As the Hardtops Hide, the Trunks Go Missing (Published 2007) (2023)



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Behind the Wheel | Pontiac G6 and Chrysler Sebring Convertibles

As the Hardtops Hide, the Trunks Go Missing (Published 2007) (1)

By Ezra Dyer

THE age of the retractable hardtop is upon us. The convertible BMW 3 Series, Volvo C70, Volkswagen Eos and Mercedes-Benz SL and SLK all wear hard hats, and the Lexus SC and Mazda Miata also offer retractable shells. With the Pontiac G6 and Chrysler Sebring convertibles, the retractable hardtop infiltrates the meat of the market, the domestic four-seat convertible.

These aren’t impractical performance machines or big-dollar luxury cars; they’re the sunny but humble conveyances you see trolling South Beach with discreet Enterprise stickers on their rear bumpers, cars aimed at people who want a spacious droptop for short money. Hooray for progress, then?

Not so fast. After spending some time with the G6 and Sebring, I’ve reached a conclusion about retractable hardtops in general and these two in particular: they’re more faddish and overrated than a trans-fat-free iPhone dipped in Valerie Bertinelli’s willpower.

I concede that hardtop convertibles are quieter than soft tops. I’ve also heard them championed for their added security, but that strikes me as a specious claim — they still have glass windows, don’t they?

All right, then, we can agree that hardtops are quieter than soft tops, and that’s a good thing. On the negative side, they’re more complicated and costly. They’re heavier, and they put that weight up high, like a sailing vessel with Tony Siragusa in the crow’s nest. Until they’re fashioned out of chain mail, hardtops sized for a four-passenger interior will steal the trunk space because they cannot do the accordion trick like a cloth roof.

And, perhaps most damning for cars that are supposed to have flair and style, retractable hard tops dictate bizarre proportions. This is especially the case with four-seat convertibles, where the area between the back seat and the rear wheels is stretched to house the folded roof, resulting in proportions that recall a hyperextended Slinky. If the Sebring’s rear deck were any longer, it would have a steam catapult and arresting wires.

I concede that the G6 manages to avoid this problem. It is actually quite handsome, with taut lines and a hunkered-down stance that suggests it is poised to attack. So how does the G6 get around the top-storage conundrum? It offers no trunk space whatsoever.


While other convertible designers fret about where to store the top, Pontiac said, “Easy! Put it in the trunk, with the spare tire.” Like many hardtop convertibles, the G6 has a divider in the trunk that must be secured before the top will retract. But most other cars divvy the space so the roof gets its share and your bags get what’s left. In the G6, the space above the divider belongs to the top, with the space beneath dedicated almost completely to the spare tire.

With the top down, there’s room under there for a sheet of paper or a pack of gum, but not both at the same time.

I tried to stash my empty messenger bag in the trunk with the top down, and while it fit, I learned the hard way that when the top’s down, you should just pretend the trunk lid is welded shut.

When I raised the top, it snatched my modest cargo and attempted to incorporate it into the roofline, with poor results. This was my own fault, but seriously, how many people are going to rent one of these and eventually end up with a bag of Official Fort Lauderdale Bikini Inspector T-shirts folded into the headliner? I suggest signing up for the damage waiver insurance.

The Sebring is available with either a soft top or a hard one, although both use the same frame — and thus the soft top provides no stowage advantage. I drove the midline Sebring Touring model ($28,745) with an optional cloth roof. (Amazingly, the base convertible has a vinyl top, for older drivers who really miss their Cordobas.)

The ragtop Sebring offers the worst of both worlds — none of the sound insulation or gee-whiz factor of a hard top, but with all the awkward styling and inefficient use of space.

About that styling: the Sebring’s sheet metal exudes the excitement, ferocity and sleek visceral energy of a dozing manatee. There is so much room between the tires and the fenders that the car looks as if it was dropped from a C-130 and is midway through the rebound skyward. And the ribbed hood? The last time I saw ribs this disturbing, they were on the steam table at an $8.99 all-you-can-eat buffet.

All previous Sebring convertibles hewed to a policy of stylistic conservatism. They were agreeable if not memorable. This one is the opposite.

One ergonomic bright point: At least the Sebring puts the top-control switch on the dash, next to the steering wheel. (You can also lower the top with the key fob, which is a nifty trick.) Pontiac puts its switch in a shoulder-stressing position up above the rear-view mirror, where your natural inclination is to rest your fingers across the top of the windshield header — directly in the path of the closing roof — while your thumb’s on the button. I suppose we should just be glad Pontiac didn’t locate the switch somewhere even more inconvenient and dangerous, such as on a hot exhaust manifold or inside the mouth of a cobra.


Behind the wheel, the Pontiac comes across as sportier than the Chrysler, but neither car’s mission statement seems to include driving thrills. The base G6 GT ($29,400) wrings 217 horsepower from its 3.5-liter V-6. Those ponies are hitched to a four-speed automatic transmission whose yawning chasms between gear ratios exaggerate the car’s considerable curb weight of 3,855 pounds — which is 440 pounds more than the G6 GT coupe.

The G6’s motor is so overmatched that the cruise control can’t hold a speed on hilly highways. The motor races going uphill and then sends you hurtling over the crest at extralegal velocities — up to 10 miles an hour faster than your chosen speed. If you doubt this, I have a video I could show you, once I’m done showing it to the Maine traffic court where I’m contesting a speeding ticket that I received under exactly those circumstances.

Despite the G6’s modest power, there’s an abundance of torque steer, a sideways tug of the wheel under acceleration and a penalty I associate with more powerful rides. Getting torque steer from 217 horsepower is like eating a 1,200-calorie cheeseburger that tastes like a stale rice cake — all the penalties of an indulgence, minus the pleasure.

Torque steer isn’t much of a problem on the Sebring Touring, given that its midrange V-6 puts out 186 horsepower — only 13 more than the bare-bones 4-cylinder model — and, like the G6, is saddled with a four-speed automatic transmission. The Limited model steps up to a 235-horsepower V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic, but the base price rises to $32,345, and that’s with a soft top.

The folding hardtop is a $1,995 option, and by then you’re in the territory of the Saab 9-3 convertible. (The lame-duck 2007 Saab has been carrying buyer incentives of $4,000 to $5,000 in the Northeast.)

Speaking of more palatable options, unless you’re obsessed with a hardtop, I don’t see why you’d prefer either of these cars over the $31,140 Ford Mustang GT Deluxe convertible, which has a 300-horsepower V-8 and a usable trunk. And if you must have a retractable hardtop, the Volkswagen Eos offers a much more upscale experience for less than $30,000.

It seems to me that in the G6 and Sebring, both Pontiac and Chrysler blew their budgets on glitzy Transformers tops, to the detriment of the vehicles beneath. But the Pontiac at least looks good, and for some people that’s all that matters for a car like this.

As for the Sebring, all I can say is that the old one had a soft top and calculatedly banal styling, and it was the best-selling convertible in America in 7 of the last 11 years. What was wrong with that?

INSIDE TRACK: Sometimes it’s hard to top a soft top.



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