Blog: In Defense Of Keeping The Top Up

Features I By John Beltz Snyder I June 15, 2011

I’m kind of the oddball in the Michigan office of Winding Road—among other reasons, my colleagues would argue—in that I’m not as fond of convertibles as the rest of the team. I almost always prefer the coupe version to the droptop, if available. Heck, if they made an MX-5 coupe, and it was my money, I’d definitely consider choosing that over the convertible. Similarly, I don’t particularly care for sunroofs. I’m just not a big fan of the sun. It hurts my eyes, makes me itchy, and sometimes triggers a migraine. Perhaps my vampiric photophobia stems from growing up in the rainy, shady Pacific Northwest. Or maybe I’m just a freak.

We have an unwritten rule, though, at Winding Road: if you’re driving a convertible, and it’s not precipitating, the top stays down.

This past week, I drove the Infiniti G37S Convertible on my vacation to Northern California. The weather was perfect, and I did quite a bit of driving with the top down. I enjoyed it. When I pulled up to my hotel, the doorman noted that it was a perfect day for a convertible, and I had to agree. With the cabin open to the world, I was able to hear the chatter of onlookers as I pointed the G down San Francisco’s crooked Lombard Street. (“No brakes!” was what one pedestrian hooted my way.) The California sunshine lasted throughout my top-down drive up to Napa Valley. It was something most people would call pleasant. And, as nice as it was, I came away from it worn out from the light and the wind, sunburned, ears ringing, and with a persistent sneeze from whatever allergens were being blasted directly into the cabin through the open roof.

The Infiniti I drove was able to make up for some of the discomfort I felt along the way. The cooled front seats were a blessing when the skin of my back, the fabric of my shirt, and the leather of the seat all started to fuse into one. The lack of a roof offered great visibility when dodging curbs and pedestrians on the crowded city streets. Plus, it allowed me to better soak in the idyllic NorCal scenery.

Honestly, though, I was relieved when we reached our destination in Napa, and could get inside, wash my face, and carry on a complete conversation without yelling over the sound of luggage tags flapping in the wind (with the top down, there was hardly room for even my wife’s purse in the trunk, so we resorted to plopping our bags in the rear seats). I don’t mind an intense driving experience, but the added sensory input from the elements caused me to tune out rather than plug into the actual act of driving.

Later, on the trip back to San Francisco from wine country, I broke the rules. I put the bags in the trunk, left the top up, an enjoyed another beautiful drive. This time, though, I was able to pay more attention to the sound of the G37’s throaty and communicative 3.7-liter V-6 (an asset when shifting on my own via the car’s column-mounted paddle shifters). I didn’t have to squint or shade my eyes from the glare of the overhead sun. I didn’t have to yell to point out a herd of goats or a particularly beautiful house on top of a hill. The filtered air coming into the cabin was the perfect temperature the whole time. I wasn’t forced to focus on the elements around me, but rather on the road before me.

Freak or no, I still prefer a solid, permanent, opaque top to my vehicles. The reduced weight and price and body flex are fine—a few common defenses of coupes over convertibles—as are the aesthetics of an unbroken design. Sure, a retractable hardtop might be a good compromise for someone who, like me, will go topless every once in a while, and has the extra dough to spend. But mostly, it’s the simplicity of the top-up driving experience that I appreciate. Encapsulated within the closed vehicle, I am liberated by the lack of distractions, discomforts, and disconnect from what is going on between myself, the vehicle, and the pavement. With apologies to my coworkers and to lovers of the noble convertible, I intend to break the rules more often.

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