Volvo vs. Saab convertible
October 25, 2008 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a decent year-round convertible which can comfortably fit two adults and two children.

Trying to keep the cost under $15K (US) . So far I've found quite a few Volvo C70s which meet my criteria (mostly 2003s and 2004s turbo models) but am beginning to think I should also consider Saab 93s of similar vintage. The Volvo seems reliable enough but there are many complaints of harsh ride and body flex. I will probably keep my old Jeep as well so extreme winter weather (I'm in New England) is not much of a concern.
Other suggestions (though BMWs appear to be out of my price range), First/second hand knowledge and opinions appreciated.
posted by evilelf to Shopping (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For what its worth -- my mechanic (who works on Saabs and loves them) steers people clear of post 2003 specifically Saab's as they inherit too many of Chevy's traits.

jdpower 2007 problems per 100 vehicles
posted by SirStan at 4:58 AM on October 25, 2008

My current car is a 2006 Saab 9-3 Aero convertible, before that I had a 2000 9-3 convertible, I never had any major issues with them, especially not if compared to the money sink that was the BMW i had before.

Both were year-round cars and perfomed well in cold winters in Southern Germany and on several snowboarding trips. If you don't like a kinda stiff suspension I'd stay away from the 2nd generation Saab, unless you get a 2007 model (which will be out of your budget, most likely). As an alternative I'd also consider the Audi A4 convertible (B6 line, 2002-2006), my girlfriend has one and is very happy with it.
posted by starzero at 5:22 AM on October 25, 2008

The problem with Saab is that they've been GM cars since 1993, and all the new Volvos are based on a Ford platform. Still, the pre-GM Saab 900s are right fun to drive, especially if you get the Turbo version- plus they're easy to work on.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:30 AM on October 25, 2008

consider an Audi A4 convertible. given your price range you will most likely have to go for a 2003 or 04 model (and do know that the 3.0 doesn't deliver that much more punch than the 1.8T) but those are very nice and comfortable cars IMHO. audi doesn't sell manual transmissions in their A4 convertibles in the US (they do produce them but soooomehow we aren't cool enough for that), so if you did want a stick, you'd have to get an S4 convertible, which of course would mean an even older car.
posted by krautland at 6:02 AM on October 25, 2008

We have a Audi A4 convertible. It's reliable, beautiful and fun to drive.

The only drawback for your situation is the rear seat is smallish. If your kids are young, it's fine. If you've got large teenagers, it would be a tight fit especially on a long car trip. Of course, convertibles will generally have a rather small rear seat; the Audi isn't smaller than comparable models. If I was going to pick nits - there's only one cup holder.
posted by 26.2 at 8:06 AM on October 25, 2008

Friends of mine bought a Toyata Solara two years ago that could pack 4 adults comfortably and had quite a bit of trunk space.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 8:10 AM on October 25, 2008

Consider a Volkswagen Eos which is a retractable hard-top convertible built on the Passat platform; to me it feels more like a Jetta though. It comes in 2.0 and 3.2 liter engine options; the former can be found in your price range. If you prefer a manual transmission, they are only available in the 2.0 configuration.
posted by carmicha at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2008

I LOVED LOVED LOVED my 92 Saab convertible. Very comfortable, very safe, and exceedingly fun to drive. Saabs can be quirky, but they run forever with proper care. I would certainly consider a newer one when my budget allows.

One advantage of the Saab convertible (at least for the older years) was that they were built from the ground up, in a special factory, to be convertibles, not just sedans with the top chopped off. This means the frame and body were not "twisty" like some convertibles, and the windshield frame was actually a roll-bar. The car was great in snow and cold weather as well. No drafts, and the top had an extra layer for insulation.

If the newer Saabs compare favorably to the older ones, they would be on my short list. Or, maybe you can find a mid to late 90s model in excellent shape for half your budget, and save a bunch of cash.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:56 AM on October 25, 2008

I've driven a few C70s of that vintage, and I have to say, if your kids are young enough to still require any amount of stuff (strollers, etc.), then the C70 suckkkkssss; the trunk is literally useless given the size of the retractable roof and mechanism. I even got one as a rental car once, and couldn't fit my luggage into the trunk.
posted by delfuego at 10:30 AM on October 25, 2008

Yeah, they're part of GM, but Swedes still make the SAAB- in Sweden. I've had two. They are bulletproof.

But, I don't like the SAAB convertibles because they are too heavy.
posted by Zambrano at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2008

How important are gas prices to you?

I ask because if you want to get a real four-seat convertible (not to be confused with the fake four-seat convertible that is only equipped to handle two adults and two double amputees) and you don't care too much about performance, well... nothing beats old American iron. Plenty (and I do mean plenty) of American manufacturers produced proper four-seat (four-door) convertibles. These aren't sporty like the European saloons you've mentioned, but they're comfortable as hell and will get you from point A to point B with the sun shining on your head the whole way.

The advantage of going with an older fixed-up American car is that anybody can work on them. There is the slight disadvantage of not having modern (arguably) safety features like air-bags, but I believe these are more than offset by the fact that your vehicle weighs as much as many SUVs (with comparable gas mileage) only is wrapped in steel and chrome instead of plastic and crumple-zones.

Finding good candidates can be tricky as well, but you'd be surprised what $15,000 can get you. In most cases the person you're buying from will have spent at least that much getting it restored. Beware of Craigslist scams, though.

If you stick to the bread-and-butter cars you can find all kinds of cool stuff.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:25 PM on October 25, 2008

Sorry to respond to myself, but I mean look at that interior! Or that one!. You can't get that kind of attention to detail on a brand-new $15k car these days. Especially not one with 320 HP of V8 power behind it. I mean, shit, you want a back seat? You can have sex in this back seat and still have room left over to raise the kids to adulthood.

Additional disadvantage: don't try and parallel park unless you know what you're doing.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:37 PM on October 25, 2008

I've owned a few old Caddy droptops in sterling condition, specifically the '72 Eldo and 69 Fleetwood. They are gorgeous, comfortable, very powerful, well equipped (climate control, 4 wheel disk brakes, power seats and windows... in 1969!) and always breaking down.

Always. Breaking. Down.

Before Honda and Toyota figured it out in the late '80s, cars that weren't made by Rolls Royce or Volvo were only good for 75-80k miles, and it was expected you would have serious maintenance work done before then. (Valve jobs, tranny rebuilds, carb rebuilds, suspension work, electrical work... my '69 was flawless for the 50k miles I had it, except for the damn electricals. It would eat voltage converters like pop-tarts. I had to have one in the glovebox at all times, with a spare alternator in the trunk for good measure, or I'd be stranded on the side of the highway.)

A top-down restoration of an American droptop from the golden age ('49 to '73) is do-able... but it will only give you a car as durable as the original. You can expect a major repair every 30k-40k mi, and you'll need to restore it all over again once you hit 100k.

It's not a GM problem, either - I owned and loved a '72 Mustang Landau and a '74 Super Beetle. I did all my own work on them, went for reliability and restoration rather than performance in my upgrades, performed regular maintenance religiously with the highest quality components I could find, and they were always breaking down. (VW Motto: No part is heavier than fifty pounds or more than fifty bucks!)

Modern cars are designed to go 150-200k without much drama, and maintenance is much, much easier with electronic ignitions and disk brakes. (Hate swapping out drum shoes! Haaaate!)

A recent model Toyota Solara would be the roomiest and most reliable modern convertible on the market, and doesn't cost a mint to buy or gas up.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:01 AM on October 26, 2008

(Oh, and mileage on my old 500cui V8 was actually pretty good. It could =idle creep= at 20mph if I let it, and power modulation was very, very smooth on those old Caddies. Driven reasonably at 65mph with the cruise control on, 24-26mpg highway was the norm for long trips. Of course, you could watch the gas guage head toward "E" if you tromped it to show that kid in the Z tailgating you what rampant acceleration was all about... )
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:12 AM on October 26, 2008

A top-down restoration of an American droptop from the golden age ('49 to '73) is do-able... but it will only give you a car as durable as the original. You can expect a major repair every 30k-40k mi, and you'll need to restore it all over again once you hit 100k.

I dunno... yes, I would agree that you'll likely need something major repaired or replaced every 50k miles. But it will be a lot easier to do because you'll have less electronic crap breaking down requiring more electronic crap to diagnose properly, as well as more physical space to actually get to the parts in question. But no way will you need to do a total restoration every 100k miles. My father had a Valiant with a slant-six and put at least three hundred thousand miles on it before we (stupid kids) bullied him into getting a "new, modern" replacement. That thing got 30 miles per gallon on regular gas.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:42 PM on October 27, 2008

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