By on December 3, 2013


TTAC Commentator furhead writes:


A while back I had written in with a question about which is the best wagon to get. The advice was great, but I didn’t follow any of it. We ended up with a 2005 Camry SE simply because it was too good of a deal to walk away from. The car is fine…and I guess that is the problem. That is all it is: fine. Except for the seats, they suck. The front seats are by far the worst seats that I have ever had to travel in. Any ride longer than 1 hour requires a bottle of Advil nearby in order to make it through.

So now, after living with two children for some time now, my wife and I have a better idea of what we need and don’t need, and we are coming to the realization that we don’t need a car that neither one of us likes and makes our backs hurt on long drives.

We have something bigger and likely always will, which is making us start to wonder: could we make due with a convertible? We would like it (whenever we rent a car, it has no roof). The kids would like it (they always request all the windows and sunroof open). We both really like Saabs and miss my old SPG, which has us looking at 2006 – 2008 9-3s as well as first generation Volvo C70s (the new hard top looks great, but eats too much trunk space). I know there are potentially other options, but seating for four and front wheel drive are necessary as we live in the northeast (AWD options are likely out of our price range of roughly $12-$14k). Comfortable seats is also a high priority as we regularly travel 3 – 4 hours to visit family.

I have a good independent mechanic who specializes in European cars, and we are a three car family, so when the convertible is inevitably in the shop, we won’t be in a bind.

So, is there any chance that I could hear from parents who have a convertible (of any kind) as a daily driver? Are the compromises worth the enjoyment?

Sajeev answers:

Ah yes, beancounted seating was so 10 years ago!  Many cars (including the Camry) from this era had pretty horrible seats.  Not sure if new Camrys have better seats, but they are better for a few minutes at a time. But from what I’ve seen in new rental cars (Fusion, Avenger, 300 etc) they are light years ahead of previous iterations.

That said, the best seats in modern family cars are certainly in the domain of the Swedes.  I am sure 99% of human bodies are supremely comfortable in them.

So anyway…about your Swedish droptop fantasy. Your expectations of the potential SAAB-Volvo are spot on, since this is a third vehicle and you know a good Euro mechanic, buy one with an excellent service history. But only after your mechanic gives it their stamp of approval. If you keep the child seats (assuming your kids are that small) locked in the rear and fill them with kiddos with the top down, this sounds pretty simple. Not having a roof makes it seem easy.

My only concern is safety: do you want to daily drive a vehicle with a flexi-flyer body packed full of kids in bad weather surrounded by SUVs?  

Will you hear from parents with a daily driven drop top? Only one way to find out: off you go, Best and Brightest.


Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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35 Comments on “Piston Slap: Daddy’s Daily Driven Droptop?...”

  • avatar

    It seems you are infatuated with Euro-cars. I would suggest a Mustang convertible, (2007-2010). I think it would be cheaper to purchase, maintain and repair. I owned a Red Mustang V-6 Convertible, years ago. When I owned it, my kids would always request to be driven to events with the top down so their friends could see them. They would stick their arms up in the air like in a roller coaster when on the highway. When I purchased my Challenger, they were disappointed it was not a convertible, and I get requests to get another one every now and then. If I had a 3 car garage, I would have a convertible. With the 2015 Mustang coming out, the price on the last 2 generations should fall a little. Check CR and see what they say about Mustang reliability.

    • 0 avatar

      I like the way Mustangs look, even the non-retro look from mid-2000s, but comfortable they are not. I rented one back in a day in Floriday, and remember getting fairly mad at a stupidity of the Ford engineers for putting A/C option on the same climate control knob that controls the direction of the air flow. My feet were frozen by the end of the trip, because there was no way to adjust where the air was flowing with A/C on. Perhaps (and hopefully) it was corrected on current models, but i don’t know for sure.

  • avatar

    My wife and I have lived through your journey. I can tell you that we happily live with one small sports sedan (the family car) my wife daily drives a hard top 3-series convertible and I have a 38 year old toy that is also topless. All 3 deliver us just fine wherever we need to go and that latter 2 make us smile constantly. Life is too short to drive boring cars!

    ….FWIW we even had a 2 seater convertible for 3 years of our child’s life in the mix, even that never really caused a real inconvenience as the one shuttling the child used the “family car” that day. That car got passed back and forth much more which made both of us happy.

  • avatar

    As the owner of a 2008 9-3 I can definitely recommend one. You can get one right now for a crazy low price. Because it was produced when GM owned SAAB parts will be available long term.

  • avatar

    Here’s an unfun suggestion: have the execrable Camry seats reupholstered. My brother’s first car was a Dodge Omni. Due to back problems, he replaced the driver’s seat with with a German aftermarket seat that was about 10% of the cost of the car, and removed it when he sold the car. That was a little extreme, but reupholstering might work for you if you are feeling frugal. No tuck and roll though – after all, it’s a Camry.

  • avatar

    Mustang. Or Sebring.

    • 0 avatar

      Having rented both Mustang and Sebring convertibles for a week+ at a time while on vacation, there is absolutely no way that you can mention those two cars in the same breath. I seriously considered buying a Mustang afterwards – the car was as quiet as a hardtop with the top up.

      The Sebring was the biggest piece of excrement that I have ever driven.

      • 0 avatar

        I drove a privately owned Sebring convertible with a tweaked suspension for a few days, and it was fun. Even in stock form, I suspect it was better than any rental, due to that model’s low tolerance for hoonage, which runs rampant on rental fleets. Ask any rental fleet mechanic – it’s due to the dizzying variety of hoons who get behind the wheel.

        BTW, that privately owned Sebring also had Recaros salvaged from a junkyard and reupholstered to match the interior. Somebody ask Murilee how many quality front seats he’s seen that could replace the original equipment junk at reasonable prices.

  • avatar
    Charles T

    FWIW, some modern car seats still can’t hold a candle to the Swedes of yore. I have a friend who bought a new Hyundai Sonata last year, and he mentioned that they became uncomfortable after 6 hours on the highway. By contrast, the 18-year old Recaro buckets in my Saab 9000 Aero were, according to the same person, far superior over the course of 14 hours.

  • avatar

    I hate to put a damper on your plans – but be aware that convertibles at highway speeds are loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage over time. It might not make much of a difference every now and then, but a 3-4 hour car ride every weekend might be ensuring your children will need hearing aids.

    • 0 avatar

      With the top up, my ’07 Solara is quieter inside than my wife’s minivan. Even with the top down, it’s surprisingly quiet. Of course there’s more wind and noise in the back seats so if we’re going to be doing hours of expressway driving with the kids, I leave the top up until we get to our destination…

    • 0 avatar

      There is minimal difference in the noise level of a Saab 9-3 convertible and a Saab 9-3 sedan. This is not an old single-layer top flapping in the wind. of course, they cost the earth come replacement time too.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker


      The nose levels in a convertilbe from traffic on a busy interstate at 65 mph render the radio and conversation useless. That can’t be good for hearing.

  • avatar

    I would think that an e46 3 series with winter tires should do just fine.

  • avatar

    It’s a shame you don’t like Toyota seats, as my wife loves her ’06 Solara. It has a huge trunk, usable back seats, and makes a fine daily driver, even if it isn’t the least bit sporty.

  • avatar

    Sorry to hear about the seats—shoulda bought the Gen II Avalon from those years.

    My back has 12″ of stainless steel and a 5 level fusion, and we took a beating on the 2001 LeSabre for the exact same reason..horrible seats, among other issues .

    My Avalon is my DD, seats are superb.

    (Grandpa flame suit on)

  • avatar

    Bought an off lease Saab 9-3 Aero conv. w/44k in 2008.
    Daily driver since then. Currently 151k.
    Regular maintenance, 4 snows in the winter, no down time in 5 yrs.
    Fun, safe, comfy seats. Probably the best car I’ve owned.

  • avatar

    First gen Volvo C70 can be a crapshoot even with a good mechanic, I have little knowledge of Saab other than the old saying about them always being a “saaaab story” to their owners. If I feel like spending money I would do gen 2 C70 (06+) as these tend to be expensive (assuming because they are better) and I’ll throw Lex SC430 out there too. If I feel like being on the cheap, Solara or possibly a well kept Mustang.

    EDIT: Now that I think about it a good friend of mine went through a similar quandary last year except her criteria was convertible (preferable hardtop) and not a German car. After some searching, she settled on a well kept 31K Pontiac G6 GT (3900) for like mid 13s at retail. This model was only made for two or three model years so it might be a bit of a unicorn but I thought I’d add it. She found an SC430 she liked too but it was an ’05 for something like $25K retail and passed.

  • avatar

    I’ve always liked the Benzes….

  • avatar

    I was in a similar position, but kept my existing convertible when the kids came along. My garage consists of a ’94 BMW 3 series convertible, Infiniti I35 daily driver and Chrysler Town & Country daily driver.

    The BMW has over 250,000 miles on it (I have put 220,000 on it. It used to be my daily driver). It is used for the nice days or when you just need to drive something without carseats in it. That said, as the kids get older, it has the space in the back, and it also has the rollover system – hard to find when I bought it but I insisted.

    I would say go 3 series with a good service history. When I got the BMW one of the things I specified was NO power top. It made it harder to find, but I was happy to remove the potential headaches and expense of the power top repairs. Glad I did. Its simple and fast to put it down by hand. The whole car has been very reliable and bulletproof. And the seats still fit me and feel more comfortable than anything we currently own or previously owned.

    The car handles like all BMWs are know for. I don’t find it loud (maybe slightly louder than a hardtop but not enough to really notice). Trunk space is small but you would be amazed at all the things I have carried in it with the top down. The only bad thing is when it was my daily driver I experienced several times how absolutely atrocious it is in the snow. It does not have traction control. That is the only horrible thing about the car but these days it stays in the garage on snowy days.

    Good luck in the search. Having that 3rd “fun” car sure is nice! People ask me if I will ever get rid of the BMW… no way.

  • avatar

    Jeep Wrangler?

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the direction I would go…oh wait…I did already. I have an ’02 and an ’06 Unlimited and love them both. Guaranteed to be cheaper to maintain than either of the swedes.

    • 0 avatar

      That was my thought, too.

      The only four door family friendly-ish convertible I know of is the Wrangler Unlimited.

      While it’s no sports car, I was pretty impressed with the crisp civilized handling/ride/NVH they were able to get out of a glorified tractor suspension. I’ve told my wife that, if she sends me out to get a convertible, I’m bringing back a Wrangler Unlimited.

      Alas, the things don’t really depreciate on the used market. And it’s still an SUV that gets lousy MPG. But these aren’t drawbacks for everyone (and MPG matters less for a weekend car), so it’s worth adding to the discussion.

  • avatar

    I was a very happy Saab 9-3 wagon owner before I bought my BMW wagon. I owned a classic 900 convertible for a long time too. The 9-3s are great cars, very reliable without a lot of known issues. Parts are mostly no problem between the Saab parts operation and the mechanicals being GM. Certainly a MUCH better bet than the Volvo, especially considering the substantial price difference.

    I love my BMW, but the Saab will likely have a more usable back seat, and FWD does have it’s advantages. And an equivalent BMW convertible will be MUCH more expensive, both upfront and long term. Though an e93 does have the advantage of a folding metal roof. But that also comes with a major hit in top-down trunk space so I can’t see it for a car that is not a daily driver.

    Similarly, you are either a Mustang person or you are not. Same issues of rear seat room and RWD, and a Mustang is nothing like as well balanced in the snow as a BMW, even with snow tires.

  • avatar

    One further thought – with 9-3s, the newer the better. I would be looking at ’08s-’10s. Especially you want at least an ’07 for the new style interior. What it loses in Saab-specific quirkiness it more than makes up for in reliability with the GM-standard stereo system instead of the previous Saab failure-prone wackiness. Many fewer issues with the CEM and instrument cluster on the newer ones too.

    • 0 avatar

      Did the same thing you did (replaced a Saab with a 328 wagon), though mine was an 06 sport sedan. Agree on the interior suggestion on the newer model years though. The 03 – 06 interior looked cool, but materials were cheap and it squeaked and rattled constantly. I think that was improved somewhat with the 07 and up refresh.

  • avatar

    I have a 1994 Mercedes E320 Cabriolet (A124) which isn’t my only car but does serve daily driver needs quite regularly. I have two kids, 9 and 4… the youngest is in a booster seat and the car works great and the trunk is adequate now that I no longer need to carry a stroller. I can even fit my wife’s wheelchair in the trunk when needed.

    It misses the FWD requirement you mentioned, but these were just amazingly well-built and expensive (>$85k in 1994) cars when new and can now be picked up for between $8-12k for a driver in nice condition. Some dealers ask in the low $20’s on eBay but ignore them and look around a bit.

    Mechanical parts for these cars are robust and easy to get. Some interior trim is unobtanium but the cabrio-specific parts can all be fixed or rebuilt if needed. I had a hydraulic cylinder blow a seal… the dealer wanted $1,200 for a new part but I had the old one rebuilt and FedExed back to me for $75.

    I see no reason why a four-seat convertible couldn’t serve daily driver duty for a small family.

    My own experience with the two cars you mention, though, is that the Saab is probably a nicer car to drive. The early C70s were really shakey with way too much body flex for my taste even when they were new. I recall driving around in one on a normal pockmarked road in Ann Arbor and the stearing column was visibly bouncing around as the body flexed.

    Audi A4 Cabriolets may be in reach of your budget as well. Have you considered one of those?

  • avatar

    Back when we only had two kids I talked my wife into getting me an old 1996 318ci. With only two little ones it was no problem driving them around. I ended up getting rid of it an year later because the family got even bigger, but as long as you’ve got one vehicle that can fit everyone (minivan preferably) then typically there’s no real problem since you just exchange cars and the one with the kids gets the bigger one. I still sometimes dream about getting another vert…

  • avatar

    In August of this year I did what you are now contemplating: I bought a 2006 Saab 9-3 Aero cabrio as a third car for our family, which joins my old 9-5 sedan and my wife’s Ford Flex in our fleet. Our kids are 5 and 8; they like riding with the top down only on “perfect” days, and I prefer driving the cabrio with the wind deflector in place most of the time given Seattle’s cool climate. The rear seat isn’t huge though, and with my long legs I can see some complaining coming from the kids when they get a bit bigger.

    So, while we’ve certainly gone on family drives in the convertible, it is mostly used by only one adult on good “convertible” days, and parked in the garage the rest of the time. As you’re considering the convertible for a third car, I’ll tell you to go for a 9-3 cabrio. There’s nothing like it!

  • avatar

    This is a no-brainer, if you already have 2 daily drivers and want something fun then dump that Camry and get whatever your heart (and wallet) desires for a convertible. The Saab convertibles have excellent reputations, the Volvo supposedly has the best seats ever, you could also check out BMW convertibles, Benzes, Lexus IS-C, Mustangs or Camaros, maybe even a Murano convertible (LOL), someone earlier suggested the G6 convertibles and I like those a lot, they seem much better made that a typical G6, a Jeep Wrangler is also a good suggestion, nice to have the overall capability in a “toy” if you are not looking for a sports car anyway and if you ever get tired of it you can probably sell it for whatever you paid for it.

    Kids love convertibles, they will be thrilled, you will get a lot of enjoyment out of it too if you like the open air driving. And whoever said that convertibles can cause permanent hearing damage is being ridiculous, we have an MR2 Spyder that is as loud as any convertible can be, my dad had an S2000 that wasn’t much quieter, and the noise levels at highway speed was nothing close to “damaging”. Somewhat annoying at times, yes, but I can talk on a cell phone with the top down so it isn’t too terrible. A modern car like you are looking at will be fine.

    And you should be taking the back roads anyways when the top is down. :)

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