Drop Tops: A cultural revolution; individuality at its best

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2007 Saturn Sky2007 Saturn Sky
A popular refrain of the 1960s observes that “the [Black] revolution will not be televised.” The revolution at General Motor’s Saturn division, however, with its newly conceived Sky, will be televised. And why shouldn’t it be? When a brand artistically transforms its image, surely the world should know about it. Sky, the culturally innovative Saturn roadster, is as gorgeous as a convertible can get. Saturn, which currently has a female-dominated consumer base (60 percent of its buyers are female), expects the Sky to balance that base at 50-50. Sky’s notable features include the European-like front end, which is more menacing than congenial; 18″ x 8″ five-spoke aluminum rims (chrome available) tucked in Goodyear Eagles; rear spoiler (optional); and, of course, the ability to open up to view the “sky.”

The soft top comes in black or tan and conveniently tucks into the trunk. With the top up, there are 5.4 cubic feet of storage space available, but there are only 2 cubic feet with the top down. So don’t plan on long weekend drives with your wife, unless you have cash for new gear once you get to your destination. Two transmissions are available to complement the Sky’s 2.4-liter (DOHC Ecotec), 177-horsepower 4-cylinder engine: a 5-speed manual ($23,690) and a 5-speed automatic ($24,540). Clearly, the numbers describe a vehicle that is far from superior to the Mazda MX-5 Miata. And our test drive confirms that it is more for show than performance. The compact motor struggles to reach speed, especially uphill. And, when the accelerator is mashed aggressively, it screams louder and harsher than the actresses in one of those Scary Movies. If power and hunger are your style, I suggest you wait for the Sky Red Line, with its turbocharged 260-horsepower engine.

2006 MINI Cooper S Convertible2006 MINI Cooper S Convertible
After driving the MINI Cooper S, it is no surprise why the MINI—or, rather, three of them—were so prominently featured in the blockbuster hit The Italian Job.  From its classic cool style and pocketbook size to its vibrant color options and bonnet stripes, the MINI stands out on the street with the same commanding presence and coolness as it did in the movie. 

The MINI comes in two primary models: the 115-horsepower MINI Cooper and the supercharged MINI Cooper S, which tops out at 168-horsepower. Both models also come as attractive convertibles. For more punch, the Cooper S can be ordered with a special John Cooper Works GP Kit that adds several style and performance-enhancing parts that bring total horsepower up to 214. Only the 2000 Cooper S with the John Cooper Works GP Kit will be made this year. Of that number, only 415 will make it to the United States for sale.

For your money, the MINI is all value.  That said, the passion to own a MINI is more want than need, and more a display of individuality than practicality. If this is you, I recommended the Cooper S, because you’ll want the extra 53 horsepower. If you are the convertible type, know that the MINI’s top lowers fully in 15 seconds, has heated rear glass, and can open sunroof style while in motion at up to 75 m.p.h. The MINI Cooper starts at a modest $18,000 and boasts 28 miles per gallon in the city and 36 miles per gallon on the highway. The speedy Cooper S starts at $21,450 and gets 25 m.p.g. city and 32 m.p.g. highway.

To roll in the drop top, add $4,500 to each. The John Cooper Works GP Kit is only available on the Cooper S, and will set you back an additional $6,300. All in all, there is a MINI for every budget.    

Kimatni D. Rawlins is the publisher of Automotive Rhythms and host of “The Urban Automotive Experience.” Visit www.AutomotiveRhythms.com.