the 2007 model year, absolutely nobody believes me when I explain this, preferring instead to think of it as “unchanged since about 1985.” The Wrangler accounts for 100 percent of convertible SUV sales.
2. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet: This is the market’s other convertible SUV, though I use the term “SUV” loosely. I do not, however, use the term “convertible” loosely, because the Murano CrossCabriolet is absolutely a convertible, a point that’s made clear from the yards of canvas that line its roof without regards to petty things such as outward visibility. The Murano accounts for 100 percent of convertible SUV satire.
So there you have it, folks: a highly comprehensive convertible SUV buyer’s guide. I strongly suggest that you store it in a safe place in case an in-law comes to you this holiday season and says: “I really love my SUV. I only wish it had two doors, no roof, and dangerous structural rigidity. Do you have any recommendations?” Then you will say “YES!” and rush to find my buyer’s guide, only to discover it’s not really all that helpful.
Of course, the truth is that an in-law is unlikely to ask you for convertible SUV advice. That’s because convertible SUVs have been, in large part, utter failures. I am thinking now of the Isuzu Amigo, the Kia Sportage, the Toyota RAV4, and, of course, the Ford Bronco, which was not technically a convertible SUV but became one in nearly all high-speed collisions.
OK, so maybe the Bronco wasn’t a failure. I mean, it certainly worked for OJ. But there’s absolutely no doubt that the rest of those models were.
Or were they?
I’ve been thinking recently about how we, as auto enthusiasts, use the term “failure.” I, personally, use it to describe any vehicle that doesn’t sell very well, such as the Isuzu VehiCROSS, or that new Subaru hatchback they’ve painted to resemble a traffic cone. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I may be using the term all wrong.
Take, for instance, the Lincoln Blackwood, which was the subject of some derision in one of my articles a few weeks ago for failing just as the luxury truck market was taking off. For those who don’t know, here’s how Ford created the Blackwood:
1. Take a Crew Cab F-150. (They have these just lying around.)
2. Change the wheels.
3. Change a few panels.
4. Place that bizarre bed cover on the back.
5. Change the horn pad.
By my calculations, an automaker can complete these steps with five hundred bucks and three hours of union labor, which works out to a total cost of around nine grand. Add that to the cost of the F-150, and you’re looking at a figure that rivals the average incentive spend for each Murano CrossCabriolet sold. But here’s the thing: the Blackwood sold for more than $52,000!
My point here is that I have trouble believing, even once you factor in marketing – of which there was virtually none – that the Blackwood could be a failure. Every one of these trucks was pure profit for Ford, while every one of their mediocre navigation systems was pure misery for Blackwood owners.
You could apply this same argument to several other vehicles we all consider to be failures. The Ford Excursion, for example, lasted for just six model years, all of which Ford spent defending attacks that would not have been any worse if Ford had come out with a vehicle that actually steals human organs in the night. The Excursion had a similar formula as the Blackwood, namely: take a Super Duty truck, slap a new body on it, throw some seats in, and boom! Average transaction price above $40,000.
So I’m wondering if maybe we’ve been to harsh on certain vehicles previously believed to be failures. Maybe some cars really do make automakers money, even if they fail to find mass-market appeal. Except, of course, for the Range Rover Evoque convertible. That thing won’t make money for anybody. But I sure am excited to have one as a service loaner when my Range Rover breaks down.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of 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.