Top Down: BMW 335i Cabrio, Mercedes-Benz SLK350, and Volvo C70
DRIVE TIME – TOP DOWN
Summer. A time when the business traveler’s mind turns to… convertibles!
Nothing says summer like a bright red convertible. Unless it’s a medium-blue convertible. Or a metallic grey roadster.
In the automobile’s earliest days, all cars were open; the open car continues to be seen as sporty and adventurous and perfect for hot summer days. The rest of the time, they were drafty, noisy, and considered less safe than cars with metal roofs.
Starting with Mercedes-Benz in 1998, car makers have found a way of marrying the driving pleasure of a convertible without its disadvantages by offering a power-operated retractable hardtop convertible. These convertibles are practically indistinguishable from coupes and the metal roof provides enhanced safety and comfort for the occupants.
To learn more, I spent a week each with the BMW 335i Convertible, the Volvo C70, and the Mercedes-Benz SLK350. To complete the droptop look, I needed to be outfitted appropriately so I added Car Shoe’s signature moccasin driving shoes and Prada PR52FS sunglasses.
Opening or closing the roof of one of these cars is a sight to behold. The windows go down, the two- or three-piece metal roof (one of the pieces is the glass rear window) opens in sections in a fluid motion, the trunk opens rearward, and each section of the roof nests above the other. The windows go back up and the trunk can be opened in the usual manner (albeit with very limited storage space).
Even with an increasing number of cars with retractable hardtop roofs, it’s still a remarkable technology. Expect an audience when performing this act in a public place.
BMW 335i Convertible
The 2008 BMW 335i Convertible is a driver’s car, an engineering marvel. Its twin-turbo motor was designed to cruise the Autobahnen of Germany at speeds of 150 mph yet it’s just as much at home negotiating winding mountain roads with no body roll in the corners. And it seats four passengers comfortably.
The top lowers in 22 seconds and, for cars equipped with the Comfort Access smart key option, the top can be lowered from outside the vehicle by holding down a button on the key fob.
Inside, BMW thoughtfully places special reflective leather which can keep the seats up to 30 degrees cooler than conventional leather seats when the top is down.
The car’s Logic 7 stereo and satellite navigation system are excellent (the nav includes traffic information) and its Bluetooth phone integration is unparalleled. But the droptop really gives an entirely new meaning to the feeling of Freude am Fahren (the Joy of Driving, to borrow from BMW’ vaunted slogan) that one experiences.
Inside, the sports seats hug the driver and front passenger and the integrated iPod/USB option provides infinite entertainment options.
Unlike the BMW and Volvo, which seat four, the Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is a true roadster, intended less for practicality and more for giving the driver the feeling of the open road. There’s no doubt that Mercedes succeeds with the SLK; its V-6 is the fastest of the three we tested as well.
Inspired by Mercedes’ Formula 1 race cars, the SLK features an aggressive, dramatic design. Inside, the driver finds a clean dashboard layout and shapes that continue the theme with firm yet comfortable seats and great audio.
Driving the SLK with the top down is not only for hot summer days; Mercedes’ Airscarf system channels warm air to your neck and shoulders through vents in the headrests.
Top up or down, the Volvo C70 is just about the sleekest Volvo I’ve ever seen (the Passion Red paint didn’t hurt it in this department). Inside, with comfortable seating up front and a 12-speaker Dynaudio stereo that produces spectacular sound, I found myself wondering why I ever considered a car with a fixed roof. The 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder motor provides decent power and gas mileage.
While the C70 is a looker, it doesn’t deliver spirited sporty driving. It is however perfect for cruising on a hot summer day. For a day trip to a Biergarten on Long Island, the Volvo was the perfect way to transport two passengers (the rear seats offer very limited legroom).
Perhaps ensuring that all bases are covered, a W button gear on the shifter activates winter mode, which keeps the automatic transmission engaged in lower gears for longer periods of time (presumably the top will be up when this feature is in use).
|2008 BMW 335i Convertible||2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK350||2008 Volvo C70|
|Drivetrain||Rear-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Engine||DOHC inline 24-valve 6-cylinder||90-degree V-6||DOHC inline 5 cylinder Turbo|
|Transmission||6-speed Getrag Type I manual (tested); 6-speed ZF Type G automatic||7-speed automatic with Touch Shift manual shift control||Five-speed Geartronic automatic transmission|
|Curb weight (pounds)||3946 (manual); 3957 (automatic)||3,318||3776|
|Weight distribution||47.5/52.5 (manual)/47.6/52.4 (automatic)||52/48||55/45|
|Wheelbase||108.7 in.||95.7 in.||103.9|
|Length x width x height||180.6×70.2×54.5||161.5 x 70.4 x 51.1||180.4/72.3/55.1|
|0-60 mph (seconds)||5.5 (manual); 5.7 (automatic)||5.3||7.0 (estimated)|
|EPA city/highway fuel economy (mpg)||17/26||19/25 (2008 numbers; 2009 not yet available)||18/26 (automatic), 18/27 (manual)|
|Hardtop down/up (seconds)||22 / 23||22/22||29/30|
|Trunk capacity (hardtop down/raised) (cu. ft.)||7/12||6.5 /9.8||6/12.8|
–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.