GET YOUR TOP OFF
With five new launches in the last few years, the glamour of driving a topless convertible is no longer restricted to the movies. Welcome to the cabriolet club!
IF THE sight of people zipping down a road in an open-top car, their hair and stoles streaming behind them in the wind, arouses admiration in your heart, blame it on the movies.
For instance, the movies are the reason that 28-year-old businessman Luv Israni has owned a flaming red open-top two-seater convertible Mercedes for five years. “I watch movies for the cars, not the actors, and there was Audrey Hepburn zipping away in a convertible in How To Steal a Mil
lion (1966),” he says dreamily. And movies, specifically the Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor starrer
Anjaana-Anjaani (2010), are the reason that 20-something Swati Bagga believes the best mood lifter is not a shot of caffeine but a ride in a car with its roof pulled back, enjoying sunlight, good music and admiring glances from those on the road. “There is no better mood enhancer than this,” says Bagga, marketing and operations director, SB group of companies, a rally driver and the proud owner of three convertibles including the Jaguar F-Type, a gleaming red Ferrari and a BMW Z4.
There’s always been something very romantic about convertible cars, inevitably associated with movies. Rewind to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and you’ll remember that most romantic escapades and crazy car chase sequences were incomplete
Call it a convertible or cabriolet,
the car is the same: an automobile
with a folding top
without a convertible car, usually the Chevrolet, later the Impala. “A convertible is not only perfect for movie chases, it also lends a certain character to the hero’s personality,” says Rannvijay Singh, actor, VJ and car aficionado who dreams of owning a 1969 Mustang convertible someday.
MAHARAJA OF CARS
Call it a convertible, call it a cabriolet; the car is the same: an automobile with a folding top ( cabriolet is merely the French word for a convertible). It’s a sexy kind of car, but oddly, it’s been popular only in phases. “Convertibles were the most soughtafter cars at one time, but almost disappeared in the 1970s,” says Ranojoy Mukherjee, an automobile expert. “Today, convertibles are becoming popular all over again because car brands are launching them intelligently, with efficient technology and luxurious equipment.” Between 2012 and 2015 alone, Mercedes, Audi and BMW launched as many as five convertible models between them.
The cars are not new. “The maharajas, at a time when they had the luxury of owning exchequers, were known to be crazy about luxury cars, the majority of which were convertibles,” says Joe King, head of Audi India.
Maharajas of that kind now exist only in name, but there are other maharajas today – business tycoons and movie stars for instance – who are just as keen on luxury convertibles. And, apparently, non-maharaja-types, too, can also afford a convertible, according to Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India.
“Convertibles look great and offer a lifestyle image that a hard-top coupe does not,” he says. “These are becoming relatively more affordable and no longer belong to the top fringe of the market, which is making them more popular.”
What’s meant by affordable is, of course, relative. While the Audi A3 has an ex-showroom price of ` 44,75,000 in Delhi, Mercedes Benz offers the SLK 55 AMG at ` 1,23,58,175 ex-showroom, and the recently launched E400 cabriolet is
pegged at ` 77,05,549 ex-showroom. The BMW Z4 meanwhile is ` 68,90,000. On the other hand, convertibles from Ferrari are priced at ` 5 crore and above, and the Phantom Drophead from Rolls Royce costs
` 8 crore and above. Despite the prices, these convertibles apparently, all have ready buyers.
According to Eberhard Kern, MD and CEO of Mercedes-Benz India, the profile of the convertible buyer is somewhat different from the popular perception. “Our target customers comprise discerning tech-savvy people passionate about a superlative driving experience.”
Rashy Todd, managing director, Audi Gurgaon, adds: “There is a new concept of fun motoring and the young customer subscribing to this concept is interested in sports and technology. Their cabriolets are usually the second or sometimes the third Audi in the family.”
Sharper designs, powerful and efficient engines and good safety features are some of the elements that make cabriolets a very attractive option.
Clearly, convertibles are perceived as very, very sexy. Student Hardik Modi, whose family presented him with an Audi A3
as his 19th birthday gift, can barely describe how he felt the first time he drove the car with the top down. “Driving the A3 from my residence in Chattarpur to Connaught Place on a rainy day was lovely,” he says. “With a waterproof soft top that opens in 18 seconds flat, weather is never a worry.”
Let’s not forget the envy a convertible inspires in passers-by. Luv Israni admits he gets his biggest high when he drives his Mercedes SL 55 AMG and the reactions it evokes. “I recently drove to Agra for a wedding in my Mercedes, and my car got much more attention than even the bride and the groom.”
While most convertibles are two-seaters, many now come as four-seaters with decent space in the boot. But the biggest change in convertible design is in the roof. Once, the roof was made of soft cloth. Now it’s a folding variant, making it much more comfortable and convenient.
There are sporty versions of the convertibles, such as the Porsche 911 Carerra 4S Cabriolet. But the ultimate in bespoke luxury is the Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Maharaja.
“You can spot a Mercedes SLK on any given day, especially in central Delhi, or late evenings in most five-star hotels, but the sportier versions are on the tracks of the Buddh International Circuit,” says Paritosh Gupta, founder of the Delhi-based CannonBall club, India’s biggest club of supercar owners.
Mumbai-based businessman Sameer Jain loves driving his BMW M3 Convertible on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway on weekends. “Apart from the cramped roads of the city, the humidity doesn’t make it conducive to driving a convertible. So, taking it for a spin on the expressway makes sense,” says Jain.
THE INDIA EFFECT
It seems like a dream come true for the car-crazy, but of course, the reality of life in India can be quite a spoilsport. “Convertibles aren’t practical in our country because it’s either too hot for most of the year, or raining, so they aren’t really bought for open-air motoring,” says Sorabjee.
There are other practicalities to consider as well. “Even with the the option of a four-seater, the rear seats don’t offer much leg space for an adult,” says Paritosh Gupta.
Swati Bagga adds her own caveats. “Ground clearance is an issue as surface clearance is pretty low. So deft handling is required when it comes to these beauties,” she warns.
But what do practicalities matter when you’re in love? Nothing, laughs 18-year-old college student Labhesh Mann, whose red Audi A3, a birthday gift from his parents, is a head-turner. “The only thing that matters is the way people swoon when they see my car zip down,” he says.