California cruisin' in new convertibles

LOS ANGELES Driving around day in and day out is often a chore. But it can be a little more fun with one simple move: Putting down the top.

BMW has a new convertible at a bargain price -- bargain being a relative term of course. The new 1-Series starts at just under $34,000, though this particular 128's options send the price over $40K. But the 1-Series models cost about $10,000 less than the larger 3-Series, which have folding metal roofs.

This power top is made of fabric to save cost and weight. But the 1-Series offers the same engine choices as with the 3-Series, so not only do you save some money, they actually perform better.

For something bigger, Saab has carved out a nice niche for their convertible 9-3, which boasts of having a very usable back seat with room for grownups, and that certain Saab feeling that many have come to love.

Convertibles have come and gone over the decades, but the Mercedes-Benz SL carries on as an icon of open-air motoring. The current body styling has been around for more than seven years, but Mercedes continually updates its technology to keep it current.

The SL's styling gets revamped for the '09 model year. Inside, technology in the form of Bluetooth audio connection for your mobile phone. There are also improvements in the ride and handling, and for cold weather, this optional "air scarf" that blows warm air onto your head and neck. No reason to leave the top up in January.

Mercedes-Benz doesn't update this model very often, but that never seems to matter to those who ante up the nearly $100,000 to buy them each year; its design is rather timeless.

"You can imagine all the sort of Hollywood stars and a lot of the Californians who made this car so famous, started driving Mercedes convertibles right at the beginning, and it's blossomed to today," said Mercedes-Benz spokesman Rob Allan.

From high end to more affordable, the purchase of a convertible is a way to make any trip a bit breezier and easier.

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