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A new generation of Indians is experiencing the joys of convertibles

There’s something romantic about driving a car with the top pulled down. Now, a new generation of Indians is experiencing the joys of convertibles.

brunch Updated: Aug 22, 2015 21:33 IST
Veenu Singh
Veenu Singh
Hindustan Times
Mercedes,Audrey Hepburn,Anjaana-Anjaani
The glamour of driving a topless convertible is no longer restricted to the movies. (Photo: Ajay Aggarwal)

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 a passion of envy and 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 an open convertible," he says dreamily.

And movies (specifically the Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor starrer Anjaana-Anjaani) are the reason that 20-something Swati Bhalla believes the best mood lifter is not a jolt of caffeine but a ride in a car with its roof pulled back, enjoying sunlight, fresh air, good music and admiring or envious glances from others on the road.

"There is no better mood enhancer and ego booster than this! I feel far more connected to the convertible than a coupe or a sedan," says Bhalla, marketing and operations director, SB group of companies, rally driver and proud owner of three convertibles including the Jaguar F, a gleaming red Ferrari and a BMW Z4.

Ferrari F430 spider: Passionate about cars, Swati Bagga has been a rally driver too. She has a special love for convertibles and currently owns three of them - a Ferrari, the award winning Jaguar F-type and a BMW Z4.

There’s always been something very romantic about convertible cars, which naturally associates them with movies. Rewind to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and you’ll remember that most romantic escapades and crazy car chases were incomplete without the convertible car, usually the Chevrolet, later the Impala.

"A convertible is not only perfect for 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.

The 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 convertible). It’s a sexy kind of car, but oddly, it’s been popular only in phases. "Convertibles were the most sought-after 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 with intelligence, efficient technology and luxurious equipment."

Cabriolets are a perfect synthesis of design and engineering excellence. The cars are not new on the road. Maharajas, at the long-gone time when they had the luxury of owning kingdoms and exchequers, were known to be crazy for luxury cars, the majority of which were convertibles, says Joe King, head, Audi India.

Maharajas of that kind now exist only in name, but there are other maharajas today – business tycoons and film stars for instance – who are just as keen on luxury convertibles. And, apparently, non-maharaja-types are also able to afford a convertible, according to Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India.

"People today want something different and convertibles look great and offer a lifestyle image that a hard-top coupe does not," says Sorabjee. "These are becoming relatively more affordable and no longer belong to the top fringe of the market, which is making them more popular."

Mercedes-Benz E400 cabriolet: Launched in March 2015, it’s a four-seater convertible with a retractable soft top. Price: Rs 77,05,549.

What’s meant by affordable is, of course, relative. While the Audi A3 has an ex showroom price of R44,75,000 in Delhi, Mercedes Benz offers the SLK AMG and the recently launched E400 cabriolet from R78 lakh onwards, while the BMW Z4 comes at R6,890,000. The recently launched BMW Mini convertible costs R36,70,000. On the other hand, convertibles from Ferrari are priced at R5 crore and above, and the Phantom Drophead from Rolls Royce costs R8 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 image. “Our target customers comprise discerning, highly tech-savvy people who are passionate about a superlative driving experience and want to make an impact with their style statement,” he says. “For them, a cabriolet is an extension of their individuality.”

Rashy Todd, managing director, Audi Gurgaon, adds: “Young India is changing and so is their lifestyle. There is a new concept of fun motoring and the young customer subscribing to this concept is adventurous, aspirational and interested in sports and technology. Their cabriolets are usually the second or even the third Audi in the family.”

Let's talk about sex, baby
Paritosh Gupta, 30-year-old businessman and founder of the Delhi-based CannonBall club (India’s biggest club for supercar owners), is excited by the convertibles available now.

"Sharper interior and exterior designs, a powerful and efficient engine, premium interiors, good safety features and trend-setting assistance systems are some of the features that makes cabriolets a very attractive option," he says. Translated, Gupta’s summing up of convertibles means that the cars are very, very sexy.

Audi A3: The Audi A3 cabriolet, a birthday gift from Hardik Modi’s parents. It has a water-proof soft roof and four seats. Priced at Rs 44,75,000, The A3 is the most affordable and one of the most selling convertibles.

Young Hardik Modi whose loving family presented him with the Audi A3 as a 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 a lovely experience," he says. "With a waterproof soft top that opens in 18 seconds flat, bad weather is not a worry." And naturally, there’s the speed of the thing: Modi has driven the car at 160 kmph without trouble.

Let’s not forget the envy and admiration a convertible inspires in passers-by. Luv Israni admits his biggest high when he drives his Mercedes SI AMG is the admiration it instigates. "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," he laughs.

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 roof, making it much more comfortable and convenient to drive in all weathers."You can have a soft top or a metallic hard top that ensures noise-free interiors and smooth driving even in bad weather," says Philipp von Sahr, president of the BMW Group India. "BMW’s newest offering, the Z4 roadster is a two-seat hardtop convertible, while the BMW Mini convertible is a four-seater with a soft top."

BMW z4: The newest model of this Roadster (two-seater), launched in 2013, combines sportiness and elegance and comes with a hard top. Price: Rs 68,90,000.

There are also sporty versions of the convertibles, such as the Ferrari 458, the Bentley convertible and the Porsche 911 Carerra 4S Cabriolet. The ultimate in bespoke luxury is the Phantom Drophead Maharaja from Rolls Royce.

“You can spot an Audi A3 or 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 Budh International Circuit where the members of the CanonBall meet once or twice a month for some driving fun,” says Paritosh Gupta. Other places to spot them are the Agra Expressway or towards Gurgaon and further off.

The India effect
It all seems like a dream come true for the car-mad, 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 Hormazd Sorabjee.

There are practicalities to consider as well. “A convertible needs much more care and maintenance than a regular car, and even though you have the option of a four-seater, the rear seats don’t offer much leg space for an adult to feel comfortable, especially on a long route,” says Gupta.

Swati Bhalla has her own caveats to add. “Ground clearance is a sensitive issue in a supercar as surface clearance is pretty low. Also you need to be careful about speed breakers because a sudden jerk can cause alignment issues. 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 the people swoon when they see my car zip down the roads in this lovely weather,” he winks.

From the author's diary

When it comes to doing a shoot with two sexy convertibles and four hot models, it’s not easy to get that awesome cover shot. Every frame is so good, it’s tough to zero in on just one. Even the models couldn’t take their eyes off the beauties on wheels. Setting it up was an adventure too.

First, I needed a good location. After hours of mulling over the right backdrop for these beasts, we decided on the DLF Golf & Country Club in Gurgaon. We figured that the perfect frame would have to be a top shot.

But, it also meant our photographer, Ajay Aggarwal, needed to be at a certain height. That’s where the truck, on which Ajayji is strategically perched, came in! The rain gods seemed to be ready for action, but thankfully, perhaps equally awed by the gleaming red cars, they spared us their blessings!

Location: DLF Golf & Country Club, Golf Course Road. Model and production coordination: Glitz Modelling Agency. Models: Apoorva Sharma, Sonal Pandey, Akshay Ma, Anjeet Tushir. Cars courtesy: Audi Gurgaon; Mercedes Benz

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First Published: Aug 22, 2015 13:29 IST