Regardless of what kind of powerplant is lurking under the hood, convertibles equate with fun.
But compared to their hard-topped counterparts, they also equate with premium prices. And when there's lots of horsepower, your friendly statistical forecasters in the insurance industry think the fun may get out of hand, which is why so many ragtops are saddled with sky-high premiums.
That's the beauty of the new Toyota Paseo convertible. It delivers plenty of stylish fresh-air fun, but dodges the purchase price premiums and insurance penalties associated with most other ragtops.
Yes, it's true that this new convertible costs quite a bit more than the Paseo coupe. The basic Paseo costs $13,628, including a $420 destination and delivery charge, while the topless version starts at $17,148.
But that's still a bargain price for a convertible. The only ragtops that are cheaper are the Geo Tracker and Suzuki Sidekick sport-utilities.
And with only 93 horsepower, the Paseo doesn't attract much unfavorable scrutiny from the insurance companies.
However, please don't be deceived into thinking this is some sort of anemic snail like the late and unlamented Geo Metro Convertible. With less than 2200 pounds 93 hp produces better performance here than you might expect.
Toyota introduced the Paseo early in 1991 as a 1992 model. Translated from Spanish, the name means walk or stroll, which may suggest something about the car's performance that isn't quite true (remember it has a favorable power-to-weight ratio).
Although the nifty two-door bodywork is unique to the Paseo, the rest of the car--front-drive chassis and powertrain--is shared with Toyota's subcompact Tercel line.
However, even though there's a lot of mechanical commonality, the Paseo has a distinctly sportier personality than its more conservative cousins, and is more fun to drive.
This straightforward, honest little car acquits itself respectably in everyday driving.
Thanks to its low curb weight, the Paseo's 1.5-liter twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine delivers surprisingly peppy acceleration, as well as very good fuel economy on good old unleaded regular. We liked the shift action of the manual five-speed transmission, which adds to the driving fun, but even with the optional four-speed automatic the car performs respectably compared to other small cars.
ASC seems to have done its usual good work in creating this convertible for Toyota. Although its chassis isn't quite as rigid as the coupe, an inevitable consequence of removing the roof structure, it has the solid feel we've come to associate with Toyotas over the years.
It also delivers respectable handling and a sporty but comfortable ride. This is another area where the Paseo's low weight pays high dividends. The less weight there is to shift back and forth, the quicker the response to driver commands.
The combination of crisp steering and prompt responses in avoidance maneuvers gives the Paseo a lively feel that we found surprising. It's not a Miata, but it doesn't pretend to be; and, as we noted earlier, your insurance company won't think it's a Miata, either.
Braking performance, from a front disc, rear drum system, is good--low curb weight paying yet another dividend--though we recommend popping the extra $550 for ABS, a good price for this important active safety feature.
Toyota has earned a solid reputation for building serviceable cars that last. In 1996, J.D. Power included the Paseo in the top five of the "Best Sporty Car" category in its Initial Quality Study.
That's a high tribute for a subcompact car, and it means you can expect your Paseo to keep delivering fun over the long haul.
We promise we won't tell your insurance agent.