Volkswagen recently announced their intentions of building a convertible SUV, many of us simply shook our heads and sighed. The idea has been tried before by others, and the results ranged from disappointment to disgust, with only sporadic positives coming from a single corner of the market segment. With a budget of nearly 100,000,000 dollars to design and produce the T-Roc Cabriolet, we’re hoping the German automaker doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the strange and downright ugly concepts that have trod this path before.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the companies who have tried dropping the top on their SUVs and how that turned out.
This little Japanese company managed to sneak one of the first small SUVs into the North American markets. In a landscape trodden by Jeeps, and not much else to take them on, the Suzuki Sidekick — later renamed the Vitara — hit the scene as an effective trail riding alternative to the Jeep. In North America at least, the Sidekick would become emblematic of the Suzuki brand, and kick-start the invasion of small Asian SUVs on the North American markets. The Sidekick, or Vitara if you prefer, would go on to continue being sold under the GM badge as the Geo Tracker and eventually the Chevy Tracker.
Our next convertible tried to recreate the Sidekick's pioneering spirit but managed to sow doubt in the entire market segment.
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
This interesting attempt at combining the sporty good looks of a convertible with the practicality of an SUV ended up being one of the most polarizing vehicles of the last decade. Nissan took their respectable Murano SUV, cut the top down and removed two doors, and then released the lamb to the wolves of reviewers, who chewed it up and spit it out. If the reviews are to be believed, the top was slow and clunky whenever it moved, the little V6 wasn’t powerful enough to accommodate the 4400-pound beast, and the front end shook like a paint mixer, plus visibility was next to nil through the strange dual rear window when the top was up. While Nissan gave up on the CC just four years into its run, for some reason, the remaining models are sought after by buyers intrigued by the unusual styling.
Our next model tried to learn from Nissan's mistakes.
Range Rover Evoque Convertible
Range Rover’s little cabriolet had the misfortune of being released while the sour taste of the Murano CC was still fresh, though they managed to avoid some of Nissan’s pitfalls, mostly in the structure and power plant. The Evoque very much looks like a Range Rover, with the same bulkiness mixed with sleek lines, though with the rag-top down, the vehicle’s upward angled beltline tends to look like a box-car from the Little Rascals. With the top up, however, the lines work together to produce a sporty and professional looking SUV, which is just as refined inside as it is outside.
Up next: an experimental entrant that just couldn't get a footing in North America.
Toyota RAV 4
Back in 1998, Toyota released the RAV4 in a soft top three-door, which would replace the hardtop version in the following year. This little offroader was an early entry to the small SUV market, with only a few competitors, most of whom are on this list. The larger five-door RAV was a competent family vehicle, while the smaller three-door model provided an alternative to the all-terrain ruggedness of Jeeps, without sacrificing fun. Unfortunately, the uninitiated market rejected the petite sport utility and the turn of the century canceled the soft top. It would seem this rejection was only temporary; other places around the globe still received three-door models, and small SUVs and crossovers have since come to dominate the market.
Next up is the SUV that captured the minds of a generation.
Hummer H1 Open Top
Though they are no longer on the market, the Hummer brand did a lot for the SUV market. Entering the scene in 1993 as a road-going version of the military Humvee, the H1 gave civilians the opportunity to ride around the beaches with the rag-top off and no worries of incoming fire. The two-piece canvas top that covers the cabin and the cargo area was innovative, and the hulking size of the machine meant there was plenty of room for everyone. Unfortunately, the massive size that was the H1’s drawing feature also became its downfall once eco-consciousness hit the auto industry with the fury of an abnormally aggressive hurricane. The H1 never really tried to be sleek or stylish, just unstoppable and big, which kept the criticism to a minimum while it was in production.
Our next convertible tried to break into North American market twice, but just couldn't make any friends here.
The Amigo was originally sold in North America from 1989 through 1994, then reintroduced in 1998 with the second generation. Coming in at the beginning of the SUV craze that would take off in the mid-1990s, the little Amigo (also sold as the Rodeo Sport in the United States) should have done better than it did, but its bland interior styling and loud road noise pushed buyers away. When the Amigo was first brought back in 1998, it only came as a soft top model. While the Isuzu doesn’t shed its entire roof, the cargo area and rear seats — depending on the model — could be exposed by taking off the fabric cover. This semi-convertible proved stylish but unimpressive to buyers, resulting in the Amigo being let go in 2004.
Our next vehicle had to overcome some obstacles before finding its place in the market.
Back in the 1990s, Kia entered the then young SUV market with the Sportage, a three or five-door SUV promising fun and functionality. What the public got was a roadgoing hazard the Australian ANCAP gave just a single star for safety, noting that a seatbelt failed, and there was a major structural collapse in this vehicle. The smaller model was offered in a soft top, and was styled much like the Sidekick and RAV4, where the cargo area and rear seats are exposed with the top off, but the front seats are still firmly in the cabin. Fortunately for the safety of the public, the early Sportage failed to make sales. This would change with later models, but by then the convertible option had been taken off the table.
Our final slide is the granddaddy of every other vehicle on here.
The only one on this list to truly pull off the topless SUV style is the Jeep Wrangler. The iconic off-roader pretty much set the bar for what a convertible sport utility should be with its removable hard and soft top designs. Not only does the Wrangler sport an open top, but can also be open sided with removable doors. Perhaps it’s a matter of familiarity bias, but the Wrangler looks good stripped down for a day in the sun, and its rugged lines work with its bulky, squared off styling, unlike the sportier, more rounded bodies of the more modern designs that found their way into this list. After several iterations of this all-terrain vehicle, from the earliest CJ through to the current model of the Wrangler, Jeep has managed to both innovate and found a traditional design that has become iconic for them. The Wrangler continues to impress by not fixing what isn’t broken and improving where necessary.