Graham King 6 years ago 69

5 Convertibles You Mustn't Be Seen Dead In This Summer

Summer's here, so it's tempting to buy a budget convertible. But be careful which one you choose...

Remind me later
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Summer has arrived and it looks like it could be around for a while yet. So it might be tempting to get yourself a cheap drop-top to enjoy some wind-in-the-hair motoring during the long, hot days and balmy, lazy evenings. You want to share the experience with mates, so a four-seater is on the cards. But you need to be very careful which four-seater convertible you get because so many family-size cabriolets are intensely embarrassing to even be associated with, never mind actually have the keys to. To save your embarrassment, here are five convertibles to avoid at all costs:

1990-1998 Ford Escort Cabriolet

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When it was launched in 1990, the Mark 5 Escort was not well received. It was dull to look at, unpleasant to drive and badly made. Chopping the roof didn't solve any of those problems, and added a large dollop of scuttle shake, despite the enormous roll-over hoop. Dynamically and stylistically it was miles behind rivals like the Peugeot 306 and even the Renault Megane. But it did seem to be popular with hairdressers and aspiring tennis pros. The square-cut Mark 3/4 Escort Cabs from the 1980s have become a bit retro-cool these days. The Mark 5, though? It was unfashionable back in the day, and it always will be. If you buy one now, you will rightly be ridiculed.

1992-1998 Vauxhall Astra Convertible

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The Mark 3 Astra hatchback was probably better than its arch-rival, the fifth-gen Escort, but that really isn't saying much. And that applied to the open version, too. The Vauxhall was better looking than the Ford but it still wasn't memorable. And it was marginally better to drive, but still had the rigidity of a stale biscuit. The Astra famously featured as the forfeit car in Top Gear's Middle East Adventure, where it was described as the automotive equivalent of a sponge cake. That pretty much hits the nail on the head. It was bland, flavourless and not really worth the effort. The only thing that counted in its favour was a decent-sized boot. But who cares about that in a convertible?

1992-1999 Rover 200 Cabriolet

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The Honda Concerto-based Rover 200 has been much maligned over the years (not by me - my first car was a 214 SEi, which was brilliant). Yet when it was launched in 1989, it went down extremely well with the magazine road testers. The drop-top version was pretty good, too. It looked alright, it was a decent steer and it came with Rover's fantastic new K-Series engine. It was even the first convertible to have an electric roof as standard. So what was the problem with the 200? Put simply, the badge. Convertibles are supposed to be for fashion-conscious young go-getters (despite the evidence we've seen here). Rovers are for old codgers, which meant the people who bought these were ladies who lunch. So the 200 is a decent car spoiled by a bad image. After all, can you imagine saying to your mates: "Let's take the Rover"? Thought not.

1994-1999 Fiat Punto Cabriolet

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For all of about five minutes, the first-generation Fiat Punto was a very good car. Certainly good enough to be named 1995 European Car Of The Year, thanks mostly to its amazingly spacious interior. But it was quickly overtaken by the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 106. And it was, of course, built like a Fiat, so reliability wasn't exactly its strongest point. The Punto was at least very pretty. And the Bertone-styled Cabriolet was even prettier. But a bit more effort could have been put into making sure the car didn't collapse in on itself if you tried driving it even slightly quickly. Structural integrity wasn't the only price you paid for the styling. There wasn't anywhere to put the roof when it was folded down, so it was piled up behind the rear seats like the hood of a pram. And the boot was miniscule. But here's the Punto's biggest problem. As pretty as it is, it's a bit slab-sided, meaning it looks a bit like a bath tub...not cool.

1995-1997 Rover 100 Cabriolet

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It's hard to know where to start with the 100 Cabriolet, really. Introduced in 1995, it was a facelifted version of 1990's Rover Metro, which was itself a facelift of the original Austin Metro from 1980. So it was already bloody ancient. And despite a fundamentally decent chassis that was extensively strengthened, it wasn't much cop to drive. The Cabriolet had other problems, too. The styling was wonky, there's wasn't a huge amount of space and the boot was even smaller than the Punto's. Rover made many mistakes with the 100 Cab, but the biggest was that it existed at all. It sat in the range between the larger 200 and smaller Mini drop-tops, a gap that simply didn't need filling. And it cost a ridiculous £12,000. So no-one bought it. There really are no excuses for buying one now.