A beautiful mid-spring week with not a cloud in the sky. A driving route that hugs the cliffs and precipices along the coast of Central California. Four luxurious convertibles, five Edmunds.com editors and four days to enjoy them. And if that weren't enough, consider the evening the editors jumped into a hotel hot tub. If you've ever wondered what it's like to share lukewarm water with half-naked coworkers, well, let's just say that it was an experience to remember.
Assembled for participation in the test were a bevy of top-down beauties including the 2002 versions of the BMW 330Ci, Ford Thunderbird, Saab 9-3 Viggen and Volvo C70. Three of the four are natural competitors, being of European heritage and of the four-seater variety, but we thought that we'd throw in a brash American roadster just for fun. Also interesting is the engine mix; with a forced-induction inline four and inline five, a normally aspirated inline six and a V8 powerplant, we wondered whether the V6 went the way of the dodo. OK, we originally had a Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 as a contestant of this group; however, on the way to the sleepy little beach town of Cambria, an unfortunate collision with a deer took the vehicle out of the running (never fear, we'll see a new CLK for the 2003 year). We would also have liked to include the Audi A4 Cabriolet, but its fall release precluded its use in this springtime test.
We ran the convertibles through our usual battery of performance tests, a 23-point evaluation process, an analysis of the features that we consider most vital, price comparisons and, of course, the highly subjective editors' recommended and personal picks. We drove them in various road and traffic conditions, took them home to be oohed and aahed over by friends and family members and poked and prodded them with impunity.
Read on to see how the cars placed; by virtue of this being a comparison test, we had a winner and our favorite. If you're a loyal Edmunds.com fan, the winner will come as little surprise, although some of us were caught unawares by the placement of the rest. But we found that no one had a single complaint about having taken a few days to drive them on Pacific Coast Highway between Cambria and Big Sur. If you ever get the chance to do so, we don't think you'll have any complaints, either.
Fourth Place - 2002 Saab 9-3 Viggen Convertible
Don't let the Saab's last-place finish fool you. Several editors chose this car as their second pick, given the choice of the four. The Saab does have many endearing traits. Most salient among them is its turbocharged engine. Saab's specialty is in force-feeding air into engines, resulting in an exhilarating whirr that's as smooth as the foie gras of a goose with gravel stuffed down its throat. A 0-to-60-mph run of 7.1 seconds came forth by extracting 230 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque from this 2.3-liter inline four engine. It revs hard and fast, and before you know it the rev limiter kicks in to chastise your enthusiastic right foot. Though not difficult to use, the five-speed manual transmission is hampered by an inprecise shifter and an annoying key interlock that forces you to put the car in reverse before it will release the key.
Braking proved to be satisfactory, with the only major gripe being the pedal's long travel before actuation. Once the calipers gripped, the car stopped from 60 mph to 0 in 124 feet. That's 14 feet longer than our shortest stopper, the BMW, even though the Saab is more than 500 pounds lighter than the Bimmer. Traction control is standard, but no stability control system is available.
The Saab was the most softly sprung of the group, with plenty of lean and wallow. The body behaves so predictably that we were able to zoom out of corners with great enthusiasm, but it wasn't good at regaining its composure after transitions. It's based on a nearly decade-old design, and as such, suffers from an expected amount of cowl shake. Those Swedes they choose a platform and they stick to it like day-old herring on Melba toast. The 9-3's speed of 61.5 mph through our 600-foot slalom, the third best in the group, seemed more due to the Pirelli P600 215/45ZR17 performance tires that came with the Viggen trim level than the actual chassis. Overall, it slotted slightly behind the Thunderbird for a last-place finish in the performance category. Ah, well, you can learn how to control the car better during a course in high-performance driving at the Viggen Flight Academy, which comes standard with this trim level.
Of course, an evaluation of Saabs would not be complete without mention of torque steer. While it was abundantly existent in our 9-3, most of our editors felt that it was easy enough to acclimate to, and that otherwise, the steering rack provided good feedback and was well weighted. On the safety front, Saab provides side head- and torso side airbags, but there is no mention of a rollover protection system.
We were smugly satisfied with our comfort level in the front seats, which more than one editor characterized as "La-Z-Boy-like." With great thigh support, side bolstering and an unusual but effective headrest (which also minimized wind buffeting), you hardly noticed the single setting for the seat heater, cramped footwell and missing armrest. The steering wheel telescopes but doesn't tilt; if you can't see the top of the gauges while comfortably seated, well, then, a compromise must be made. Rear seat accommodations were only behind the Volvo's in terms of capaciousness, allowing for 33.0 inches of legroom. Trunk space was by far the most generous of the group at 12.5 cubic feet with a large opening, augmented by folding rear seats.
Overall, the interior materials pleased, with even the hard plastics sporting a matte finish and tasteful patterns. We liked the perforated-leather-covered steering wheel, as well as the soft leather that covered the seats and door panels. Not so praiseworthy were the exposed screwheads, inconsistent gaps in the dash and rough edges on plastics. Such features as a night panel function, which allows for a totally dark cabin even with the headlights on, seems more like a cute oddity than a necessity, and we were irked by a cupholder that deployed from the top of the center stack and the one that takes up most of the teeny center console.
Stereo operation took a bit longer to get used to than most cars', given its somewhat unconventional layout, but once settled in, we liked the large buttons. The same holds true of the automatic climate control finding out how to send air to both the torso and the footwell required some fiddling. In terms of features, we wished for a tuning knob and the availability of an in-dash CD changer. The Saab is equipped with an OnStar telematics system, and the first year's service is free. And don't forget, all Saabs come with no-charge scheduled maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 miles.
Top operation was the most ungainly of the group, requiring an unintuitive pull of the release lever before you can push the operation button. It took 24 seconds to go down, 27 to go up, with much accompanying noise and a high lift clearance. Be careful using it in a parking garage. Once stowed, it has a self-covering boot, and we were pleased with the single-button four-window control with one-touch down.
Our 9-3 was decked out in Steel Grey Metallic Paint, a $475 option. The car's wedge-like shape drew polarized opinions, although most editors agreed that this is the best-looking 9-3 variant. Much of the praise was about the Viggen package, which includes the handsome 17-inch five-spoke wheels, a slightly wider track, side skirts and deeper spoilers.
While the Saab and its charm claims more than its fair share of enthusiasts, when one considers that the 9-3 is built on an aged platform that will be replaced for the 2003 model year, and included a limited amount of features in a package that only had a $50 advantage over our winner, the BMW, it was easy to see why it placed fourth. However, it evoked much more of a passionate response than its Swedish counterpart, the Volvo, and if you're a driving enthusiast in tune with the eccentric, the Saab may just be up your alley.
Road Test Editor John DiPietro Says:
I know I'm going out on a limb here, but I was taken by the Saab. While others complained about the torque steer and rubbery feeling of some of the controls, I reveled in the way the car interacted with me. With gobs of power, it was a blast to leave the car in third and slingshot from corner to corner while dicing through the canyons. Yes, the lively wheel wiggled some in my hands, but at least I knew what the front tires where doing, and it was easy to control. And when I wasn't driving the wheels off it, the 9-3 was one of the most comfortable cars to while away the miles in, thanks largely to the comfortable seats that the Swedes do so well.
Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed says:
When I first drove the 9-3 Viggen, I had a very negative reaction. Hitting the first speed bump in the parking garage I could feel the body flex excessively, and there was a feeling of looseness to the body construction. On the freeway, with the top up, it was noisy and the rear visibility was impossible. But then I found the right road to drive on. And the fun began. I've never had such contradictory impressions from a car. It has great mid- and upper-range acceleration, and the gear box is tight. There is body roll but it's predictable. Ultimately, I'd have to say I like the way the car handles and drives. But given its price tag, and its idiosyncrasies, I would be hard-pressed to recommend it.
Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
I can't decide how I feel about the 9-3 Viggen. It was the only convertible in the test with a four-cylinder, but with the aid of its high-pressure turbocharger, it seemed to have the most thrust off the line I suppose 258 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm would tend to give that impression. Better yet, power delivery is unusually smooth for a turbo, though the Viggen's snarly exhaust note upset the calm. As I drove toward Big Sur on Highway 1, I was comfortably strapped into the Saab's heavily bolstered seats enjoying a smooth ride. However, on the twisty stretches, the suspension was unable to impart the balanced feel of the 330Ci or even the Thunderbird there was just too much body roll and the overall structure didn't seem very sturdy (which would explain all of the cowl shake). To be fair, though, once the Viggen's body settled into turns, there was grip to be had particularly with 17-inch low-profile Pirelli tires and I had fun with this car. But it wasn't a seamless fun as in the BMW, since every time I dug into the throttle, I had to ride out the torque steer. Inside the car is Saab's familiar aircraft cockpit ensemble, this time with glossy carbon fiber inlays great, I suppose, but cheap plastics and sloppy assembly preclude an elegant feel (not that the T-bird and the C70 did any better). This is a weird but likeable car.
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Saab 9-3 Viggen Convertible
Ranking in Stereo Test: Tied for third
System Score: 7
Components: A simple single-disc player without a tape deck is standard for the Viggen. So are six speakers. Two mid-tweets are at each corner of the dash, and there's a woofer in the bottom of each door panel and mid-range units near the back seats. Six channels of amplification (160 watts) help keep things clean.
Performance: The amps make sure the woofers in the doors get only bass tones and that's a very good thing. With just a few drivers and a limited amount of power, the Saab is quite impressive. Male and female vocals are warm, and the imaging is very nice thanks to sounds reflecting off the windshield. Bass response is accurate, but lacks the punch many will desire.
Top Up/Top Down: Very little difference.
Best Feature: Dedicated woofers in the doors.
Worst Feature: One disc and nowhere to put your Styx tape.
Conclusion: Sweet and simple, but won't rock the bells. Trevor Reed
Third Place - 2002 Ford Thunderbird
The Ford Thunderbird was the odd duck of the group; it was the only American vehicle in the test, it didn't sport a premium badge and it was a roadster instead of a 2+2 convertible like the others. Still, we knew that we had to include this resurrection of a classic. Cashing in on America's current insatiable hunger for all things retro, Ford brought back the once-sterling, as-of-late-tarnished Thunderbird nameplate, in hopes that remembrances of things past will equal a halo car that will help lift the Blue Oval out of its current slump.
For the most part, the company has succeeded. The current Thunderbird is a two-seater based on the Lincoln LS, a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan that can compete with, if not quite overcome, the standards set by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The Thunderbird is certainly no laggard in terms of power. With 252 horses on tap and 267 pound-feet of twist, the V8 sourced from the LS is the most forceful powerplant of the four vehicles. Of course, horsepower figures don't represent the whole story; they must pull 3,775 pounds' worth of steel, making the Ford the heaviest of the four cars. The engine's power is managed by a five-speed automatic transmission (the only one available). Thus outfitted, the Ford managed to accelerate from 0 to 60 in 7 seconds, outgunning the 9-3 but falling behind the BMW and Volvo. We were, however, impressed by its good-old American V8 exhaust note.
Stoppage is provided by four-wheel disc antilock brakes. The T-Bird's 60 to 0 mph braking distance of 119 feet is quite impressive; aside from soft initial feel of the pedal and grabby calipers, the brakes seemed to resist fade and provided confident power. Our test vehicle had traction control, which is optional on the base trim level; the AdvanceTrac stability control system, available on the Lincoln LS, is MIA. We also noted the lack of side airbags or any kind of rollover protection, even as options.
While some may summarily dismiss the Thunderbird from a performance point of view, we've found that it surpassed our expectations. Compared to the sport-package-equipped BMW, of course, it fell behind, and its 60.6-mph speed through the 600-foot slalom course was the slowest of the group. However, the comfort-biased suspension allowed it to float over bumps, and, like tummy support pantyhose on Oprah, body roll was controlled fairly well, considering the car's heft. The chassis was complemented by the 235/50R17 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 tires, which offered a high level of grip. No one would call the Thunderbird's steering sporty or telepathic but, again, it works well with the car's relaxed demeanor.
What we would call attention to is the lack of attention to detail in the interior. Alas, most of the components are the same as those in the Lincoln LS. Aside from small turquoise strips and turquoise needles on gray-faced gauges and a silver streak through the dash, there was little here to distinguish it from a regular family sedan. Some suggestions to Ford from our editors included color-contrasting panels and retro cues to match the exterior's flamboyance. We liked the optionally equipped faux wood on the steering wheel and shifter, but the coarse leather trim was mediocre in quality and the hard plastics around the top of the dashboard and areas behind the seats earned only marginal scores.
The Thunderbird lacked some basic features that we consider essential in this type of vehicle. For instance, there is no seat heater option, so if this is your only transport for chilly weather, get the hardtop for a couple grand more. The convertible top was easy enough to operate, but like the Saab's, it wasn't one-touch; you must undo a latch before operation. The top had the quickest operation time since it didn't lower or raise the windows automatically; it took 10 seconds to go down and 12 to raise. Furthermore, its boot cover is cloth and the type you have to install with snaps; it took our editors only a little over a minute to install, and slightly over half a minute to pull it off. Still, it's a step down from the self-covering boot-a-go-go of the other three cars. The hassle will be worth it since the top well looks untidy without it, and the boot cover eats up a great deal of trunk volume, rendering the space all but useless. As previously mentioned, Ford offers a hardtop option for the T-Bird, a wise investment if you don't plan to drive with the top down for months during the year.
The trunk, even when not storing the boot cover, is shallow and the smallest of the bunch, providing 6.7 cubic feet of storage space. This is rather surprising, because the Thunderbird, at 186.3 inches, is the longest car in the test.
Luckily, the Ford's overall extroverted appearance allows for forgiveness for many of its faults; our minty aquamarine tester drew admiring glances and questions, especially, as one of our editors put it, "by every 50-something who told stories of high school memories." We further appreciated the in-dash six-disc CD changer with easy-to-use controls on the dash and on the steering wheel, as well as the dual-zone climate control, but the displays tend to wash out in the glare of the sun. There are shallow door panels and a decent-sized glovebox, and we think you'll make good use of the covered storage bins behind the seats.
The Ford Thunderbird manages to evoke fond nostalgia even while impressing with modern technology. People really responded to its appearance, and we were more impressed than not with its performance potential; we found that calling it a mere boulevardier didn't do it justice. Plus, our test car's under-$40,000 price tag gave it a vast advantage over the other vehicles. What put it in third place was its relative lack of safety and comfort features that we deem important in a vehicle of this class and price. But if you've been pining for the perfect vehicle to crank up a Brian Wilson retrospective on the way to the malt shop or necking with your sweetie at the drive-in, we'd highly recommend the Thunderbird. Just don't let Daddy take it away.
Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed Says:
It's tough to judge this car side-by-side against others in its class. That's because it is, and always will be, a sentimental favorite. If you want to relive the excitement of your distant youth, remember cruising through the hamburger stand with '50s rock 'n' roll blasting around you, this is the car for you. If you want a true-blue American muscle car convertible, you'll love the T-Bird. But if you are shopping for the best-performing car in its class, the T-Bird should not be your choice. Topping the list of features are the Bird's classic lines with which Ford pays homage to its forefathers. Drive this car and prepare to be stopped by every 50-something and told stories of high school memories. This car also offers impressive V8 power with a guttural exhaust growl. Nice interior touches abound, but there are many generic components, too. And when it comes time to thread a tight turn, it's more of a cruiser than a sports car. Taken for what it is, Ford has done a respectable job and has even kept the price down to a manageable level.
Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
This comparison test gave me the opportunity to try the Thunderbird again, and after 120 miles with it on little-traveled two-lane highways, I felt very grateful. Previously, I found this roadster too soft around turns, and while I still think the T-Bird is soft, I really like its suspension and steering, which work well together and provide a surprising amount of road feedback. The result is nothing like the sport-tuned 330Ci Convertible, but it is a car that feels playful and inspires confidence when tossed about on curvy roads. If you're only buying this car for cruising, you won't be disappointed, either, as the highway ride is smooth and the standard V8 sufficiently robust for comfortable passing. In spite of its historically grounded styling and attractive leather seats, there's not much to see inside the cabin, which is pretty much a worked-over version of the Lincoln LS. Of course, driving a Thunderbird is about having the sun on your face and looking stylish from a distance, though achieving the requisite top-down look isn't as easy as it might be first you have to undo a latch, and then when the automatic top is down, you have to snap on the canvas cover yourself (otherwise it takes up a lot of space in the trunk). Do you care about such things? Perhaps not. But you might care about price. The T-Bird was the cheapest convertible in this test, but it could be the most expensive, depending on consumer demand and possible dealer markup.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
Critics (like us) haven't given the Thunderbird enough credit for its ability to perform. Though it's been written off by most as a cushy boulevard cruiser, those who might be inclined to push the envelope on a favorite canyon road won't necessarily be disappointed by the T-Bird's power and handling. The V8 emits a pleasing grumble and accelerates the car with verve. Steering feel and responsiveness is excellent, and the brakes, if not easily modulated, can at least be counted upon. The Thunderbird possesses a limit most of its owners will never explore. What owners will do is drive briskly with the top down along meandering coastal roads, the same way we did. In this setting, the Thunderbird shines. It is comfortable, powerful enough to make passing slower traffic easy, offers reasonable cargo room for a week's worth of belongings for two, and has a great sound system with an in-dash CD changer. Plus, the top raises and lowers quickly, making either an easy proposition at a red light. Sure, at high speeds airflow causes the front seatbacks to shudder a bit, and the interior (a facelifted version of the Lincoln LS cabin) is cheaply constructed, but this is a genuinely fun car. It is fun to drive, fun to be seen in and fun to talk about. Can't say that's been true of a Thunderbird in a very long time.
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Ford Thunderbird
Ranking in Stereo Test: Tied for third
System Score: 7
Components: Ford's six-CD in-dash changer with five audio settings is standard on the T-Bird. It's connected to an unusual arrangement of eight speakers. One hundred eighty watts help power two mid-tweets in the sides of the front console that shoot high notes into the knees of the driver and navigator. There are big woofers in the doors, two subs in the trunk and full-range drivers in a panel behind the seats.
Performance: The strange positioning of the tweets causes the soundstage to feel disjointed, with the left and right channels only blending after the sound reflects off the doors. High volumes can easily be achieved, but distortion sneaks in relatively early. Massaging the sound can help hide the stereo's shortcomings.
Top Up/Top Down: It actually sounds better with the rag top dropped
Best Feature: Six-disc changer is standard.
Worst Feature: Weird speaker placement.
Conclusion: Powerful and full of discs in the dash.
Second Place - 2002 Volvo C70 Convertible
The Volvo C70's second-place finish proves that we don't necessarily have to like a car in order for it to place well in one of our comparison tests. When the totals were added, we were baffled as to how it is that a car all but one of our editors would choose as their last pick could place above the other two vehicles. Let's analyze the data to see if we can explain this phenomenon.
The Volvo really impressed with its performance at the track. Its 2.3-liter 236-horsepower five-cylinder engine was able to squeeze out a 0-to-60-mph sprint in 6.7 seconds, and a 15.2-second quarter-mile run was comparable to the BMW's. Keep in mind that these numbers were extracted with the Volvo's engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, while the Bimmer had row-'em-yourself gears. The transmission was ready to upshift in a smooth manner and was perfectly behaved during normal cruising, but became slightly cross and sluggish when quick downshifts were called forth during more aggressive driving.
Power delivery was smooth, but like most turbo engines, it prefers to distribute its juice in the high revs. Opinions were divided as to the engine's sound some called it unrefined with lots of noise, vibration and harshness, while others liked it for its personality. We definitely preferred the feel of the Saab's engine, even with its inferior track times, which seems to enjoy being spun to oblivion. The T5 seemed to just play along.
We dinged the steering score because of the C70's large turning circle of 38.4 feet; that's 4 feet fatter than the BMW or the Saab. Furthermore, the steering was devoid of road feel and lacked linearity, as it grew disproportionately heavier during hard turns. Torque steer isn't as readily apparent in this front-wheel driver as it is in the Saab. The Volvo's braking distance from 60 to 0 mph was second only to the BMW's at 114 feet, with fine pedal progression and feel, although a few editors complained of brake fade.
Like the Saab, the Volvo is based upon a rather elderly platform, the erstwhile S70/V70 platform which, in turn, was begotten by the 850. Unlike the BMW and Thunderbird, which have as their foundations more modern underpinnings, the two Swedes were befuddled in the twisties, curbing the desire to drive with exuberance. Body roll and wallow kept high-speed antics to a minimum, although the C70's behavior was fairly predictable. For highway cruising, however, the softly tuned suspension was a boon, providing a floaty ride in sync with a leisurely Sunday drive up the coast. The Pirelli P6000 225/45R17s went a long way in helping us push the Volvo, with lots of scrub near its limits and great amounts of grip. Surprisingly, the C70 was able to run our 600-foot slalom course at the highest speed: 63.6 mph.
These track numbers prove that the Volvo is a capable handler, yet, the driving experience can't be measured wholly by numbers. A vehicle must pull all its components together to make the driver enjoy the event; the Volvo simply didn't deliver in this subjective area, earning the lowest score of 5.4 in the Fun To Drive category.
Where the Volvo picked up the most points was in its feature content. As the C70 was the most expensive vehicle in the test, we expected that it would contain a healthy list of features, and indeed it did. It followed very closely behind the BMW in terms of comfort and safety considerations that our editors deem most important in this class. Among the convenience features are an in-dash three-disc CD changer that operates by loading a cartridge. While some editors sniff that this is outmoded, it is preferred by others for quicker loading of their favored tunes. The climate control is dual-zone and exceedingly easy to use, and the one-touch master control for all four windows was appreciated. While we noted the absence of a stability control system (the C70 has a traction control system, and most other Volvos have some form of stability management system), it had side airbags (no option for rear seats) and a rollover protection system in which steel bars deploy from the rear seats when the car detects an imminent rollover.
A further word about comfort: The C70's driver seat was deemed one of the most comfortable seats anywhere around; one driver even commented that he would love to watch the NBA playoffs splayed out on this sofa-like contraption. It was plush yet supportive, with plenty of adjustments to give any-sized driver a perfect fit. The tilting and telescoping steering wheel go a long way in helping with that. Furthermore, the rear seats offer 34.6 inches of legroom, far more generous than any other convertible. These are practically sedan-sized proportions, and even adults will have little to complain about.
We also fancied the liberal use of soft-touch materials and nicely damped buttons that control the functions of the cabin. The leather was nicer than the seemingly pachyderm-sourced hides we've seen in other Volvos, and the wood trim, while fake, added warmth to the cabin. Wind buffeting was nearly nil with the side windows up, but that made the rattles from around the dash area that much more apparent. We've typically found Volvos to be solidly crafted, so we'll chalk that one up to a rather-high-mileage test vehicle.
Top operation is one-touch and easy but you've got to have the parking brake up and have the tranny in "Park" for it to work; it also takes the longest time of the four, requiring about 31 seconds to go up and 26 to go down, including the windows. If you were looking for a quick transformation between red lights, well, the joke will be on you, as the light turns green and people start honking at you mid-opening. The boot is self-covering and doesn't take up a terrible amount of space in the medium-sized trunk of 8.1 feet. Should you need to carry long items, the ski pass-through should come in handy.
Volvo has succeeded in retaining traditional styling cues, such as the waterfall grille and square headlamps, in a shape that's sleek and modern. While it's handsome, most of our relatively youthful staffers felt that its appearance was more conservative than most of their tastes dictated.
The Volvo will certainly have its fan base, with its sedate driving demeanor, elegant interior, good looks and plethora of features. They were enough to overcome its price disadvantage as the most expensive in the test and gain an edge over the Ford and Saab. Our main problem with it is that the C70 didn't arouse any sort of passion or enthusiasm. It's like Ilsa choosing Victor over Rick in Casablanca; it's a matter of sense over sensibility. Some may wholeheartedly agree with her decision. If you're looking for top-down fun with the least amount of fuss and muss and plenty of room for four, the Volvo may be just the scratch to your itch.
Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed says:
Solid, safe, predictable yet oddly unexciting. That's how I would describe the Volvo
C70. For someone who wants the Volvo experience and desires a convertible, this fills the bill. But a driving enthusiast will likely be disappointed. There is plenty of straightaway power, and it surges nicely on the high end (it even feels stable at high speeds), but this car doesn't beg to be thrown into the corners. It gives up in confusion when asked to perform. There's lots of body roll and a tendency to plow in hard turns. Even the styling of this convertible comes up short. It's clean and tasteful but stops short of making a statement of any kind.
Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
Unlike the other convertibles in this group, which could potentially satisfy both enthusiastic and reserved drivers, Volvo is going after only the latter group with its C70 Convertible. Everything about the C70 is unhurried: Its turbocharged inline five doesn't have the intensity of the Viggen's turbo four, and turbo lag is more noticeable when pulling into traffic. At higher speeds, the automatic takes it time with downshifts. When entering turns, the steering seems slow and lacks the fluid feel of the T-Bird or the 330Ci. While the ride is certainly comfortable enough for carefree cruising and sightseeing, the chassis gets unsettled easily if you push the car around a tight curve. Moreover, I thought the C70 had the worst structural rigidity of the group rattles coursed through the body on rough pavement. Although the seats provide excellent comfort, the rest of the cabin apparently has to make do with the design and ergonomics of the retired S70 sedan, rather than benefiting from the improved decor of the stylish S60. More disturbing was the execution I noted cheap plastics and numerous build issues, and ranked the Volvo lowest of the group in these areas. Despite my criticism, I feel certain that the C70 could be enjoyable for people who want a nice, safe Volvo to keep them company on trips to the beach. But the asking price is awfully high.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
Volvo's C70 is a great place to be after a tough day at the office. Peel the lid, crank up the Dolby Logic stereo, settle into the world's most comfortable driver seat and cruise home using the scenic route you can feel the tension fade with each passing mile. Unfortunately, this blissful comfort doesn't co-exist with excitement and passion, the way it does in the less-expensive BMW. Volvo tries hard to instill a sense of the latter in the C70, but with little success. Based on a platform even older than the Saab's (the 1993 Volvo 850), the C70 features slab-sided sheetmetal, vertical waterfall grillework and pudgy hindquarters. Were it not for a snazzy set of meaty multi-spoked wheels, there would be little of note in terms of exterior style. Furthermore, during my drive, the Volvo felt soft and squishy, plowing around turns, bounding over dips in the road and exhibiting brake fade during a downhill canyon run, the only car in the test to do so. The transmission never seemed to know what gear to select when running hard, and the engine, while powerful, suffered from noise, harshness and vibration. Most people will like the Volvo C70 most of the time. It is quick;, it is comfortable; it is loaded with features; it is relatively simple to drive and operate. But so is a Toyota Camry Solara. Nothing about the C70 grabs at the heartstrings and makes you want to blast down a coastal road with the top down and the tunes blaring. It was my least favorite of the quartet.
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Volvo C70 Convertible
Ranking in Stereo Test: First
System Score: 9
Components: This test vehicle has a bit of an advantage. It's packing a $600 optional system with 400 watts and 12 (!) speakers. This includes a huge center channel plateau jutting from the dash with a gold Dolby Pro-Logic badge to let you know what company is behind this madness. Speakers are everywhere you look. Large mid-tweets are flush-mounted in the corners of the dash and bookend the center pod. Four sets of speakers to handle bass and mid-range tones are housed in large door enclosures, but that's not all. A large circular woofer and a sweet tweeter are next to each of the rear seats. Let's not forget the quick three-disc in-dash CD changer with a simple magazine and a tape deck.
Performance: This audio setup can compete with high-end systems in the luxury convertibles over $55,000 bracket. The Volvo is able to hit the extremely low notes while some of the systems in this test ignore the notes altogether. It also does very well with the treble clef. The center channel may be visually obtrusive, but it does a great job of uniting the soundstage. There is a seamless wall of music across the front of the cabin that manages to maintain great separation of the left and right sides. Live performances are full of detail, and each musician has his own section of the stage. As in the Lexus SC 430, this system can also rock without resorting to overdriving the amplifier. To make things even better, the head unit is mounted relatively high and its controls are straightforward.
Top Up/Top Down: No difference.
Best Feature: More speakers than you can shake a clog at.
Worst Feature: Six discs in the dash would be nice, but not if it means long load waits or a changer in the trunk (like the rest).
Conclusion: Impressive quantity and quality of sound.
First Place - 2002 BMW 330Ci Convertible
There's something comforting about givens. Much like a mother's love, sunshine after a rainstorm and Joan Rivers' making a mockery of herself at the Academy Awards pre-show, when you prognosticate that an event will occur and it actually does, you feel that God's in his heaven and all's right with the world.
So it is with the BMW 330Ci winning our Luxury Convertibles Under $55,000 test. With a victorious stampede in every category except for price, the BMW emerged triumphant; with a full 18.3 points distancing the first place finisher from the second place, it was one of the most decisive battles ever won in a comparison test at Edmunds.com.
What could promote this much spittle-spraying enthusiasm from otherwise staid journalists? When all is said and done, it's the entire package, an artful meld of power, refinement and luxurious touches all wrapped up in gorgeous sheetmetal.
Let's begin with a discussion about the engine. We've been raving about the creamy perfection of the 3.0-liter single-banked six, though, with an output of 225 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque, it was the weakest powerplant in this field of four. Yet this engine managed to propel the 3,616-pound machine from 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, the fastest of the four. About the only thing we can fault is the relative lack of torque, which necessitated frequent downshifting in order to zoom out of corners at the desired speed. Its quarter-mile time of 15.2 seconds is on par with or ahead of its competition, all of which were propelled by greater amounts of power.
Greatly aiding our test car's engine is the five-speed manual transmission. Our editors praised the silky, fluid action of the shifter, with clean engagement of gears. Clutch action left a little more to be desired; with a high engagement point and less-than-perfect modulation, it asked for a little more pedal dexterity than is normally required.
The BMW's easily modulated brakes were far superior to its competition's, stopping the vehicle in 110 feet from 60 mph. The four-wheel discs with ABS are supplemented by electronic brake force distribution and dynamic brake control, and the 330Ci was the only car of the four with a stability control system. Speaking of safety, the BMW was at the top of its class, with rollover bars placed within the front seats and that deploy in 0.03 seconds to protect occupants. The Volvo is the only other vehicle to provide this important feature. And in addition to the door-mounted side airbags for front passengers, you can opt to protect your rear seaters with side airbags as well.
Equipped with the Sport package, our Bimmer was able to handle twisty curves with the greatest of ease. By some force of magic, those Bavarian engineers were able to dial in the perfect combination of suppleness to make this rear-wheel driver comfortable while cruising, without giving up any pure handling ability. All this with a set of mundane MacPherson struts up front simply amazing. The performance Michelin Pilot Sport 225/40ZR18s up front and fatter 255/35ZR18s for the rear provided massive amounts of grip and plenty of warning when their limits were being approached. Cowl shake was nonexistent in this stout structure; according to BMW literature, you can place another fully loaded 3 Series on top of the windshield header and A-pillars without any ill effect on the car. BMW's perfectly symmetrical, communicative steering earned its usual kudos, described with such words as telepathic and extrasensory, although one editor felt that it wasn't quite restored to the levels of before the "let's-lighten-it-up-to-pander-to-the-lowest-common-denominator" debacle of 2001.
Inside, we found typical Teutonic austerity in its interior design: Clean, uncluttered lines continue through the flow of the dash, with only an aluminum strip to break up the monotony of the black interior. Typical of BMWs, all the plastics have a nice matte finish. We were never fans of BMW leather, since its leatherette is suitably pleasing, but the convertible comes standard with leather trim. As with the other vehicles, the climate control is automatic but it lacks dual-zone capability. Our tester came with heated seats as part of a Cold Weather package, whereas the Swedish vehicles offer them as standard equipment. Unfortunately, there is no in-dash CD changer on the options list.
Front seats lacked the cushiness of the Volvo's or the Saab's, but they were better suited to the more sporting nature of the BMW, with aggressive side and lateral bolstering. Aside from the usual controls, the 330Ci also has a pull-out thigh supporter that always wins praise. In addition, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes to assist one in finding the best driving position.
The BMW's rear seats offer the least amount of room compared to the Saab or the Volvo, with 32 inches of legroom, yet it's not a horrible proposition to put someone back there. A decent amount of space separates the knee from the front seatback, if the front riders don't push the seat rearward all the way. Trunk room is the least capacious of the four-seaters, with 7.7 cubic feet. Top operation earned the best marks of the four, requiring just a push of a button and only 25 seconds for it to go up and down, including the windows. A one-touch master button controls all four windows.
The Ford Thunderbird won top marks for exterior design for its flamboyance, but the 330Ci was only a tenth of a point behind, with its clean, sleek lines that define every angle. The optional 18-inch wheels added to its forceful appearance. The only criticism was of the chrome trim around the front air intakes, which some editors thought cheapened the look, but overall, its appeal is undeniable.
For all of this, you need to cough up a good chunk of cash. We've usually found price to be BMW's Achilles' heel, almost always hurting its value equation. Not so in this test. While it couldn't beat the Ford Thunderbird's non-premium-badge dollar advantage, this well-equipped model, which included the bi-xenon headlamp option that provided amazing illumination, came in well under the Volvo and only cost 50 dollars more than the Saab. Of course, its options list is much longer than the other cars', with an available navigation system, park distance control, a tire monitoring system, real wood trim and a hardtop option for more comfortable motoring during cold months. But we like the BMW even in its unadorned state, since luxury is baked right in. As you can see from our Top 10 Features list, most of its features are standard.
In the end, the BMW was the near-perfect blend of sport and luxury. We knew we had a winner before we finished crunching the numbers; adding up the tally only confirmed our suspicions. Succinctly put, this is the best car in its class. The measure of a desirable car, the one that you want instead of need, the one that you drool after, is the one that makes you want to take the long way home. If you opt for the BMW 330Ci, make sure you have a cell phone to tell the boss that you'll be in a little late.
Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
I almost wish it weren't true. That is, the BMW's being my top pick. I feel like a Lakers fan, constantly talking up the strengths of the number one team. In this case, those strengths are impressive structural integrity, a ripping inline six that sounds happy when you take it to redline again and again, an utterly composed chassis, communicative steering and an ideal amount of resistance to all the controls, be they the brakes or the turn signal stalk. And not only does the 330 possess sports car-level handling and reflexes, it takes no time at all to get comfortable in this car. The multi-adjustable seat, simple gauges and easy-to-judge body mean that you'll be able to fully enjoy this car's entertaining personality in no time at all.
Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
If there is a serious void in your life that needs filling, this is the convertible for you. I'm not the happiest of people, but after a trip down California's Highway 33 through the Los Padres National Forest, I felt unusually enlivened by the machinery surrounding me and the cool wind tangling my hair. The 330Ci's suspension, steering and brakes forge an incredible "symbiotic" relationship with the driver, and indeed, I felt that I knew just when to brake, steer and give it throttle in order to maintain superb balance around tight turns. On the few occasions that my driving ability gave out, DSC politely intervened and realigned the tail so that I could continue on. Even if strenuous driving isn't your thing, consider that the 330 handles well, rides comfortably and comes with elegant cabin attire. And for the moment, it's even priced competitively the aged Swedish front-drivers in this test have asking prices in the high 40s. This leaves you only one choice dump the options if you must, but get the BMW.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
Certainly, the BMW seemed the obvious winner of this group of convertibles, even when the Mercedes-Benz CLK320 was still in contention. Skeptics immune to the charms of the fine automobiles that wear a blue-and-white propeller on their hoods might even think we purposely stacked the deck in favor of the Bavarian ragtop to ensure a decisive win. They would be wrong. This comparison test was run simultaneously with another that featured substantially more expensive vehicles such as the redesigned 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL500 and the legendary Porsche 911. What those skeptics may find difficult to swallow is that, had the 330Ci been pitted against vehicles that cost twice its price, it still would have had a shot at taking the top slot; more so had we obtained the M3 version. Yes, the 330Ci is that good. In my opinion, when balancing luxury, performance, comfort and value, the BMW was the best of the eight vehicles we drove in central California for a week. It is immensely entertaining to drive, it is constructed of high-quality materials, it holds four adults in comfort, and it costs half what a well-equipped SL500 does. With the savings over the Benz, you could easily buy a 5 Series wagon for family-toting duties.
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 BMW 330Ci Convertible
Ranking in Stereo Test: Second
System Score: 8
Components: Eleven Harman-Kardon speakers are placed throughout the cockpit. High-quality circular woofers are in the bottom of each door panel and next to the rear seats. Separate mids and tweets can be found by the door handles and there a couple of high-range drivers for the folks in back. Two woofers and two 6x9-inch subwoofers complete the picture. The head unit is standard Bimmer with a single-CD slot and a simple layout of small buttons.
Performance: Tight. That one word describes the performance of this system with all types of music. Highs are clean and taut, while the bass is extremely accurate and able to get deep. Live performances are spacious and full of feeling, while studio recordings are precise and cozy. If heavy metal or rap is your music of choice, you won't be disappointed punishing sounds and high volumes are not a recipe for disaster in this car.
Top Up/Top Down: The bass pressure drops a tad when the top falls.
Best Feature: Accuracy.
Worst Feature: No CD changer.
Conclusion: You won't be disappointed.
2002 Saab 9-3 Viggen Convertible
"I have owned three convertibles but this one is the best by far. I was not in the market for a Saab, I was looking at BMW and MB and Chrysler. The BMWs styling was old and the tops come with plastic windows. The MB CLK was nice but too pricey. I test drove the Saab and loved it. It is the quickest off the line and the top is great. The car has no rattles and wind noise is nonexistent. I drove the Volvo C70 to compare and it was slower, handled less well, rattled and was noisy with the top up. The back seats are useful, unlike any other car I considered. It is a great luxury sports car and the price is reasonable.Favorite Features: Great power, top works great and is quiet when up. Suggested Improvements: Make the optional console cupholder standard same with a lighter." By JGC, Thursday, May 09, 2002
"My new 9-3 Convertible is a blast to drive! I would have never guessed that a car could be so fun to drive until I test drove this car! The acceleration is "Jet smooth"! The quality leather coachworks are top-notch. I settled on the automatic and love the "S" mode button on the shifter. You can certainly sense the "aircraft" heritage of these fine automobiles. More people need to discover the quality and value of these cars.Favorite Features: Convertible top & auto mechanism, acceleration, quality of components, Euro-styled dash console design, & safety features. Lots of compliments... Suggested Improvements: Cup holders for rear. Center armrest. (Not included, but available), Stereo bass distorts at moderate volumes, needs improved amp or sound damping. Front suspension a unique mix; on smooth highways, one of the smoothest ride experiences, however on bumpy roads a little too stiff. By EFenderman, Wednesday, April 24, 2002
"Once you get used to it you realize it is not pleasant driving as there is no ergonomic considerations for the driver. The seat is hard and one must contort to press the gas pedal, with the drivers seat aimed at the left front wheel and the gas pedal crammed against the transmission tunnel. oh yes, the seat is hard and doesn't soften any with use. In acceleration the tires break loose from the pavement due to undersized rims. In cornering... you think of a ride at Six Flags. The stock sound system is just adequate. First gear is too short and over rev's, once the turbo lag kicks in.Favorite Features: It is pretty quiet, until you pass 50 miles per hour. Suggested Improvements: bigger rims, better suspension, better stereo, which are in an upgraded model, plus a longer first gear. By Calhoun, Thursday, April 25, 2002
2002 Ford Thunderbird
"My husband bought this car for me, and I was shocked to learn it's a $50,000 car. For the engine I got and the styling of the ride, it's worth probably half that amount. The Ford hype-machine lives on, and definitely reeled my husband in, hook-line-and-sinker. Favorite Features: High re-sale value. Suggested Improvements: Lower the cost to what it's actually worth. Unfortunately as long as people are dumb enough to spend the cash, this won't happen." By Marge Walker, Wednesday, May 22, 2002
"A great riding car with excellent standard features. Fun to drive and love the nostalgia, like driving the little T-Bird of yore. I own several vintage Fords and people ask us as many questions about the new bird as our older cars (Model A's & an Early V-8). Quite, smooth & powerful. Favorite Features: A comfortable car for two people. I like all the automatic features that are transparent to the user (wiper speed, radio volume, power steeringspeed dependent). Low production numbers will make it collectible. Suggested Improvements: Re-design the boot so it will stow in the cloth top well when the cloth top is up. It takes too much room in the trunk. By FordA, Monday, May 20, 2002
"A blast to drive, but it lacks the attention to detail and convenient group items of other two seaters that are in the same price range such as the SLK/Z3/S2000/MR2. Favorite Features: The interior brushed metal accents. Suggested Improvements: Heated seats make night cruising great Navigation system (i got lost in Santa Barbara last weekend). Auto volume control linked to RPM recognition would be nice. A better cover for the rag top when down. A pop up Roll bar would make it a bit safer" By topher, Monday, April 29, 2002
"The car is a disappointment in some ways. For instance, It does not have eithor memory seats or built in garage door opener. Which I think is shortsighted for this class of car. I do feel the car is drop dead georgious. It draws a croud every time I park it. The hard top is too heavy It is difficult for two older guys to handle. The proformance is great, although not as refined as I had hoped. On the whole I would give the effort a "B" Favorite Features: The looks Suggested Improvements: Garage door opener. Memory seats. Lighter hard top" By flyingbrad, Monday, March 04, 2002
2002 Volvo C70 Convertible
"Very reliable, as Volvos are known for, but exceedingly pleasurable to drive when compared to other sport cars. My C70 is also very roomy, especially compared to the Jag I was thinking of buying. Lots of shoulder room and very comfortable. For the same price, one must squeeze themselves into a BMW or Benz of lesser beauty, performance, and comfort. Favorite Features: The elegance of the design is my most favorite feature. It is refined, muscular, but intelligent in appearance. The 17" tires and rims contribute to the muscular appearance and hold her tightly to the road. Suggested Improvements: Add an even more powerful version of the 240 hp engine. Upgrades are easily obtainable (IPD is the main supplier) giving her 300hp with just two or three external accessories. There is also a slight turbo lag that I believe is factored in to the 0-60 time." By Jasta Thursday, March 28, 2002
"I was in the fortunate situation that the dealer had a 2000 C70 still on the lot, and price wise both cars came out dollars apart, the dealer also threw in a new set of Gislaved snow tires and rims with the C70. It looks great, the interior finish is top class and the sound system awesome, and the drive superb. Also in the equation was the car having 3 production years under its belt, and that most of the bugs are out. The car is Venetian red with a beige leather interior. It also came with the 17 inch wheels and rims. The more I write about it, the more anxious I am to get delivery. By bruneje, Mar 10, 2001
I took possession of a silver exterior and interior C70 HPT automatic coupe Nov. 28, '00. I am very pleased with the handling and the ride. Acceleration from standing is adequate but really takes off when over 30-40mph. So far no problems if that means anything at 1700 miles. I also like the ergonomics of the interior and the seats almost feel as if they were custom contoured. I did not get the upgraded dolby surround sound system. I have seen a nautic blue with beige interior convertible but not a coupe. That is a great color combination and I would have ordered it but in Florida I try to stay away from dark colored cars which is why I opted for silver/silver. By volvowatcher, Mar 18, 2001
2002 BMW 330Ci Convertible
"I currently own a 2002 325ci I purchased in late October 2001. I loved my 1998 323is and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a new 2002. I must say that I think the 325ci is the best valued car out there today. I test drove Benz, Lexus, and even a Boxster and I must say that the new 325ci won hands down in the all around value end. I felt like it handled better and more realistic than many of its competitors, plus the available options made it able to compete with cars twice its price! I must say that the guys at Wagner BMW were great and they gave me the best deal out of the three I went to. Anyway, I recommend the 325ci its a great buy. Favorite Features: I love the Xenon lights and the steptronic transmission (I wish the M3 had a steptronic). The heated seats are great for those cool nights when you still want to drive with the sunroof open. Oh, and the white out markers (new for 2002) available with the sports package are a must, people. Suggested Improvements: I can't really think of too many improvements to the 325ci. Although I would like to see an in-dash six disc cd changer instead of the single cd in dash. Better looking rims for the sports package would have been nice. Two thumbs up to the guys (and gals) at BMW." By BMW Guy Sunday, April 07, 2002
"We had eight years of SUV's and wanted back into an auto. We drove every style of the Big Three; Honda; VW and Toyota. Only when we drove BMW 325 Ci were we able to smile. It was our first time behind the wheel of a BMW. Its practically culture shock after driving our Blazer and Saturn. The road feel, security, and braking power is beyond description. It goes without saying this car begs to be driven. If you have a heavy foot, better go bare footed. After a Blazeryeah, its borders on being awesome. Favorite Features: The automatic adjustment of the drivers seat and mirrors is a stand out. I'm 10 inches taller than my wife. Sounds trite, but after 30 years of getting squeezed at the wheel and always adjusting mirrors, its a real pleasure. Suggested Improvements: I have no suggestions for improvements, but would welcome anyone who could assist in grasping the seat belt. I think they should stay under the seat release lever, but they are never there." By auto61726, Thursday, March 21, 2002
"This is my 5th 3 series BMW (2nd e46). The e46 has the best over fit, finish, quality, etc. Overall it has everything. Its a tight ride, styling is excellent. I could go on and on. I tried a couple Fords, GM's in between all the purchases of BMW, the BMW is just a well engineered car, no squeaks, etc. Favorite Features: Styling Suggested Improvements: Auto lights (lights turn off/on based on light outside) Needs a much better radio upgrade, the harmon kardon is not an audofiles dream. Lexus has taken car audio much more serious, so should BMW. By damills, Sunday, March 10, 2002