Low-carbon convertibles: go green in the sun

19 July 2013

Open-air motoring

The UK’s typically drab and dreary summer has taken a break this month. Broiling in London’s 30°C swelter I’m wishing I were instead somewhere with a bit of a breeze. Like, say, in an open-topped car heading for the coast.

I had planned on rounding up a list of greener convertibles scoring under 100g/km in their CO2 tests, but sadly that would have made for a rather short list. At present, the only soft-top cars I can find on sale in the UK under 100g/km are the Smart ForTwo Cabrio and Fiat 500C.

Convertibles are typically heavier and less aerodynamic than their nearest tin-topped relatives, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see hatchbacks at 99g/km spawning cabrio editions at 105g/km or more. And that probably means a greener motorist shouldn’t really run a soft-top all year round, given that you can rent one for those days when the sun is actually out. Most of the car rental companies have a few convertibles on their fleet – Hertz car hire for example offers a “Fun Collection” that includes soft-tops alongside sporty coup├ęs.

Below are three open-topped cars I’d recommend taking for a spin.

Smart ForTwo Electric Drive Cabrio

Air/hair: 3 out of 5
CO2 score: 0g/km – ForTwo ED Cabrio, from £16,895
All in all: 3 out of 5
Smart ForTwo Cabrio

Smart’s tiny two-seat runabout comes in convertible form, though it is a bit of a faff to put the roof fully up or down. Twin rails running above the side windows have to be unclipped and stowed in the boot for the fully open feel.

You’ll really notice this drawback when forced to close the roof again in a sudden downpour. You have to stop, get out, open the boot, affix one rail, run round the other side, get soaked, etc, etc. Remember to pack a cagoule.

The short wheelbase and tall stance of the ForTwo also make for a choppy ride, and in fact the battery powered ForTwo ED with its lower centre of gravity and better weight distribution makes for a much more pleasant experience on a country road than a petrol-powered Smart – though these things are relative, of course.

Mini Convertible

Air/hair: 5 out of 5
CO2 score: 105g/km – Cooper D Convertible, from £18,570
All in all: 4 out of 5
Mini Convertible

With a roof that opens right down to shoulder level on every side, the Mini Convertible offers maximum exposure for those keen to bask in every fleeting ray of sunshine. The drawback is a fair bit of bluster when fully open, though it’s not too bad with the roof down and all four frameless windows up.

Ride quality is very much shaken not stirred, with the Mini brand’s famous go-kart handling not softened noticeably for the more leisurely style of a cabrio. That does make the car a lively thing to fling around when you’re in the mood, though the constant bouncy fidgeting gets a little wearing at other times.

The fully automatic folding roof is a high point. It can be fully opened or closed with a touch of a button in around 15 seconds, with the car moving at up to 20mph. The front section will also slide backwards and forwards like a sunroof, making the Mini Convertible perfectly suited to the UK’s typical sunny day where it will probably also rain.

Citroen DS3 Cabrio

Air/hair: 3 out of 5
CO2 score: 112g/km – DSign VTi 82, from £15,045
All in all: 4 out of 5
Citroen DS3 Cabrio

While the Fiat 500C can be had with a 99g/km rating and the similar Citroen DS3 cannot, I’d still prefer the French car over the Italian. It’s better to drive, nicer to sit in, has a bigger boot and a more capable roof.

Speaking of which, the DS3 Cabrio’s roof can zip from fully open to fully closed in 16 seconds at speeds of up to 75mph, meaning you can throw caution and your hairstyle to the wind even on the motorway, whether or not the clouds look like they might roll in. The roof can’t provide the most open of convertible propositions, however, really amounting to nothing more than a giant sunroof. The rear side windows, doors and roof rails remain stubbornly in place.

The lid can be zipped back to various positions and the most appealing is not actually completely open – where the view through the glass rear screen is replaced with an ugly pile of cloth – but the stage immediately beforehand, where the horizontal section is fully peeled away but the rear screen remains upright. In this mostly-open format you get no shortage of sun, can still see behind, can still open the boot and don’t experience much buffeting at speed. Closed, the DS3 Cabrio is completely snug and exactly as aerodynamic as the hatch.

The best of all worlds? Maybe.

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