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  • April 17, 2014

Test Drive: Convertibles - Ladue News: Diversions

Test Drive: Convertibles

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:00 pm | Updated: 11:29 am, Mon Sep 9, 2013.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some higher temps and warm sunshine. Of course, the best way to enjoy all spring has to offer is in a convertible automobile. Convertibles come in all shapes, sizes and prices these days, with attractive options for just about anyone seeking some open-air fun.

For petrol heads looking for unabashed performance with their tanning machines, the Nissan 370Z Roadster offers incredible looks and performance for just a little more than $40,000.

For starters, the 370Z offers styling borrowed from the 260 and 280Z’s of the ‘80s, but beautifully updated to a sleek, modern-looking sports car. The roofline of the coupe is gorgeous, and the convertible retains most of its styling beauty with the added advantage of wind-in-the-hair motoring. The fully automatic top with glass rear window and defogger raises and lowers in about 20 seconds at the touch of a button in what can best be described as a mechanical ballet. With the soft top up, the cabin is nice and comfortable, with minimal wind noise or intrusion. With it down, it’s full-blown topless motoring fun.

The interior is a no-nonsense two-place cockpit that places its emphasis on function. Though it has the performance of a Porsche, it doesn’t have the interior of one. The leather on the heated seats is nice, but the other interior materials are pretty plebeian, which is perfect in my book; I’d rather have my money spent on performance than luxury. This is a purpose-built vehicle. Automatic temperature control is three-rotary-knob simple, and the sound system equally is as easy to use—a refreshing throwback eschewed by too many modern vehicles, which think we need yet another video screen in our lives. Trunk room is sports-car tight, though they claim you can fit a golf bag in the trunk (maybe if you play miniature golf).

This purposeful interior serves as an inviting office for those who take driving seriously. Snuggled in the very well-bolstered sport seat, you can adjust the steering wheel and have the prominent center tach and other gauges above it adjust with it for maximum visibility. Press the start engine button and the powerful 3.7-liter V-6 spits out a sonorous growling exhaust note that hints at the power beneath the hood. Slip it into gear and press the skinny pedal on the right, and you take off like a bullet as 332 horses claw their way to the tarmac through the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic gearbox. The steering is tight and precise, the braking good, and the taught suspension allows you to carve through curves like you’re on rails. Mileage is even a decent 18 city, 25 highway. This is pure sports car driving fun. In warm weather with the top down, it doesn’t get much better for those of us who enjoy performance driving.

According to Steve Colesworthy, general sales manager at Bommarito Nissan, “The Z Roadster has one of the most rigid body structures of any convertible. It was designed as a convertible, so body integrity was maximized, which translates to ultimate performance.”

Prices for the 370Z Roadster with automatic start at approximately $42,000—a tremendous bargain for the Z’s stellar performance and top-down fun.

Another fantastic convertible is the Bentley Continental GTC. The GTC comes pretty close to being everything one could want in an automobile. First, it absolutely is gorgeous. The Bentley stylists hit a home run when they designed the Continental, with flowing fender lines, a gorgeous front fascia and a beautiful rear end; and the GTC retains all but the coupe’s fastback roof line, but in exchange, you get the joy of open-air motoring.

The interior of the GTC is pure unadulterated luxury, with the finest wood and leather trim produced by true Old World craftsmen (whom I got to observe on my recent tour of the Bentley factory). Everything that looks metal is metal—not plastic—and well-bolstered heated and cooled seats are armchair-comfortable. Back-seat room is a bit tight, and leg room is largely dependent on the generosity of the front-seat passengers. The power opening trunk is surprisingly big for a convertible, even with the top down. The dual automatic climate controls are easy to use, and the large dash screen for the back-up camera and radio and navigation controls is a user-friendly touch screen. Raising and lowering the top is as easy as pressing one button for about 20 seconds. With the top raised, the four-layer top with glass window provides a snug and comfortable environment. With it down, it’s sun-in-the-face, wind-in-the-hair bliss. The seat even has an ‘air scarf’ to blow warm air on the back of your neck to keep you warm.

A new option for the GTC is a 4.0-litre, twin turbo, 500-horsepower V-8 engine (instead of the 6.0-litre, 567-horsepower W-12). The W-12's engine is almost overwhelming, while the V-8 offers more power than most drivers could ever use; and thanks to its lighter weight, the V-8's performance is not that much less than the W-12's. Mated to an 8-speed automatic, the V-8 delivers an impressive 14 mpg city, 24 highway. Not bad for a car that goes zero to 60 in about 4.7 seconds and weighs 5,400 pounds. With power going to all four wheels and excellent balance, the Bentley handles like a much smaller car.

Ephraim Schmitt, manager at Bentley St. Louis says, “The Bentley Continental GTC is the best all-around car you can buy. It does everything extremely well, from quality to luxury to performance.”

Of course, they’re not going to give away the best all-around car on the market, but for around $200,000, the GTC is an amazing car that delivers on every aspect a motoring enthusiast could desire.

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