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Raise the Roof

These models give you good reasons to drive around with the top down.

An Indian summer is a great excuse to invest in a performance convertible. Two premium pop-tops that drive business cares away are Audi's $55,720 S4 Cabriolet and Lexus' $63,500 SC 430, while Chrysler debuts its $34,960 Crossfire Roadster.

The S4 Cabriolet's classic architecture, V-8 engine and all-wheel-drive add up to a comfortable ride. Twisty roads? High-speed highways? This Audi's high rigidity, precise steering, stability control system and exceptional crash protection take road conditions in stride. The automatic top folds away at the push of a button. The 4.2-liter engine has 340 horsepower whether you buy the six-speed or optional automatic transmission. Inside, leather bucket seats provide substantial side support. Features include ABS and 12-way power seats. A navigation system, heated seats and a garage door opener cost extra.

The Lexus SC 430 includes all of the above, plus traction and skid control. It focuses on luxury for those who prefer a leisurely cruiser...with 300 horsepower from its 4.3-liter V-8 engine. For a two-door that looks small on the outside, it's large on the inside. The retractable roof is a hardtop that hides in a rear niche. Sold only with a five-speed automatic transmission, the SC 430 has a speed-sensing steering system, ABS, automatic headlight sensors, 10-way power seats, stability control and pre-wiring for a cell phone.

Chrysler's 2005 Crossfire Roadster is elegant, with muscular shoulders and a retro boat-tail rear end. Its distinctive American styling and Mercedes-Benz engine set it apart. While the top requires a few more moves than the SC 430 and the S4, once the canopy is released, it's powered down in 22 seconds or so. The V-6 3.2-liter engine pumps out 215 horsepower. Features include a garage door opener, an eight-way power driver's seat and ABS, stability/traction control, tire pressure monitor, and sports roll bars behind the front seats.


Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 25 years.

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This article was originally published in the September 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Raise the Roof.

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