Summertime and convertibles go together like Grandma and apple pie. With long, steamy days and hot, muggy evenings, summer affords convertible owners the opportunity to loosen their ties and catch the sun’s setting rays on the ride home, made all the more perfect if driving the road less traveled. But what if it’s your turn to drive for the carpool? Dan in Contracts needs plenty of legroom, Cindy from Human Resources could use a little extra hiproom, and Henry from Accounting will need trunk space for those mysterious filing boxes he’s always taking home. And, you? Well, student loans from a previous life and a debt from Vegas that you don’t remember accruing keep your car budget at $30,000 or less.
For you, and others like you, we evaluated four popular convertibles that, in base trim, run less than $30,000 and will accommodate (to varying degrees) three coworkers; a husband and two kids; two large or several small dogs; or, if you’re in the entertainment industry and live in southern California, your ego.
Our evaluations were thorough, covering powertrain performance, visibility, noise levels, front and rear comfort, material and build quality, power top operation, cargo capacity, and overall design.
The results may surprise you; some sure as heck surprised us. However, the numbers don’t lie, and final rankings reflect what we consider to be the best choices, given the criteria listed above.
There are literally hundreds of cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans on the market. With so many choices, it’s no wonder that shoppers have a hard time deciding which car to buy. However, when we started whittling down to find vehicles that met our test criteria, the result was a list of only seven.
Under initial consideration for this test were the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chrysler Sebring, Ford Mustang, Jeep Wrangler, Mini Cooper, Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, and the Toyota Camry Solara. Since we wanted to focus on new or revised models, the geriatric Chrysler Sebring was nixed from the list. We also axed the dated 2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, as a redesigned version will soon be following its coupe sibling over the horizon. And, while the Wrangler may technically be termed a convertible, there is little likelihood that it will be cross-shopped with these vehicles.
That left a final comparison of four – the Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible, Ford Mustang convertible, Mini Cooper convertible, and the Toyota Camry Solara convertible, all of which feature base prices under $30,000. Three of our testers exceeded the $30,000 threshold due to optional equipment, but cross a few unnecessary features off of the order sheet or opt for a less expensive trim, and the prices drop significantly.
2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT Convertible
In 2001, the Chrysler PT Cruiser was one of those cars perceived as so fresh and unique that people waited longer and paid more than they should have. It had hot-rod looks, yet offered a removable rear seat and decent gas mileage. The result was a car that was cool to look at and sensible to own. Eventually, however, the luster dulled as orders were filled and supply surpassed demand, and even the introduction of turbo power didn’t drive the masses back to the PT.
That’s a shame.
At $29,435, our PT Cruiser GT convertible wins the award for lowest as-tested price. In addition to a $590 destination charge, the sticker price included $250 for heated front seats, $200 for a six-disc CD changer, and $565 for Infinity speakers. Listed under the standard features column were front and side airbags, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control, leather seats, a power driver’s seat, fog lights, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
2005 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
For decades, the Ford Mustang has symbolized Americans’ youthful free spirit, represented the glory days of the domestic automotive industry, and served as the everlasting icon of muscle. From its phenomenal introduction in the mid 60s to its forgettable midlife crisis in the mid 70s, the Ford Mustang has stood the test of time. And for 2005, its design and style come full circle, reminding Ford what it’s like to have demand outstrip supply.
With an as-tested price of $34,080, our 2005 Ford Mustang GT Premium convertible was the most expensive vehicle in the comparison. On top of the $30,550 base price was tacked a $625 destination charge; a $1,295 Shaker 1000 audio system; $450 for the interior upgrade kit; a charge of $195 for machined 17-inch alloy wheels; $50 for wheel locks; $370 worth of side airbags; $255 for an active anti-theft system; a $115 convertible soft boot; and $175 for a red interior accent package. Among the standard amenities were four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control, 17-inch alloy wheels, and leather seats.
2005 MINI Cooper S Convertible
Thanks to its tiny dimensions, bug-eyed face, and quick reflexes, drivers and observers alike usually smile at the thought of this diminutive member of the BMW family. Unmistakable on the road and irresistible from behind the wheel, the Mini Cooper has garnered much praise since being reintroduced in 2002 (after decades of absence in the U.S.).
After three years of success as a hardtop, Mini introduced the Cooper convertible earlier this year. Our tester was a 2005 Cooper S convertible with an as-tested price of $30,220 (including a $550 destination charge). With a base price of $24,900, our example came loaded with about $5,000 in options, including: dark silver metallic paint ($420); steering wheel-mounted controls ($250); Harmon-Kardon audio system ($550); automatic climate control ($300); interior Chrono package ($300); Combo #3 Cold Weather package ($300); Combo #2 Sport package ($1,350); and leather seats ($1,300). The Cold Weather package included heated washer jets, heated seats, and heated mirrors. The Sport package added stability control, fog lights, 17-inch alloy wheels with run-flat performance tires, exterior stripes, and xenon high-intensity discharge headlights with washers. Standard features included four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control, front and side airbags with head protection, a tire pressure monitor, and a rear parking monitor.
2005 Toyota Camry Solara SLE Convertible
Originally debuting as a hardtop for the 1999 model year, the two-door Toyota Camry Solara’s job has been to add a bit of sport and sex appeal to Toyota’s family car portfolio. With that in mind, the company offered its first drop top version of the Solara in 2000, and the 2004 model year ushered in the model’s first significant redesign.
Our 2005 Toyota Camry Solara SLE convertible came with an as-tested price of $32,349, including a $515 destination charge; a $1,350 navigation system; $650 for a stability control system; and a cargo mat set that added $184 to the sticker. Standard features on the SLE model include automatic climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, front and side airbags, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, a 315-watt JBL sound system with six-disc CD changer, leather seats, and a tire pressure monitor.
Bang for the buck. A killer deal. Feeling like you got more than you paid for.
Those are all ways to describe value. And of the four cars we tested, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible offers more of it than any of the others. The PT has the lowest base price, the best powertrain warranty, one of the most powerful engines, a spacious and comfortable interior, and currently comes with hefty discounts.
More money will buy a refined Toyota, a sportier Mini, or a powerful Mustang, but for buyers who like to drive their new convertibles and keep the monthly payments low, it’s gotta be the PT Cruiser.
4th Place: 2005 MINI Cooper Convertible
With a base sticker price of just $22,000 (including a $550 destination charge), the 2005 Mini Cooper convertible is bettered only by the Chrysler PT convertible for lowest price. And, like the PT, the Mini Cooper comes with a decent powertrain warranty (four years/50,000 miles) and an even better basic warranty (also four years/50,000 miles). The three-year/36,000-miles of free scheduled maintenance also serves as enticement for buyers. However, the Mini price is set – no rebates or special financing here.
That base price also includes the base engine – a 115-horsepower four-cylinder. Also standard is a five-speed manual transmission, a single-disc CD player, 15-inch alloy wheels, front side airbags with head protection, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, and a rear electronic parking aid.
That’s fine for basic drop top transportation, but the value of the Mini Cooper convertible is in the S (supercharged) version, and for that the price jumps to $25,450. Now we’re talking about a 168-horsepower engine, a six-speed manual transmission, a hood scoop, side air intakes, sport seats, 16-inch alloys, sport suspension, and traction control. Drivers wanting to get 100-percent pleasure from the Mini will opt for the $1,350 Sport Package, with stability control and 17-inch alloys running on run-flat tires, among other features. That brings the final tally up to about $27,000.
Unfortunately, that price doesn’t increase the size of the Mini Cooper’s rear seat or the overall materials and build quality. On price alone, $27,000 sounds reasonable for a new convertible, but in terms of comfort and four-passenger usability, the Mini ends up looking pretty small.
3rd Place: 2005 Toyota Solara Convertible
Starting at $27,020 (including a $540 destination charge), the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara SE convertible is the most expensive base model in this test, but offers an impressive list of standard features. Among those are 17-inch alloy wheels; a 225-horsepower V6 engine connected to a five-speed automatic transmission; side airbags; four-wheel-disc antilock brakes; a single-disc CD player; power heated rearview mirrors; a tire pressure monitor; a tilt and telescoping steering wheel; and aluminum pedals. Also standard is the Solara’s interior comfort, impressive materials and build quality, quiet ride, and five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Options such as larger alloy wheels and a 315-watt JBL audio system can be added.
Our tester was a loaded SLE model, complete with a $1,350 navigation system, an upgraded floor mat set that ran $184, and a stability control system that added $650 to the bill. Standard features on the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara SLE convertible include the 315-watt JBL system, leather seats, woodgrain interior trim, a six-disc CD changer, and more. In total, the sticker on our car read $32,349. With the possible exception of the stability control system, we believe that most shoppers will be content with the nicely equipped SE model, especially with a savings of roughly $5,000.
Even with those savings, you’re still talking about shelling out more than $27,000 for a Camry Solara, a convertible that lacks the sporty character of a turbocharged PT Cruiser GT, and the fire-sale price of a Cruiser base model. The Ford Mustang, which sells for thousands less when equipped with a comparable V6, offers much more visual and driving appeal than the rather sedate Solara, and ponying up another few grand puts an extra 90 horses under the hood. Try finding that option on the Solara.
2nd Place: 2005 Ford Mustang Convertible
The value of a 2005 Ford Mustang convertible is about more than its styling and current hot-car status, but both factor into the equation. Our tester was the GT Premium model with a host of options, and the sticker tipped the scales at over $34,000. Yet take away some of the unnecessary add-ons by opting for the GT Deluxe model instead, and the price drops to just about $30,000. Most importantly, that still includes the 300-horsepower V8 and a tight five-speed manual transmission. Also included are four-wheel-disc antilock brakes; traction control; 17-inch alloy wheels; front dual airbags; a crash sensor; and a multitude of other standard features, such as a power driver’s seat. There are plenty of options that can be added, but since we spent most of our time with the radio off and the top down, chances are you’ll never notice the absence of all those extras.
If $30,000 is too much, there are less expensive, well-equipped Mustangs that feature a 210-horsepower V6. Starting at $24,615 (including a $675 destination charge), the 2005 Ford Mustang V6 Deluxe convertible comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, a single-disc CD player, plenty of power features, and that same classic styling seen on the Mustang GT (though V6 models do lose the Bullitt-style wheels and grille-mounted foglights).
Granted, for a few thousand dollars more, buyers can opt for the posh, larger, and more powerful Toyota Camry Solara convertible, but those benefits will come at the expense of the Mustang’s fun-to-drive nature and visual appeal, two extremely important factors in owning a convertible.
1st Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
For those looking for a sporty, comfortable convertible, the best deal out there today is the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible. Available in three trims, Base, Touring, and GT, the front-wheel-drive 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible starts at just $19,505 (plus a $640 destination charge), and that’s before a $3,000 rebate is bumped off the dealer’s invoice. For about $16,000 buyers get a 150-horsepower four-cylinder engine joined to a five-speed manual transmission; front and side airbags with head protection; and the usual gamut of standard accessories, such as power windows. But the sweetheart deal is the PT Cruiser GT convertible, which stickers for just $28,000 and is offered with up to $3,500 in rebates. Plus, some dealers are advertising these gems in the low $20s. It’s obvious that Chrysler corporate and Chrysler dealers are willing to haggle on the PT Cruiser convertible.
It’s worth taking time to negotiate. The GT trim comes with 220 horsepower from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine; four-wheel-disc antilock brakes; traction control; sport suspension; an upgraded audio system; 17-inch alloy wheels; and leather seats. If that’s not enough, consider the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible’s seven-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty (lowered to 3/36 for the 2006 model year, so hurry and grab a 2005 model).
People who drive convertibles tend to be extroverts, making themselves, their cell phone conversations, and even their choice in music available for all to see and hear. Part of a convertible’s appeal is being seen in it, so it’s got to look good. That’s when design becomes important.
With classic styling and sleek lines, the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible is easily the most attractive car among this group and offers universal appeal – regardless of gender, race or age, people can see themselves in this car. The Mini Cooper may be cute and is undoubtedly unique, but it’s not for everyone. Toyota’s Solara offers inoffensive styling, but its bulbous shape places it far behind the muscularly-toned Mustang. And the PT? Well, it looks so 2001.
4th Place: 2005 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible
Take a quick look at the Solara convertible, and you might find yourself suddenly singing Sir Mix-a-Lot’s classic Baby Got Back. For those fond of expansive derrières, the Solara soft top is definitely the way to go. But, subtract any affinity for booty, and this rather drab Toyota loses its visual appeal quickly.
Two of our editors agreed that the Camry Solara convertible is the car they could see their fathers driving – in other words, it’s an old person’s car. Of course, these pushing-40 car critics fail to realize that with kids, graying hair, and dreams of a 20-year-old Christie Brinkley, they are their fathers. And the Solara convertible is their car.
That’s not all bad. The tail end of the Solara convertible has strong Lexus overtones, and the dash design is simple and elegant. Unlike the Mini Cooper, the Solara is distinguished by fluid lines inside and out, with subtle accents shaped into the hood, along the side, and tracing the taillights in back. Our biggest gripe focused on the odd shape of the convertible top. However, typical of Toyota, the overall look is simple and understated, and the driver is afforded near-perfect ergonomics.
As a result of focusing on inoffensive styling and handy controls, Toyota has designed a car that lacks any pizzazz, a significant yet immeasurable element factored into each of the Solara’s competitors.
3rd Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
Our staff members are mixed on what they think of the PT Cruiser convertible’s styling, though we all agree that this Chrysler looks best with its top down. With the soft top folded behind the rear seats, the PT Cruiser convertible exhibits a sporty side profile, accented by an integrated, body-color roll bar towering just behind the front seats, a raised rear beltline, and the option of some five-spoke bling riding within the wheel wells. Chrome old-school door handles build upon the front end’s retro design, and deeply flared fenders and quarter panels give the body added character. Inside, body-color dash inserts and the large cue ball shifter continue the retro theme.
Since 2001, that retro thing has been working, but now it’s getting old, and as a result the PT is starting to look dated, especially when compared to relatively unique and fresh products from Mini and Ford. Points were deducted from the PT because of its convertible top. With the top extended overhead, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible goes from the car you proudly park on the street for all to see to the one you hide in the garage. Unlike the almost vertical rear end of the PT Cruiser wagon, the convertible features a sharply angled rear window and top quarters. With a less severe angle, the convertible top would likely appear more at home on the PT Cruiser.
There is a mildly restyled 2006 PT cruising toward production, but for now, this aging version, complete with its odd roof, will have to suffice.
2nd Place: 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
Cute. That’s what everyone says when they see this car. And this monosyllabic adjective perfectly describes the 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible. The Cooper is one cute little bugger.
That cuteness, combined with the Mini’s unmistakable styling, positions the Cooper as a refreshing entrant into the current market. Today, styling has become so homogenous that even high-end luxury and exotic cars can be confused with one another. Is that a Ferrari or a Lamborghini? A Mercedes or a Lexus? It’s hard to tell. Mini Cooper designers have no such trouble.
Riding on a tiny 97.1-inch wheelbase, the 143.9-inch Mini Cooper (making it about 25 inches shorter than its closest competitor in this test) features bug-eye headlights, a tilt-forward hood and front fender assembly, integrated chrome roll bars behind the rear seats, and a rear fold-down tailgate with hinges mounted on the outside. The front overhang is short, the rear even shorter.
Inside, the design is different from any other new car sold in the U.S. Gauges are mounted above the steering wheel and in the center of the dash, power window controls are split between toggle switches in the lower dash and buttons overhead, and lots of metallic-looking finishes spruce things up.
There’s different for the sake of being better, and different for the sake of being different. At least one editor thought the Mini Cooper’s interior exhibited more of the former, criticizing what he considered odd placement of controls and gauges and extensive use of cheap materials. That same editor suggested that if such a “nightmarish” interior were placed in a General Motors vehicle, the automotive press would rip it apart, but with this being a Mini, the design had been adopted as quirky rather than irritating. For instance, in addition to the unusual placement of the power window switches, the clock sits hidden away in the trip computer; the interior hood latch is in the passenger foot well (other European manufacturers can flip it to the driver’s side for us Yanks, why can’t Mini?); and the flat heated seat buttons, mounted in the front center console, make it impossible to decipher what setting they’re on in daylight (unless, of course, you take your eyes off the road and lean directly over them). However, despite these minor annoyances, even that lone staffer softened his discontent after a few miles behind the Mini’s sporty steering wheel.
We’re big fans of the 2005 Cooper convertible’s design, and welcome innovative interior styling, but only when it’s also intuitive.
1st Place: 2005 Ford Mustang Convertible
Like the Mini Cooper, the 2005 Ford Mustang is a modern interpretation of a car from decades past, possessing its own brand of American style.
Riding on the same size wheelbase as the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible, the Mustang stretches the measuring tape 187.6 inches from stem to stern, losing about five inches in length (surely from the rear end) compared to the 192.5-inch Toyota. Unlike nearly every other new car, the 2005 Mustang features a front end built for style and not aerodynamics. The hood slopes forward, and the grille and headlights sit vertically. This design not only draws a close resemblance to the legendary late 60s Mustangs, but also sets Ford’s pony apart from other cars on the road. Other heritage touches include the single round headlights, the Mustang grille emblem, grille-mounted fog lights and Bullitt-style rims on GT models, and three-pane vertical taillights. Inside, the dual-cowl dash sits high and flat and analog gauges are viewed through a three-spoke steering wheel. The seats are buckets – front and rear. Everywhere you look, it’s classic Mustang.
There’s a reason why the 2005 Ford Mustang is selling like dollar bills at a half-price sale – it’s a well-designed, stylish American car that beats the foreign competition on power, price, and panache.
We’ve talked about the importance of design and being seen in a cool looking convertible. Unfortunately, all is lost if a stiff seat causes you to wince in pain or your rear passengers are hysteric over a lack of legroom. All of a sudden, you want to put the top up, tint the windows, and park under a bridge.
Comfort is important, as the folks at Toyota are obviously well aware. The Solara convertible features big, comfy seats with ample room for front and rear passengers, and all of your everyday controls are logically-placed and easy to use. In the Solara, Toyota offers a very inviting space to enjoy a long road trip or a leisurely weekend drive. Chrysler also builds a comfortable ride, but the PT Cruiser’s seats are less inviting and the location of some of the controls is questionable. The Mustang is a bit tight in rear seat room, and the Mini Cooper’s rear accommodations are suitable only for stick figures.
4th Place: Mini Cooper Convertible
Mini – it’s the perfect descriptor for the interior of the Cooper convertible.
A quick look at the rear seat dimensions tells the story: all of the competitors have at least three and a half inches more rear legroom, and they offer at least three more inches of rear shoulder room. The Mini Cooper convertible ranks well for headroom (38.1 inches), which is good, since the slight rear seat space will have you sitting on your legs and you’ll need the extra height for clearance. Unless your friends lack lower appendages and have a shoulder span of about 12 inches apiece, the Mini Cooper convertible should be considered a two-seat roadster with extra cargo space. However, should such rear passengers exist, they’ll enjoy one undersized cupholder and massive headrests, provided at the expense of driver visibility.
Front seat passengers are granted better accommodations. While the front buckets are large enough for most adults and offer excellent bolsters, they lack both a center armrest and a usable door armrest. Given that drivers will most often have one hand on the steering wheel and one on the slick shifter, the issue of armrests becomes moot. But, on those long stretches in sixth gear, the elbows start looking for a place to call home.
3rd Place: Ford Mustang Convertible
With its third place ranking, it may appear that we’re dissing the Mustang convertible when it comes to the comfort category. Truth be told, the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible offers a very inviting interior – but it loses points when compared with the more spacious Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible and Toyota Camry Solara convertible.
Up front, the driver and passenger enjoy ample room, with the Mustang mostly meeting or beating the competition in terms of comfort. Comfortable, well-contoured front bucket seats offer stiff bolsters, padded armrests in the center and on the doors, and surround a short shifter placed right at the driver’s fingertips. It’s a great place from which to watch the miles roll by.
Back seat passengers will also enjoy the ride, thanks to generous shoulder room and soft, deeply bucketed seats. As comfortable as it sounds back there, there are a few reasons passengers might want to be the first to yell “Shotgun!” In particular, the rear seatbacks are too vertical and lack any significant headrests, riders out back will have to make do without any cupholders or storage of any kind, minimal legroom, and top-up headroom is the worst of the bunch.
Indeed, if the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible’s interior has one significant flaw, it is the lack of rear seat room and comfort.
2nd Place: PT Cruiser Convertible
Give it up to the PT for having comfy seats. The driver and front passenger are treated to large chairs that sit up high and have ample, but pliable, side bolsters. The seat bottom is near perfect in length, and the heater function works great. Rear seat passengers are blessed with the same comfort – soft seatbacks with a slight recline and supportive cushioning. An added touch on our 2005 PT Cruiser GT tester was smooth leather on all of the seats.
With all of that praise, it may seem curious why the PT Cruiser ranked second in the comfort category – it was the little things that forced the Chrysler into the #2 slot. While we enjoyed the great vantage point the front seats offered, taller drivers will likely wish the seats dropped down a bit lower, and anyone adjusting the seat height will have difficulty reaching the power button when the door is shut (make sure to pack some Band-Aids in the glovebox for those scraped knuckles). And that back seat, while offering the most leg room among the vehicles in this test, comes with insignificant headrests and limited shoulder room makes it feel less spacious than the king of convertible comfort, the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara.
1st Place: Toyota Camry Solara Convertible
As the contemporary counterpart to yesteryear’s Buick and Oldsmobile boulevard cruisers, it should come as no surprise that the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible wins the test for comfort.
Seating will accommodate four large adults, and every passenger will enjoy plenty of leg, shoulder, and headroom. In front are well-padded yet firm buckets that would accommodate Today Show weatherman Al Roker…before he had his stomach stapled. Door and center armrests are padded, and the leather on our SLE tester was top-notch. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, allowing for easy entry and a suitable driving position. Unlike the others in this test, the Solara convertible included seat bolsters that were on the soft side; the result is a front seat that is easier to slide onto, but fails to keep its occupant planted when the Solara is driven around a sharp corner.
In such situations, rear seat passengers can brace themselves with the outboard armrests (the only one here with usable rear seat armrests…each side even has its own cupholder!). The rear seatback is set at a comfortable angle, the seat bottom provides good thigh support, and massive headrests protect rear passenger noggins.
Between the commodious design of the seats, the firm but supportive cushioning, and the useful and padded armrests, the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible clearly deserves to be deemed most comfortable.
When it comes to driving dynamics – handling, powertrain performance and braking – 2005’s golden child, the Ford Mustang, comes in third behind the Mini Cooper and the Toyota Camry Solara. Only the dated and defiant PT Cruiser trails the new Ford.
That’s right. The Mustang came in third.
Compared head-to-head, the Mini Cooper’s stellar handling, infallible brakes, and athletic powertrain outshined the softer Mustang with its grainy brakes. With 300 horsepower and five-speed manual transmission, our Mustang GT tester was a blast to drive in a straight line, but it couldn’t hang with the Mini when pushed on a twisty road, and its mediocre brakes faded fast after a bout of aggressive driving. The Solara also featured a soft ride, but the brakes responded better and had a superior feel when judged against the Ford. Drivers who spend most of their time commuting or out of the twisties will appreciate the Solara. Torque steer and body roll were the biggest contributors to the PT’s last-place finish.
4th Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
Most people refer to it as torque steer, and if it was a saleable product, the PT Cruiser GT convertible would be moving off dealers’ lots faster than that “Only 1 available at this price!” car described in Sunday’s newspaper ad.
In GT trim, the Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible features a turbocharger and 245 lb.-ft. of torque. Sounds good for a fairly small convertible, eh? Only if you’re the submissive type, because that torque calls the shots and, off the line, proceeds to yank the PT this way and that.
Quell the urge to dip the throttle into turbo territory, and the PT Cruiser convertible is well-mannered, providing acceptable acceleration for stop-and-go traffic and most routine driving. But, come on, who buys a turbo and lets it sit idle? Get the revs up and feel the extra power come on as condensed air is rammed into the engine, but, oh, that torque steer. If you’re planning on planting the throttle from a red light, make sure to line yourself square in the middle of your lane, because the PT will want to pull hard to the left or right. Unfortunately, the same thing happens on the highway; drop the shifter into third or fourth gear for a high-speed pass, jump on the gas pedal, and feel the steering wheel get a little unruly. On the plus side, a nice rumble is emitted from the exhaust when the revs are up, though it is accompanied by rather raucous engine noise.
Feedback though the steering wheel is a bit vague, but communicates well enough for most situations. Take a corner quickly, and a good dose of body roll is administered, though the sticky 17-inch Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires remain intimate with the road surface. When traveling over bumps or around corners, the PT Cruiser convertible exhibits too much body flex, though it feels tighter than the Solara.
Finally, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible returned a disappointing 17.2 mpg during our tests – that’s 0.2 mpg worse than the 300-horsepower, V8-powered Ford Mustang’s 17.4-mpg rating.
Guess we’re suckers for torque steer.
3rd Place: 2005 Ford Mustang Convertible
Everyone knows about the new Mustang – your dog dreams of chasing one, your 80-year-old grandmother is hot for the college kid down the street driving one, and your balding uncle thinks his elusive trophy wife is one Mustang key away. So, it’s a great car that attracts all types of people. However, the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible falls short of the Solara and Mini Cooper convertibles in a few key areas, namely handling and braking.
Ford engineers did a good job of limiting body flex, a serious problem for not only for the previous Mustang, but for convertibles in general. Even so, potholes give this car a case of the quivers, though bumps are nicely absorbed and sticky 17-inch Pirellis make high-speed cornering a low-risk proposition. The steering is linear, but suffers from a dead spot on center and slow feedback. And for its part, the suspension is softly tuned when compared with the Mustang GT coupe. So soft, in fact, that quick take offs make the Mustang look like a boat that hasn’t yet planed, and sudden stops give the front end that pavement-dragging low-rider look.
Moments of abrupt deceleration also expose grainy brakes that are prone to fade. The four-disc brake setup is effective, yet the grating feel when the pads are applied (we’ve felt this on numerous Mustang test vehicles) makes the driver wonder, “Does this thing need new brakes already?”
2nd Place: 2005 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible
In a drivability test, the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible beats the Ford Mustang convertible? The Mustang GT, no less?? And we call ourselves enthusiasts???
It’s true. Sedate as it may be, the Solara convertible offers a refined 3.3-liter V6, a smooth five-speed automatic transmission, excellent brakes, and a ride that is Lexus quiet (with the top raised, of course).
With 225 horsepower and 240 lb.-ft. of torque, the Solara’s V6 provides enough twist for spritely off-the-line starts, and ample power to perform comfortable passes at highway speeds. Downshifts are subtle, but the transmission does sometimes hunt for gears. Most noticeable is how quiet the powertrain is – even under full throttle, engine noise is very subdued, not rumbling like the Mustang or thrashy like the PT Cruiser.
The 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible also beats those two contenders in terms of braking. There is a progressive feel to the pedal, with the four discs providing plenty of gripping power. The ABS, however, does engage too easily during aggressive driving. But then, given the Solara’s mushy handling characteristics, casual cruises are recommended over canyon carving.
For shoppers looking for a pillowy ride, the Solara convertible is a great choice. The soft suspension swallows up road bumps with little mention to occupants, and the light effort steering also keeps the driver isolated from the road. For sporting drivers, however, the pitiful Bridgestone Turanza 215/55R17 tires further accent the Solara’s understeer and scream for mercy in doing so. People for the Ethical Treatment of Tires are already launching a campaign. Body flex is significant – sometimes deciphering what’s in the rearview mirror requires rapidly moving your head from left to right, in sync with the shaking windshield. As one editor commented, “Structural integrity is an oxymoron with this car.”
So, the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible could use some added body stiffness. The same can be said of most convertibles, including all of those in this test. Limit expectations to comfortable highway runs and moderate speeds in the twisties, and you’ll come away a happy camper driving the Solara convertible.
1st Place: 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
If the Mini Cooper’s look doesn’t make you smile, a few minutes behind the wheel certainly will. Factor in the Cooper convertible’s sharp handling, unmatched brakes, and impressive powertrain, and it becomes clear that the Mini Cooper offers the best overall driving package of this group.
Our tester boasted 168 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque – seemingly insignificant next to numbers like 300 horsepower in the Mustang GT. But the Mini Cooper is a small car, and those figures feel greater in application than they look on paper. Take-off power is only acceptable, but run the tachometer up to 6,000 rpm (where maximum horsepower is available) and this little Mini takes off. There’s just the right amount of resistance to the clutch, and the gearbox is tight and precise. Speed-shifting is a breeze, and dropping the clutch after a quick shift to second emits a nice chirp from the front tires. Stopping power is outstanding, as the Mini provides the most communicative, well-modulated brakes of the bunch.
Matching the Mini’s impressive powertrain performance and braking is its handling. In fact, 110 mph feels much like 40 mph – the steering remains tight, road abnormalities well absorbed, and the engine running smooth at about 4,000 rpm. On back roads and at slower speeds, the Mini Cooper is all about adhesion. The 17-inch Dunlop Sport tires work with a rather stiff suspension in keeping the Cooper planted in the corners, exhibiting almost no body roll.
With the good usually comes some bad, and in the case of the Mini Cooper convertible, the good comes at the expense of ride quality. That stiff suspension brings with it the toughest ride among our testers, and that stiffness always makes for plenty of body flex. But, in the end, we found those to be minor complaints when measured against the Mini Cooper convertible’s stellar handling and braking, and the tach’s eagerness to climb.
If there’s one thing a convertible must have, it’s a top that’s easy to operate. Since inclement weather can arise as quickly as the urge to bask in the sun, buyers want simple controls that respond quickly.
You’re best bet is the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible. With a simple latch and one button, the PT’s top lowers faster than any of the others, and takes only 18 seconds to raise. It’s quick and easy, as is the Solara’s top. However, the Solara has two latches instead of one, and takes an extra second to lower. The Mustang convertible requires more time for both lowering and raising, and the electric motor is noticeably louder than the Solara’s. Despite offering the only fully-automatic top (no latches), the Mini Cooper convertible comes in last mainly because of the 30 seconds it takes to completely lower the top.
4th Place: 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
Operating the Mini Cooper convertible’s power top is a very simple operation, provided you’re familiar with the placement of the relevant buttons. Sure, owners will soon remember what button to push, but that’s after the adventure of discovering where everything is. Oh, those mischievous Mini engineers (why, I oughta…if I had five minutes with those nuts…).
Under a flip-open lid on the overhead console reside the buttons for the power top. Also on the overhead console are the buttons for the rear side windows, which, if you press long enough, will also operate the front windows. Front windows may also be controlled using two toggle switches on the lower dash.
Once all of the appropriate buttons and switches have been found, the Cooper convertible’s top is easy to use, and even offers a “sunroof” feature. Press the top-down button, and the front half of the roof retracts to a point just behind the front seats; press the button again, and the entire top lowers and stacks up behind the rear seats.
The Mini had the slowest top operation of the tested vehicles. It takes about 30 seconds to lower the top completely; raising the top takes about 17 seconds. There is no tonneau cover to place over the lowered top (as is available with all of the others), and the motor that operates the top is quite loud.
Most importantly, however, and perhaps the only thing that matters to some buyers, the 2005 Mini Cooper convertible was the only vehicle that had a fully automatic top, whereas the PT, Mustang, and Solara included manual latches. But clearly, we don’t mind latches.
3rd Place: 2005 Ford Mustang Convertible
Much faster to lower but a bit slower to raise than the Mini’s top, the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible features a power top that includes driver- and passenger-side manual latches. Fold down the visors, undo the latches, and then depress the convertible top button located on the overhead console. The Mustang’s top takes about 16 seconds to lower and about 20 to raise.
Unlike the Mini Cooper, a tonneau cover can be placed over the folded top when retracted, or stored in the trunk when not in use. This cumbersome cover clips under the molding around the convertible top, requiring about one minute to put in place and about 20 seconds to remove. Power window switches are intuitively placed on the doors and easy to use simultaneously, with a single switch for both rear windows.
2nd Place: 2005 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible
Like the Ford Mustang, the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible features two manual latches that must be released before the power top is operated. Once unlatched, depressing a button on the left side of the dash lowers the top completely. Next to the power top button is a switch for raising and lowering all four windows simultaneously, something not offered on any of the competitors. Front power window buttons are also located on the door panels.
At 12 seconds, the Solara drops its top just one second slower than the fastest of the group, the PT Cruiser convertible. But, the Solara’s convertible top motor is by far the quietest. Raising the top takes 18 seconds, equal to the PT Cruiser. Snapping the boot cover into place takes about 45 seconds; removing it takes about 10 seconds.
1st Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
The 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible wins this segment of the test because its top was the easiest to operate. There’s only one center latch to release on the PT, and even though the Mini requires no unlatching, the PT Cruiser’s top still operates much quicker than the Cooper’s. Lowering the top only takes 11 seconds, while raising it takes 18 seconds. Each front and rear side window has its own switch at the top of the center dash.
As with the Mustang convertible, there’s a bulky, awkward boot cover that takes at least a minute to put on, though we were never able to get it to sit correctly. Frankly, we’d skip boot covers all together, especially with the PT Cruiser convertible. But, if you want the finished look that these add-ons provide, leave yourself a little extra time for installation.
Featuring small rear windows, wide sections of fabric substituting for rear roof pillars, oversized headrests, and thick roll bars, convertibles can pose a challenge for outward visibility. Even when the tops are lowered, there can be a stack of fabric, or ever-present roll bars, reflected in the rearview mirror and blocking the view out.
Not so with the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible. With a relatively large rear window and low rear headrests, top-up visibility is on par with some hardtops, and with the top down it provides the clearest view out. Visibility out of the PT Cruiser is acceptable, but hindered by thick rear “pillars” with the top raised and a high rear beltline when lowered. The Solara convertible suffers thanks to huge rear headrests that limit the driver’s sightlines regardless of whether the top is up or down. And, then there’s the Mini. Ugh. The claustrophobic combination of oversized rear headrests, big chrome roll bars, a small rear window, and large expanses of fabric make those side view mirrors worth their weight in gold.
4th Place: 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
Some folks shopping for a convertible worry that they’ll never actually drive their new car with the top down. Mini engineers have just the solution – make top-up visibility so horrid that you only dare leave the driveway with the top down. Thank goodness for the Cooper convertible’s standard rear parking sensors.
Working in tandem to almost completely eclipse visibility are massive rear headrests and rear “pillars” of fabric that effectively obliterate the outside world. Great for creating privacy and unrivaled blind spots, but not for much else. Behind those beefy headrests are thick roll bars, and between these virtual walls is a small patch of space through which the driver gets a glimpse of what lurks beyond the Cooper’s tail. At this point, commenting on the small size of the window itself might be a bit superfluous.
Unfortunately, dropping the top only serves to shed some light on things, but offers little benefit in regards to visibility. Those rear headrests and roll bars remain, yet stacked up behind them now is the convertible top, and the chrome on the roll bars sparkles brightly enough in sunshine to sear your retinas. Granted, the side mirrors do a fine job of filling in some of the blanks, but a clear view over the shoulder – or through the rearview mirror – can’t be beat.
3rd Place: 2005 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible
Skull protectors are great, but sometimes they can be too big. The Solara convertible features huge outboard headrests for rear seat passengers, and they are nearly as effective as the Mini’s in limiting rearward visibility. And, like the Mini, the Solara’s rear headrests can’t be lowered or folded out of the way (though the 2006 Solara convertible comes with hoop-style see-through headrests). So, with the top up, there’s a narrow gap allowing visibility through a small rear window. Undersized sideview mirrors offer little help, and the expanse of fabric that is the rear pillar makes a guessing game out of who might be behind and beside you. Drop the top and things get better.
With the top down, those big melons of head-protecting leather remain, but the Solara convertible’s retracted top sits flush, thereby providing for a better rearward view. And since the rear bodyline doesn’t rise dramatically (as is the case with the PT Cruiser), the driver is granted a decent view around the headrests.
2nd Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
There’s one key difference between the second place 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible and the third and fourth place finishers – the size of the rear headrests. In fact, both the PT and the Ford Mustang convertible have small, integrated rear headrests that greatly improve visibility. Mix in a generous view from the mirrors, and the PT Cruiser convertible serves up one of the best examples of what to see out of, if not what to be seen in.
Top-up visibility is much better than both the Mini Cooper and the Solara, but the small rear window sets it behind the Mustang convertible. However, without any significant obstructions, all of that window is usable. With the top down, all-around visibility is quite good, with only the stacked top, roll bar, and high rear beltline acting to block things out.
1st Place: 2005 Ford Mustang Convertible
Thanks to a large rear window, small rear headrests, and large side mirrors, the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible gets the #1 spot for visibility.
The rear window of the Mustang convertible most resembles that of a hardtop car – it’s wide and fairly tall. Match that to large side windows, and the result is a relatively thin rear fabric pillar, with an improved all-around view being the benefit. Oversize exterior rearview mirrors make sure that all of the bases are covered.
The view with the top down is very good, spoiled only a bit by our tester’s raised rear spoiler. Otherwise, the flat rear deck, flush-folding top, and small rear headrests allow the driver to see any vehicles that may be beside or behind the Mustang.
There is something inherently fun about cruising down the highway with the top down, getting a suntan while you drive, breathing in some fresh air, or driving under the stars at night. But the fun factor is about more than that – it requires an exciting or lively driving experience, being in a car that you want to be seen in, and preferably a booming audio system.
4th Place: 2005 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible
When it comes to fun, there were two things that really stood out about our Toyota Camry Solara SLE convertible – one of them being the thumping, 315-watt JBL sound system. At slow speeds and high speeds, top up and down, that thing just pounded out the tunes.
On the other hand, storm clouds start to form when the Solara’s styling and driving dynamics are factored into the equation. That smooth powertrain and cushy ride are required to make the Solara a great cruiser, but collectively they fall short of fun. There is something very “grandma” about how the Solara convertible handles and looks, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if it were the best-selling soft top in Florida, fondly referred to as blue-hair country.
A Camry Solara coupe is an excellent car, with superior ergonomics, a comfortable ride, and proven mechanicals, yet it is not a car that puts a smile on your face or has you searching your calendar for some driving time. But, as the roomiest car in this test, the Solara convertible can easily and comfortably transport four beach goers and a trunk full of gear, so it at least facilitates fun.
3rd Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
Outfitted with a turbo engine and a manual transmission, the Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible comes ready to provide an afternoon of good times. The retro yet youthful design of the PT (especially with our tester’s electric blue pearl paint and 17-inch silver alloys) makes it a ride you at least don’t mind being seen in, and the sound system can out sing Mother Nature’s gusty howl even at freeway speeds. Whereas the Solara convertible is a vehicle you’d just as soon leave in the garage, the PT Cruiser convertible makes you take a second look and say to yourself, “Well, maybe just a short drive before dinner.”
For driving enthusiasts, there’s the gutsy powertrain (if you can ignore the torque steer) and a deep exhaust note that makes winding out the engine sheer joy. Social types will like the PT’s comfortable four-passenger seating and a trunk big enough for beach day essentials. Lastly, turning that mundane, congested ride home into a stress reliever is as easy as hitting the next off ramp and watching the sky open up in only 11 seconds.
2nd Place: 2005 Ford Mustang Convertible
Put simply – there’s just something cool about driving a Mustang convertible, especially the GT. Sleek lines, unmistakable styling cues, and seats that you sink into behind a dash that is all classic Ford pony. And, yeah, there’s a touch of pride in knowing that you’re driving an American car that everyone is clamoring to get.
As they should be. All of the competitors had limited visibility to some degree, but that was much less of a problem in the Mustang convertible. To us, taking the guesswork out of who and what is around the car makes the experience inside a lot more enjoyable. While inside, everyone will enjoy the b-b-b-bass from the optional Shaker 1000 sound system’s subwoofer, and the sweet rumble of the GT’s exhaust.
Of course, if you’re a car person, the biggest thrill comes from 300 horsepower and a five-speed manual transmission. Half the fun of driving a Mustang GT convertible is in revving the V8 and listening to that distinctive burble when you push the clutch in. Turn off the traction control, drop the clutch and, well, there’s all kinds of fun that law enforcement will surely take interest in. Yet, even without spinning rubber off the rear tires, the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible serves as a comfortable cruiser that makes for memorable day of driving.
1st Place: 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
It’s cute. It’s peppy. It’s agile. It even has a name that’s fun to say (try it – say Mini then Buick and see which one sounds more entertaining).
That ever-present cute factor. Driving a car that makes kids point, adults smile, and other Mini drivers honk and wave is the best way to travel. Paint it yellow and add racing stripes, and the notoriety index skyrockets (though black and dark silver are available for those who shun the spotlight). Inside, the mix of toggle switches, buttons, and various size gauges offers both the driver and passengers a variety of textures and fixtures to touch and play with, much like Fisher-Price toys designed to stimulate an infant’s tactile senses.
The Mini playpen rides on a taut, fully independent suspension, and features tight steering and microcar dimensions that allow drivers to thread in and out of traffic with ease, even if the horrible visibility has you driving blind. The shifter is well-placed, and offers clean shifts. Grippy brakes take everything down to a safe, slow speed in no time.
For a convertible that will make even congested California freeways appear desirable, look no further than the chipper Mini Cooper.
Raw horsepower and singing superchargers, boulevard cruisers and canyon carvers, comfortable and confining – it was all mixed into this affordable convertible test. But, in the end the comfort and refinement of the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible took top picks.
All of these competitors offer something to the consumer, from the PT Cruiser’s value to the Mustang’s design. And none rival the Mini Cooper’s handling prowess. However, the Toyota offers the best overall package. For those carpooling days, the Solara provides comfortable, spacious seating for three fellow passengers. Should you decide to take a few friends on a weekend roadtrip, the Solara’s trunk will accommodate your overnight bags and will provide a smooth, compliant ride to your destination, while returning acceptable fuel mileage. And with 225 horsepower and 240 lb.-ft. of torque, the Solara’s 3.3-liter V6 has enough punch to add some spirit to the drive.
In one way or another, each of the Toyota’s competitors came up lacking. The Mini Cooper offered lousy visibility and a tiny rear seat; the aging PT Cruiser featured hella torque steer and a funky trunk design; and the 2005 Ford Mustang, as much as we love it, fell short of the Solara convertible in terms of rear seat comfort and interior build quality.
4th Place: 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible
In the final analysis, the total lack of rear seat comfort and visibility helped push the 2005 Mini Cooper convertible to the back of the pack. While the Cooper convertible is a fun little car that is a joy to drive under most conditions, this test was about affordable, four-passenger convertibles – in the case of the Mini, there is technically a rear seat, but there’s no mercy for anyone forced to ride back there.
Our editors also gave low scores to the interior ergonomics (besides the steering wheel and the gear shift, nothing seems to be where you’d logically expect), and interior storage that was basically nil. Don’t forget about those useless cupholders – what a great feeling it is to drive with the top down on a hot summer day in a car that refuses to accommodate even an average-sized water bottle. Ahh, good times.
The Mini Cooper convertible would be a reasonable option for a single guy or gal who places go-kart driving over comfort and convenience, or maybe a couple with a dog that can ride in back. For everyone else, there are better choices.
3rd Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
When it comes to the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible, it’s all about being average. Indeed, our scorecards showed an even split between the car’s pros and cons.
We liked the engine’s power, but disliked the torque steer; the interior was comfortable, but the ergonomics could’ve been better (especially those window switches); and cargo capacity benefited from fold-down seats, but the awkward trunk lid was built for contortionists. What generally drew praise were the comfortable front seats, relatively easy entry and exit front and rear, and we all liked playing with the turbo’s power.
Toss in the generous discounts currently available on the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible and the seven-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty (replaced with a 3/36 warranty for 2006), and the PT’s shortcomings lose some of their bite, but are not completely dismissed. However, for bargain shoppers, this is the crème de la crème.
2nd Place: 2005 Ford Mustang Convertible
Big props were given to the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible for its excellent (for a convertible) visibility, “Stevie Simpleton” ergonomics, and classic styling. Plus, adults can ride in the rear buckets for at least cross-town trips.
On top of that, the Mustang convertible has reasonable trunk space, so a trip to the beach with three friends and all of your gear is actually plausible – and the guys in the back seat won’t even have to carry the grill and volleyball. Most of all, with the top down it’s the car we’d most like to be seen cruising in and the GT’s symphonic exhaust note is what we’d most like to hear.
Take away the Mustang name, the V8, and the badging, call it a Kia, and this car would still rank as a desirable, true four-passenger drop top. Calling it a Mustang and dropping 300 horsepower under the hood just makes it all the more sweet.
1st Place: 2005 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible
The surprise of all surprises – in a test of affordable four-passenger convertibles, the undistinguished 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible outranks the desirable Mustang, the playful Mini Cooper, and the torquey PT Cruiser.
That’s what happens when a car’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, as was the case with the Solara. There’s the smooth and refined powertrain, pillowy ride, extremely comfortable front and spacious rear seats, quiet and quick power top operation, and relatively cavernous trunk. True, the exterior styling is a little on the plain side, but the user-friendly interior makes up for it. This is the car your friends will actually enjoy riding in, as opposed to just being seen in. And if your friends are happy, you’re happy.
Unless, of course, you don’t really like your friends…in which case, go for the Mini Cooper convertible.
|Engine Size/Type||2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder||4.6-liter SOHC V8||Supercharged 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder||3.3-liter DOHC V6 with variable valve timing|
|Horsepower||220@5,100 rpm||300@5,750 rpm||168@6,000 rpm||225@5,600 rpm|
|Torque||245@2,400 rpm||320@4,500 rpm||162@4,000 rpm||240@3,600 rpm|
|Transmission||Five-speed MT||Five-speed MT||Six-speed MT||Five-speed AT|
|EPA MPG (city/highway)||19/26||18/23||25/32||20/29|
|Legroom (f/r – in.)||40.6/40.9||42.7/31.0||41.3/27.7||42.0/35.0|
|Headroom (f/r – in.)||38.7/36.4||38.6/35.0||38.4/38.1||38.5/38.4|
|Shoulder room (f/r – in.)||52.9/42.0||55.4/53.3||50.9/39.0||56.1/47.2|
|Cargo Volume (cu. ft.)||7.4||9.7||5.8||12.0|
|Time to lower top||11 seconds||16 seconds||30 seconds||12 seconds|
|Time to raise top||18 seconds||20 seconds||17 seconds||18 seconds|
|Basic Warranty (years/miles)||3/36,000||3/36,000||4/50,000||3/36,000|
|Powertrain Warranty (years/miles)||7/70,000||3/36,000||4/50,000||5/60,000|
|Corrosion Warranty (years/miles)||5/100,000||5/unlimited||12/unlimited||5/unlimited|
2nd Opinion - Blackett
It took moving to sunny California for me to appreciate the brilliance of four-passenger convertibles. During our testing, dropping the top was simply a question of whether or not I wanted to burn that growing patch of flesh on the top of my head. Previously, as a native New Englander, I had focused on the shortcomings of convertibles. Sure they’re fun, but practical? Not so much. In an environment where most days are cold and gray or subject to copious amounts of “precipitation,” driving around with the top down might get you referred to as “wicked dumb.” Oh, you can drive most convertibles all year in the great White North (in fact, three of our testers were capable front-drivers), but the locals will still shake their heads at your eccentricity. But, we performed our testing in southern California, where it takes a lot more than driving with the top down on a cloudy day to be considered abnormal.
For most people, after deciding to shop for a convertible, it comes down to price, comfort, usability, and desirability. And don’t forget about fun – without it, that convertible might as well be an old-man-tan sedan. For me, desirability and fun outrank all of the others (followed closely by price), so I’d put my own money down for a 2005 Ford Mustang GT convertible – there is just no substitute for the power, style, and thrilling sound offered by that car. Should the hot-selling Mustang elude my grasp (or if a salesperson is insistent on a “market adjusted price”), I’d have loads of fun driving the Mini Cooper S convertible. Rounding out my choices would be the Solara, followed by my least favorite, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible.
4th Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT Convertible
With big rebates, generous turbo power, and spacious seating for four adults, the PT Cruiser convertible makes a lot of sense for a lot of shoppers. Plus, the 7-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty can’t be beat by any vehicle in this test. Overall, the PT Cruiser looks like a helluva bargain.
Look a little closer, though, and the cracks in the PT’s veneer are obvious. That turbo power brings with it unruly torque-steer, leading to an occasional battle for dominance between driver and car. And then there’s that trunk lid, which is just begging to bump some heads and strain some backs. The design, which was once seen as hot, is now just ho-hum. Finally, based on its price and content, the PT Cruiser may be a great value, but is it a bargain? Not for this shopper. A bargain suggests getting a great price on something you really want. If I had a PT to call my own, it would only be because I didn’t want to pay more for something better.
3rd Place: 2005 Toyota Camry Solara SLE Convertible
As our final rankings point out, the Toyota Camry Solara convertible is a car with more positives than negatives. The engine provides ample power and the transmission is smooth; the power top is quiet and easy to use; interior comfort ranks the highest; and even the trunk is spacious. Plus, it’s a Toyota, so the Solara brings with it a proven record of reliability.
That being the case, I would definitely recommend this car to my 62-year-old mom. She’d like the nice ride, the big trunk, and probably even the styling. And if she handed it down after 30 years, I might even enjoy driving it when I’m her age. But, for now, I want a car that stirs at least a smidgen of emotion when I look at it and when I drive it, something accomplished by each of the competitors, except the Solara.
2nd Place: 2005 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Tight handling and supercharged power blended together with appealing looks and tiny dimensions are the steps in baking a fun convertible. It’s a recipe Mini engineers know well. When wearing the S badge, the Mini Cooper pumps out 168 horsepower, which is more than enough to turn this tiny box of car parts into a lively sprinter that will hang with the best of them on both the backroads and the highways. True, it may not offer the refinement of the Toyota or the spaciousness of the PT Cruiser, though neither does it suffer snooze-inducing styling or unwieldy torque steer.
The Mini Cooper S convertible is a fun car to drive, be seen in, and even just to sit and look at. Sacrifices in comfort and utility have to be made when purchasing the Cooper, but they are soon forgotten once the key is turned and the tach moves past 3,000 rpm.
1st Place: 2005 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
American blood runs through these veins, and it pumps faster upon the sight of a 2005 Ford Mustang GT convertible. The redesigned Mustang offers the full package for me – classic yet muscular styling, a comfortable driving position with a simple but functional interior design, excellent visibility, and 300 horsepower controlled with a manual transmission. As a car guy, purchasing a convertible would be about more than making payments and dropping the top a few times. Instead, the idea would be to use and enjoy my new ride, dote over it on the weekends, and preserve it for my kids to enjoy. The Mini Cooper is too small for my tastes, and I have no desire to look at a PT Cruiser for countless years to come. That leaves the Solara or the Mustang, and as I see it, the Solara might be just the ticket in 30 years when I hand my kids the keys to my beloved 2005 Ford Mustang GT convertible.
2nd Opinions - Chee
Fun is what puts a smile on your face, a sparkle in your eye and a chuckle in your mouth.
That’s it. That’s fun.
And the easiest way to get that sensation while driving is to drive a convertible, one with the spirit to move you down the road, hair mussed, sun shining, and stereo blasting.
There is no other reason to buy one.
That kind of fun, however, comes at a price – one not easily met by the great middle class of this country. But wait – there is hope for the working man. For 2005, three new convertibles at around $30,000 are now available – the 2005 Mini Cooper S Convertible, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible, and the 2005 Ford Mustang GT Convertible. They join a group already in the fun zone that includes the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara Convertible. Which one is most fun – and the best buy – depends on your perspective. For this reviewer, fun in the sun at around $30,000 comes first with the PT Cruiser, second with the Mustang, third with the Toyota Camry Solara and finally the Mini Cooper.
4th Place: 2005 Mini Cooper S Convertible
How shocking – last place for a car that sells itself as the fun alternative. They speak the truth, by the way, because driving it is very fun – it’s living with the Mini that makes it a chore. The distinction is subtle but significant: Fun is a car that sticks to the road as if it were a spandex yellow stripe. Not fun is picking bugs off your forehead because the smallish windshield offers little protection. Combined with the low-cut doors, it’s all wind all the time – and yes, I do believe it’s time to put that top up.
Fun is the stylish exuberance of the Mini, the kind of look that makes even jaded truckers smile. Not fun is squeezing an adult frame into a teeny-weeny backseat fit only for elves, waifs and fairies. Fun is an engine that sounds great, drives better and makes you want to enter the local city street Grand Prix. Not fun is an average mile-per-gallon of just over 20 for a car this small, and rearward visibility that actually gets worse with the top down, thanks to tall back seats with roll bars and a method of top stowage that simply stacks it up on top of the trunk. Looking out of the rearview mirror is like staring up a hole – something that sounds decidedly un-fun to me. Fun is racing stripes and Mini logos – not fun is hard plastics everywhere, barely serviceable cupholders and no room to stow anything. There are other irritants, such as the small trunk – suitable for one suitcase – and a trunk lid that opens out and down – making ease of use a back-wrenching hassle.
Fun is enjoying a sunny day out with friends. Not fun is going it alone, ‘cause no one else wants to ride in such a small, confining space, or maybe because you can’t afford to go anywhere anyway – thanks to the $30K you blew on this car. But go ahead – enjoy the drive. Me, I want a car that’s also fun to live with.
3rd Place: 2005 Toyota Camry Solara SLE Convertible
Where the 2005 Mini Cooper S convertible is fun over function, the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara is all function and a little fun – unless your idea of fun is waiting in line at Starbucks.
I would rather get my latte later, thanks. And while I would buy and live with a Solara rather than a Mini Cooper Convertible, I would rather drive a Mini. The trouble with the Solara is that its efficiency and mass-produced appeal make it like a mechanical mask on a real, snorting bull.
Give me a convertible Scion tC.
Until then, the Solara is a capable substitute – so organized and full of extras that it’s like going to a dinner theatre instead of a Broadway play. Aye, you will pay more for those Broadway tickets. And you’ll get a nice chicken dinner at the all-you-can-eat playhouse, with chocolate mousse, too. But “Oklahoma” plays at Harvey’s Chicken-and-Ribs Play Shack 354 days a year, and a Broadway play – why that’s something special.
Of course, the Solara is special because it’s a convertible – and there’s no such thing as a boring convertible, nor is there any way to describe the Solara’s V6 engine as a snooze-fest. The Solara goes fast, and has all the bells and whistles – including navigation screen – for a sticker price just a tick over $32,000. That is about the same price as the Mini Cooper S Convertible, but with navigation, top-grain leather, a superb interior design and a strong exterior design. Of the cars tested, the Solara was the best built, had the most room in back, featured the best interior and offered the best top mechanism. It was also the car with the least appeal, the sloppiest handling and, as a result, the least fun car to drive on a balmy Sunday morning. Fun for the Solara is getting a very competent, stylish car – with all the trimmings – for a price that makes the Mini blush.
2nd Place: 2005 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
Sex appeal runs amok with the Mustang. And not just any old level of attraction, but retro titillation of the highest order, wrapped up tight in a car that carries with it the hopes and dreams of a Great Ford Comeback.
Here come the Dearborn Divas.
They ride on the wheels of the Mustang – first the fastback and, now, the convertible. Listen carefully and you can hear the sound of Ford dealers everywhere, sharpening their pencils and laying out stacks of four-square sales sheets.
They’ll use ‘em, because the Ford Mustang GT Convertible is the kind of car you’ll like to drive, love to look at, all while easily fitting it into your daily grind. With a back seat that’s bigger than the Mini but smaller than the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible or the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara, you can actually transport two adults in back – just not for a long road trip. Unwelcome rattles and whistling in the cabin is barely noticeable, thanks to the sweet, sweet sound of the Mustang GT’s 300-horsepower V8 engine.
Stop. Before you think that there’s something wrong with an abundance of engine noise, cast your mind back to our goal of fun-Zen, and remind yourself that the Mustang GT is the new-old muscle car – you’re supposed to hear the engine. Fun and function are capably represented here, from excellent design inside and out to the nicest drop top among the four cars tested, a fiber mesh material that will stand up to the rigors of the sun much longer than the canvas tops on the Solara, PT and Mini. What keeps the Mustang GT out of the first slot, however, is its spotty interior build, so-so ride and handling, and price. At around $34,000 as tested, this is the most expensive car in the test.
Fun, after all, does come at a price – and it’s more fun when that price is under $30,000.
1st Place: 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT Convertible
If you remember the PT Cruiser, you likely recall the hysteria that accompanied its entrance into the marketplace, the high prices and the waiting lists.
Mmmm. Good times.
But that was then, and this is where once upon a time slipped into the shadow of its own monster rebate. Now you can’t buy a PT Cruiser – or the convertible – without getting at least a couple thou back in discounts. Which is slightly amazing, because few moderately-priced convertibles match up to the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible.
It has ample rear legroom, more than any of the others in this test. It goes like a bat after a blood pie dinner – its 2.4-liter turbo engine is great fun to drive, and among its ilk it smokes off the line. Driving around corners is problematic, however, as the tall body of the PT Cruiser rocks and shifts and shimmies. There’s loads of torque steer – too much when driving aggressively. But from inside and out, the PT is exciting and fun to drive, thanks to great visibility, a high seating position and a turbo ride. Wind protection is as good or better than the rest of the field – only the Solara is as good. Sitting inside is rewarding, as all passengers get plenty of room; there are even inboard front armrests. Plastics fit well together, and there are plenty of soft and semi-soft surfaces to touch. The exterior is very much like the classic look of the PT Cruiser, with the roof chopped off. That’s a bit awkward – strange, in fact – and it doesn’t look nearly as “fun” as the Mustang or the Mini.
It also costs a few thousand less. At a sticker price of around $29,000, the PT Cruiser is certainly the best deal – and that adds to the fun factor. But price aside, it’s fun in the way it drives, its comfort and its design – with the top down. Of all four cars tested, give me the PT Cruiser on a balmy Sunday morning, and I will see you on Monday. And that is what fun is all about.
2nd Opinions - Wardlaw
After a week of driving these four drop-tops, nobody on staff was surprised that the winner of this affordable, four-seat convertible test was the Camry Solara, because it’s the car we’d recommend to anyone looking for this type of ragtop. But when it comes to choosing what we’d personally stow in our own garages, fun is a huge factor, because while we might evaluate and write to best inform the general consumer, our team of editors is comprised of enthusiasts. We love to drive – and the Camry Solara inspires virtually zero passion from behind the wheel.
Personally, I wouldn’t buy the Toyota. The Chrysler PT Cruiser GT is tempting, however, despite its chintzy interior and styling that, though handsome, is quickly approaching its expiration date. Why? Because it’s cheap, comfortable, and fun. I drove our test car to Phoenix from Los Angeles, and it had plenty of room for two and a long weekend’s worth of luggage. During my stay in the Valley of the Sun, the Arizona Republic was littered with advertisements for the PT Cruiser GT Convertible touting discounts of more than $10,000 off the sticker price. That is a compelling argument for purchase, especially in combination with an impressive powertrain warranty.
The Mini Cooper S is a blast to drive, just like the hatchback version. But the convertible suffers visibility problems, size issues, and significantly diminished structural rigidity. Plus, a mid-week afternoon visit to my local Mini store in Long Beach, Calif., revealed an indifferent 20-something sales staff that responded apathetically after learning that all I wanted was to learn more about how the convertible top and its integrated sunroof feature worked. I’d rather own the Cooper S hatchback, spend the difference on a John Cooper Works package to boost the horsepower, add the sunroof option, and buy it from a dealer located somewhere other than Long Beach.
That leaves the Ford Mustang convertible, which, even with a V6, is the car I’d drive home.
4th Place – 2005 Toyota Camry Solara SLE Convertible
Despite the fact that the 2005 Toyota Camry Solara convertible is an excellent choice for the general consumer looking for a fun-in-the-sun, four-seat ragtop, this is my least favorite of the bunch mainly because it’s not engaging to drive. What makes it perfect for people who don’t care about quarter-mile acceleration times, skidpad adhesion, or thrills on twisty roads is the comfort of the cabin, the quality of the materials, and the refinement that every Toyota product exudes. And don’t forget that Toyotas have a great reputation for delivering years of dependable service while retaining a significant chunk of original value. Of our quartet, the Toyota Camry Solara convertible had the roomiest and most comfortable back seat, Lexus-quality interior décor, a smooth and cushy ride quality, the biggest trunk, and a powerful V6 engine that got decent gas mileage even when driven hard. But with ride-biased tires, a wiggly body structure, flat front seats, and significant suspension movement when asked to handle more than a trip to the mall, the Solara reveals its Camry sedan roots. Part of convertible ownership is about having fun, and the Solara is the least entertaining of the group.
3rd Place – 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT Convertible
More engaging than the Toyota, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible, even in turbocharged GT form, is my third-place pick simply because it’s got too many rough edges. It’s quicker than the Mini Cooper S, but the driver fights torque steer every step of the way. It handles better than the Toyota, but the body rolls significantly and the seats don’t hold occupants still. The interior is stylishly retro, but assembled with lower-grade materials than others in the test. The manual transmission features long throws and notchy engagement, the clutch is soft, and the brake pedal is stiff with little feedback about what the calipers and pads are doing. And frankly, though still quite handsome, the PT Cruiser’s already old-school design is aging rapidly. But in terms of fun for four, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT Convertible cannot be beat. It holds four six-foot-tall adults, though rear seat riders enjoy a smidge less shoulder room than in the Solara. It’s fun to look at, fun to drive, and fun to be seen in. Plus, it’s the least expensive of our tested vehicles, and that’s before generous rebates. If you like the styling of the PT Cruiser, you’ll love the Cruiser Convertible.
2nd Place – 2005 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Driving a Mini Cooper S is like driving a go-kart. Point the wheel in the direction you wish to travel, press the gas, and you’ll shoot toward your target, making life a heck of a lot more enjoyable behind the wheel. Plus, the Mini transmits plenty of information to the driver about road surface conditions, both through the steering and the suspension. And let’s not forget what a treat the supercharged four is – especially on a nice, cool day. But the Mini is small. The Mini is expensive. The Mini has lots of flimsy parts inside. The Mini has no trunk space. And with the top chopped off, the Mini lacks structural integrity. Really, this car ought to be compared to roadsters like the upcoming Mazda MX-5, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Sky, so useless is the rear seat for anyone but the offspring of height-challenged adults. Yet, I’d choose this over the Chrysler and Toyota, simply because it puts a big, fat, sloppy grin on my face every time I drive it, whether in the country or the city.
1st Place – 2005 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
How predictable. One of the hottest new cars of 2005 lands at the top of my personal choice list. It’s not even the most fun to drive, the roomiest, or constructed of the highest quality materials. And please don’t assume that the Mustang is my pick solely for its 300-horsepower V8’s melodic exhaust burble, its retro styling inside and out, its excellent outward visibility with the top raised or lowered, or its thundering Shaker 1000 audio system. Rather, I choose the Mustang because it’s the best compromise of the vehicles we gathered for the test. But mostly it’s because every time I climb behind the wheel of Ford’s new Mustang, I’m transported back in time to a simpler era free of crushing responsibilities. Indeed, the 2005 Ford Mustang makes me feel like a kid again, and the convertible top simply adds to the joy of revisited youth. Call it escapism if you must, but somehow, a drive in a 2005 Ford Mustang makes everything right with the world. And doesn’t everyone need a way to escape every once in awhile?
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry and Christian Wardlaw