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Wheels: Convertibles - Ladue News: Import

Wheels: Convertibles

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Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2009 12:00 am

There’s no better way to enjoy a sunny day than from behind the wheel of a sporty convertible, and some new entries in the convertible market have given us more fun to choose from. The 2009 BMW 1-series is a smaller, somewhat simpler version of the 3-series, but with a choice of the same engines. And since smaller and simpler means lighter, the 1-series is quicker and more nimble. Styling is distinctly BMW, which is to say taut, Teutonic lines in an attractive package.

    Interior room in the convertible is very close to that in the 3-series, with plenty of room up front and two back seats that are fine for kids and adequate for adults, although leg room is largely dependent on the generosity of the front seat passenger. Front seats are well bolstered and comfortable, and seat and steering wheel adjustments are manual, in keeping with the simple and light theme. Heated seats and rain sensing wipers are optional. Trunk room is pretty generous for a relatively small car, although with the top down it’s a bit shallow.

    A lined, cloth, power convertible top with heated rear glass window drops at the touch of a button in about 20 seconds for open-air motoring fun. Of course, as a BMW, the 1-series offers superb handling and performance. Steering is tight and responsive, and the short throws of the six-speed manual gear shift lever are precise. Cornering is flat as a pancake. Two engines are offered in the 1-series, a 3.0 liter 230 horsepower straight six in the 128i, and a 3.0 liter 300 horsepower turbo straight six in the 135i. Even without the turbo, there’s plenty of power for quick acceleration, especially with the stick shift, the turbo in this small car must be a monster. Brakes are equally good. Six-speed automatic transmissions are available with both engines, but would not be near as much fun as the sticks. Gas mileage for the rear-wheel drive 128i is 18 city, 28 highway. Dynamic stability control, ABS, roll-over protection and traction control are standard. The 1-series is also offered as a hardtop coupe.

    “The 1-series lets the BMW heritage shine through,“ says Autohaus BMW sales manager Joe Emerson. ”It’s a bit of back to basics with today’s safety features and a four-year warranty. It offers the same great BMW performance in a slightly smaller package.” Prices for the convertible start around $35,000 for the 128i and $41,000 for the 135i.

    Another fun and sporty convertible is the Mercedes SLK. With aggressive styling derived from the Mercedes SLR McLaren supercar, the SLK is a sharp-looking hardtop convertible for two.

    Its most prominent feature is the retractable hardtop. With the top up, you have all the safety, comfort and weather protection of a hardtop. But lower the hardtop into the trunk, and you have the pleasure of open-air motoring. It really is the best of both worlds. Lowering and raising the top is as easy as pushing a button. With the top up, the trunk has a bit of room; with the top down, the top takes up some of the trunk space, leaving a fairly shallow cargo area.

    In the cockpit, the power-adjusted, bolstered, heated leather seats, dual automatic climate control, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, power telescoping and tilt steering wheel and excellent sound system offer all the luxury expected in a Mercedes. A nice feature is the ‘head scarf,’ which blows warm air from between the top of the seat and the headrest, giving you a pleasant stream of warmth on your neck if you want to have the top down in cool weather.

    Power for the SLK 300 comes from a 3.0 liter 228 horsepower V-6 engine, which provides good acceleration through the rear wheels and returns gas mileage of 19 city, 26 highway with the 7-speed automatic. Mileage is actually a little less with the 6-speed manual: 17 city, 26 highway. A 3.5 liter 300 horsepower V-6 engine is available in the SLK 350. Brakes were OK, but a little mushy. Steering is tight and has much better road feel than expected. Handling in corners is also good. These attributes really add to the sporty feel of the car, which is a blast to toss around on a twisty road. If you overdo it, electronic stability control, ABS brakes and traction control can help you keep the shiny side up. If the worst happens, front, side and knee airbags are there to protect you.

    Kayleen Cohen, general sales manager at Mercedes-Benz of Progress Point, likes the SLK so much it’s her daily driver. “I love the hardtop convertible. It’s quiet with the top up, but it’s also great to put the top down and enjoy it as a roadster. The air scarf and heated seats allow me to extend top down season.”

    Prices for the SLK start at about $46,000 for the 300 with a manual transmission, and the automatic adds $1,500.

Robert W. Paster is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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