Sunday 18th January 2004


2004 CABRIOS

Christmas behind us, sober again from New Year’s Eve, summer holidays booked. What can be more pleasing now than dreaming of next spring and ordering that cabrio you were always dreaming about. Unless you prefer a classic car, here’s what you should know about the future of topless cars. Andreas Conradt has it all for you.

Speaking about spring, summer even, we should start with an Italian make – Alfa Romeo, also alphabetically the first to mention. The new Spider will make its debut in late 2005, ready for the 2006 season. By then, the two-seater will be ready to show its Brera concept-car front end design and the – now – typical Alfa grille made famous again by the 156 and 147.

Alfa Spyder

A very flat bonnet, low grille, huge wheels and flat windshield give the car the modern and aggressive look the current model is lacking. Typical Alfa elements like the chrome door handle and the sharp-edged hip will feature on the Spider. Though not much will change under the bonnet, the current 2-litre 4-pot units and the 3.2-litre V6 delivering 165 HP and 240 HP respectively are still adequate engines to make the new Spider a well-powered sportscar.

Aston Martin

The Aston Martin Volante, to be built alongside the DB9 coupe, will go on sale next autumn, and will account for around half of all DB9 sales. CEO of Aston Martin Ulrich Bez said: “The Volante has been designed, engineered and built from the outset as a convertible - it's not a Coupe with just the top taken off. The DB9 Volante has all of the traditional styling cues you'd expect from a convertible Aston Martin. It's very elegant and perfectly proportioned from every angle, while subtle embellishments help create a powerful-looking sports car ."

Aston Martin DB9

It has a fully retractable hood which is stored within the body of the car when closed. This hood retracts electrically in 17 seconds, and folds behind a hard tonneau cover flush with the bodywork; this allows for two small rear seats as a 197-litre boot, bigger than that of the Coupe. Whilst its styling is quite traditional, the Volante does have all the latest state-of-the-art safety features. These include rollover sensors which automatically deploy roll-hoops from the rear seat headrests. The DB9 Volante will use the same 6.0-litre V12 engine as the DB9 Coupe and Vanquish, and a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox.

Audi

In 2004, Audi will release the sixth generation of their successful mid-size saloon, the A6, already carrying the handwriting of Seat’s chief-designer Walter de Silva, who was responsible for the final phase of the shape-giving of the new A6 before he finally changed from Barcelona to Ingolstadt in spring 2002.

Audi A6

For the first time ever, the bodies of the mid-class range models will be made completely of aluminium, air-suspension will be available as an option and electro-hydraulic brakes will be standard. And: for the first time, the A6-range will also include a coupé and a cabrio, the latter likely to be presented in spring 2005.

Three petrol engines will be available from the start: the 2.7-litre unit with 180 HP, a 3-litre engine with 240 HP and a range-topping 4.2-litre developing 300 HP. The only four-cylinder engine in the range will be a 2-litre diesel with 136 HP, though that won’t make it into the coupé and cabrio.

BMW

Now let’s have a look at the latest shots of the BMW 6-Series Cabriolet, due to make its formal debut at the Geneva Motor Show next spring. It'll come with an engine line-up similar to that of the Coupe, with 3.0-litre (231bhp), 3.6-litre straight-six (272bhp) and 4.4 V8 (333bhp) petrol engines, and the 3.0-litre diesel is likely to follow in 2005. It's expected to cost around 4,500 euros more than equivalent coupe models. An M6 version of the cabriolet may not happen, however.

BMW 6 Series Cabrio

DaimlerChrysler

Cheaper it gets if you’re a fan of American cars: Whilst the Chrysler Crossfire cabrio will definitely be built, the Dodge Razor is still waiting for DaimlerChrysler’s final Go. The Crossfire, however, will be basing on the chassis of the current Mercedes SLK which is to be replaced soon (see below), making potential buyers owners of an obsolete model right from the start... Size and wheel track, however, will be a few centimetres over the SLK. Mercedes’ 215-HP 3.2-litre V6 will power the car. Price tag is expected to show some 38.000 Euros, making Audi’s TT the obvious rival. But with its roots in an outdated model, what can we expect...???

Ford

Another make to offer a cabriolet basing on its compact hatch will be Ford. The topless Focus was postponed to 2006 after cancellation of a canvas roof which the Cologne-based firm had already developed.

Ford Focus Cabrio

However, following the current trend, Ford changed their plans and will now make use of a roof-module developed and delivered from Karmann (also delivering foldable metal roofs to VW and Renault).

Lexus

Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, is about to develop yet one more variant to its successful IS200 model range. While the car is currently only available as a four-door saloon and an estate, a topless version is yet in the pipeline and will have its debut at the 2004 Paris Motor Show.

Lexus Convertible

The cabrio will share all mechanics with the saloon but will add reinforcement in order to reduce vibration. The 2-litre V6 engine with 155 HP and the rear-wheel drive will remain unchanged. For the cabrio, though, the 155-HP unit does only mark the basic engine as a more powerful V6 developing 213 HP, taken from the ES300, will be on offer as well. The cabrio will have a very chic overall design and Lexus hopes it will be a serious competitor to the Audi A4 Cabrio and the canvas-topped Mercedes CLK.

Maybach

Pure speculation at this point is the Maybach Cabrio. If it will come, however, it is likely to be based on a slightly shortened chassis of the short-wheelbase Maybach 57. Unchanged would remain the 5.5-litre 550-HP V12 used for the limousines.

Mazda

Can there be an elegant lead-over from Maybach to Mazda? Not really, and so it’ll be rude anyway: The next generation Mazda MX5 is about to continue the success of the current car of which the predecessor has revived the roadster philosophy in the early 1990’s – though with modern interpretation. Only 14 years old but already a legend, it is the roadster.

New MX5

Offered again in typical transaxle-style (engine at front combined with rear-wheel drive), the new MX5 will again be available with a choice of two four-cylinder 16-valve fuel engines delivering around 110 HP and 150 HP respectively. A much more sculpted bonnet with huge air-intakes and massive front wings housing 17-inch wheels dominate the new car’s appearance. Expect the new Mazda Roadster to be at the dealers in early 2004.

Having the world’s best-selling roadster, Mazda’s engineers aren’t resting on their laurels. Instead, the Japanese firm is currently developing a drop-top version of their new RX-8 coupé, hoping to create yet another evergreen. The incoming car will have a scaled-down version of the 2-litre four-cylinder engine of the Mazda 6, reduced in capacity to 1.8 litre because the standard unit was thought too powerful.

RX8 Convertible

In its new guise, the unit will develop 177 HP at 7000 rpm. A six-speed gearbox will be used, keeping the model’s traditional set-up. Styling follows Mazda’s new range, with familiar headlamps and a rakish nose. Expected in 2004, the RX-8 roadster will lose none of the MX-5’s fun.

Mini

The well-received Mini Cooper will soon be available with a soft top, too. Munich engineers are currently testing first prototypes and the car is put through shakedown tests on bad roads outside Munich in order to check stability and road manners. Reinforcements have been built in to improve stability and comfort as well as safety.

MINI Cabrio

The drop-top Mini will have to do without roll-over bar and will use a strengthened windshield frame as crash protection. All three engines available for the metal-roofed Mini will be available for the cabrio, too, and that includes the Cooper S’s powerful unit as well. We expect introduction of the car at the 2004 Geneva Show.

Nissan

Like the previous model, which wowed the motoring world at its launch in 1992, the new Nissan Micra has all ingredients to do the same now after it hit European roads. However, the four-door hatch won’t be the only model of the new Micra range. Instead, Nissan wants to give the Micra a complete new appeal – away from the image of being a typical women’s car. Nissan hopes it can establish the Micra in the market as a cult-car like the new Mini Cooper for young fun-seeking customers.

Nissan Micra Convertible

At least one more variant has been given the go-ahead already – and we firmly believe it will be a cute little cabrio as no other model would more attract the group of buyers Nissan is pointing at. Nissan has yet to decide about the engine-range to be offered for the new Micra Cabrio, but it is expected to use the current model’s fuel engines (1.2 and 1.4-litre units). Direct-injection units will be following later as they are currently developed in close co-operation with Nissan’s partner Renault. The French will also be delivering a diesel engine, and we expect it to be the Clio’s 1.5-litre dCi unit. More powerful petrol engines from the Primera are likely to be added to the range later.

Opel

Opel’s stunning new coupé-cabrio, likely to be named the Tigra, has been put through its paces on the challenging Nürburgring quite frequently this last summer. It aims to add a huge helping of fun to the Corsa line-up when it goes on sale next year. The metal-roofed newcomer is currently in the final stages of development, and although bosses remain tight-lipped about its official debut, those close to the project have confirmed that the car is likely to be presented to the public at the Geneva Motor Show.

Opel Tigra Convertible

Rivalling the Ford Streetka, Smart Roadster and Citroën Pluriel, price should be somewhere around 20,000 Euros. Entry-level units will be powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine delivering 102 HP, followed by a 1.8-litre engine with 122 HP and a 1.6-litre unit with 175 HP. A diesel engine might be offered, too. With its length of 3.81 metres, width of 1,95 and height of 1.40 metres, the new Tigra will be a pure two-seater. The baby cabrio will feature sharp-edged styling and sculpted taillights, while chrome-finished rear roll hoops add to the Speedster’s road presence, but also perform an important safety role.

Astra Convertible

Since metal-topped cabrios are two models in one, the new metal-roofed Opel Astra Cabrio will replace both, the current Astra coupé and the cabrio. As a kind of test, so to say, Opel will release the tiny little Tigra, equipped with a metal roof developed by the French firm Heuliez which also delivers the roofs for Peugeot’s 206 and 307 CCs. The two sections of this roof fit into each other so well that they can be stored vertically behind the seats. This new system will also be used for the 2005 Astra Cabrio, making the true four-seater the cabrio with the biggest roof in its class – the trendy car for all days.

Peugeot

Since it is the aim of Peugeot to become a serious competitor to the likes of Audi, Mercedes and BMW, it is only consequent the French firm is thinking about a mid-size cabrio to complete the new mid-class, set to be started with the kick-off of the new 407 saloon early next year.

Peugeot 407 Convertible

Equipped with a metal-roof like its smaller 206- and 307-CC-brothers, the 407 CC will be a full four-seater, sleek and elegant yet with a solid appearance.

Porsche

After strong critics for the shape of the headlights of the current 911, Porsche is returning to the conventional, typical 911 face for the new model. Like their predecessors, 911 and Boxster are developed in combination and will again share major components, although the design will feature much more distinguishing marks compared to the two current models – the close relationship of which was regarded as a big mistake in the beginning of the era of the Boxster.

New Boxster

The new 911 Carrera will be yet another evolutionary step in the development of the original design of the 911 with all design-elements being interpretations of the known theme: headlights, roof-line, rear wings and rear side windows clearly define the new model as a true successor of the current 911, but much more of the 911s built before today’s generation. Power will continue to come from a 3.6-litre 6-cylinder Boxer in the rear, then delivering around 335 HP in the normally aspirated Carrera and some 440 HP in the Turbo.

997 Cabrio

The 911 Cabrio will make its debut at the Paris Motor Show in 2006, one year after the coupé which is to debut at the 2005 Frankfurt Show. For the Boxster, the current 2.7-litre engine will remain in base cars, but the flagship S will abandon the 3.2 in favour of a 270-HP-plus 3.4-litre machine. The new Boxster will be ready for a launch in late 2004.
Soft top motoring looks like it's moving to new levels of luxury if this early peek is anything to go by.

Rolls Royce

Rolls Royce's all new Phantom was unveiled to the world in January 2002 to mixed reactions, but this exclusive shot of a convertible two door version should help sway any remaining doubters. Officially, the BMW owned manufacturer isn't giving much away, but it is known to be keen to launch other models once bosses are completely happy that its world-wide dealer network is in place   something that is still in the process of being set up. That means a convertible Phantom could appear in 2005 and even take the Corniche name used previously on similar soft tops, which were sold from 1981 up until the middle of last year.

Rolls Royce Phantom Convertible

Insiders say the underpinnings of the Phantom are flexible enough to mean that chopping the root off the four door limousine would not prove a major problem. A two door convertible could also pave the way for a coupé version to appear shortly afterwards.

Despite the change in bodystyle and the probable strengthening of the chassis, no alterations are expected to be made to the drivetrain. The soft top is likely to get the same 453bhp 6.75-litre engine that propels the car to an electronically limited top speed of 240 km/h. Passengers, meanwhile, will remain unruffled thanks to the allround air suspension.

A spokesman told us: "We have not got a time frame for new models as we are concentrating first on the current Phantom, which is now sold out until the middle of next year. However, that is not to say that there won't be a convertible version." When a soft top Phantom does appear, it certainly won't come cheap. With the hard top costing 375,000 Euros, a Corniche variant would likely have a list price close to 450,000 Euros.

Volkswagen

The presentation of the Volkswagen Polo at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2001 has marked the start of a whole firework of new cars based on the same platform. Amongst others, this new Roadster will be based on the new floorpan. The car will be a pure two-seater with astonishingly big wheels and an aggressive appearance at affordable prices. Power will come from four-cylinder petrol units with 100 up to 200 HP. The new Polo Roadster will hit the roads in spring 2005.

VW Spider

Just after the VW Roadster, Spanish sister-company Seat is going to release their own roadster, built around the same platform but with its own design. While the VW will be a classical roadster, the Seat sun-sneaker will be a typical targa with a massive rear window and rear post and a centre roof section made of aluminium rather than canvas.

SEAT Spyder

It will have to be operated manually but the car will offer storage space for it underneath the boot lid. Equipped with similar four-cylinder engines as the VW Roadster, the Seat will offer a much more aggressive look with less baby face and an overall more macho appearance. Expect the price to be yet lower than the VW’s 20,000 Euro. The car will come in summer 2005.

Finally, the third open-top car to be built on the Polo’s platform will be a Fabia-based Skoda cabrio, ready to be launched in late 2004 or early 2005.

Skoda Fabio Cabrio

It’ll make use of the standard Fabia’s engines, all of them four-cylinders delivering between 75 and 116 HP.

VW has decided to offer no cabrio of the Golf Mk. 5, but move their cabrio-plans one step further up the range: Basing on the new Passat’s platform, but slightly shorter and much sportier, VW will develop a new metal-topped cabrio for the 2006 summer season. Penned to be a full four-seater, the sleek cabrio will be a direct rival to the Mercedes CLK, BMW 3-series and – Audi A4! We should therefore expect a similar level of equipment, refinement, built-quality and power.

Volvo

The most northern cabrio in this Collection comes from Volvo, namely the C50, the topless variant of the brand-new S40 saloon, unveiled at the Frankfurt Show last September. Like the saloon, the canvas-topped C50 will be basing on the same platform also used for the future Ford Focus and the new Focus C-MAX.

Volvo Convertible

A year of great choice is ahead!

Copyright © Andreas Conradt, Automedia, 2004