It’s a well documented fact that in particular areas of the country, the rental car of choice is a convertible. The concept is easy to grasp. Someone travels to Florida or Southern California and plans to stay a few days. No matter if its business or pleasure, you rent yourself a rag-top and soak in the sun.
Convertibles have always been notoriously impractical cars, usually with little to no back seat, and stowing the roof means a serious loss of luggage space. Automotive engineers have learned from past pitfalls, and while modern ragtops still have their drawbacks, they are better than ever.
While the Mustang convertible has been around for the longest time, well, off and on, it was the humble Chrysler Sebring convertible that brought open-top motoring to the masses via rental fleets. The Sebring was one of the few soft tops that offered true 4 seat room while providing a reasonable trunk space. The car never had sporting bones, but as an economical, open-top cruiser at a decent price, it couldn’t be beat.
In 2008, while Chrysler was still partnered with Daimler-Benz, the Sebring benefitted from a clean sheet rework. The rigid new body structure provided a folding top with one-touch operation and a full hard top option. The car’s styling was questioned, but it still delivered the magic 4 seat interior with impressive trunk space. One could even opt for keeping the top up, folding the divider in the trunk area, and gaining cargo space to shame any sedan.
In 2011, Daimler had been replaced by Fiat Auto Group, creating the new FCA, and the Sebring morphed into the Chrysler 200. Styling both inside and out took a major turn for the better, but alas, 2014 saw the end of the 200 drop-top. FCA cited slow showroom sales and would not justify continuing to build the car solely for rental fleet use.
As the 200 went slowly into the night, elsewhere in Detroit a legend was being transformed. After many years, Ford made the decision to make the Mustang a global product. Besides offering the car in right-hand drive configuration, the installation of the 2.3 EcoBoost made the car competitive in markets where fuel prices are easily double what they are on U.S. shores.
With the exit of the Sebring/200, a vacancy was created in the rental market and Ford took full advantage. There is no faster way to make a believer out of consumers than to give them hands-on experience. The EcoBoost option was laughed at by many since the ponycar image of the Mustang has long centered around its performance V8 roots. But the performance market itself has changed radically in the last 20 years, and we’ve witnessed the rise of turbo monsters like the Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi EVO, and the Focus ST just to name a few. The other contrast is the power output of the EcoBoost, at 310hp it surpasses many V8 performance cars of just a few years past.
So it appears the EcoBoost Mustang convertible has become the new weapon of choice for rental fleets, providing thousands of drivers each year with the opportunity to sample the quickness and efficiency of the new package along with impressive comfort and trunk space. I should add the term “impressive comfort” will only apply to the front seat occupants as the Mustang rear seat legroom is unfit for most any human adult. This is not a worry for Ford or the rental companies since the vast majority of rentals are single or couples. The Mustang has never been marketed as a family car, nor should it be.
The Chrysler Sebring/200 held the rental darling crown for a decade, but the Dearborn Pony appears to be the heir apparent, and honestly, I can’t think of a better choice to fill the void. The EcoBoost Mustang convertible is a shining example of American automakers rising to the challenge of building a car not just good for our country, but as good as any competitor in the world in the same price bracket.
The Mustang recently celebrated its 50th birthday, and I wish it many more to come, rented or otherwise.
T. August Green