Difference Between Cabriolet & Convertible? (Explained)

For first-timers wanting to enjoy the exhilarating feeling of open-air driving, knowing what is the difference between a cabriolet and a convertible can be confusing.

Both deliver that classic wind-in-your-face road thrill!

What is the difference between cabriolet and convertible?

The key difference between the cabriolet and the convertible is the source of their names. Both are vehicles that have a foldable roof that leaves the car without a top. In reality, you might not find any noticeable difference when the roof of the two types of cars is down.

Whenever a car with a folding roof comes with more than two seats, American car manufacturers prefer to label it a convertible.

In Europe, carmakers use the two words interchangeably, so you can expect to see four-seater open-top vehicles called either a convertible or cabriolet.

Is a Cabriolet a Convertible?

Yes, a cabriolet is a convertible, but the origins of the words are different. Cabriolet is the French word for a convertible.

In the United States, cars that offer the open-top design are called convertibles. However, the Germans and other European carmakers prefer to use the more romantic and older cabriolet for their foldable-top vehicles.

So a cabriolet and a convertible are basically the same. They both have a roof that can fold down and have four seats, even though they might have just two doors.

If the car has four seats and you can flip down the roof, you can call it a cabriolet or convertible.

However, people in the U.S. may look surprised when you call their convertible a cabriolet.

Why Is It Called a Convertible?

A car is a convertible if you can convert it from one with a rooftop to a vehicle without a roof. The same applies to the cabriolet. Both terms are now interchangeable, although a cabriolet once referred to a two-wheeled carriage with a foldable top.

In the car industry, you will find many American brands calling their foldable-top cars convertibles while European companies stick to the cabriolet. European cars made for American buyers will carry the convertible label.

The convertible is the more popular name for cars with a removable roof, and it’s what comes to mind when people envision road trips with the wind in their hair.

Check also: the demographic profile of convertible car owners.

Why Is It Called a Cabriolet?

In the modern sense, a cabriolet is also a car with a removable roof.

The word was first used in 18th France, where it referred to a light horse-drawn carriage.

The French cabriolet had a folding fabric hood that you can retract or pull depending on the weather. It might interest you to know that cabriolet is the source of the “cab” name for taxis.

When people refer to a convertible as a cabriolet, they often shorten the name to Cabrio. So if you are itching to take your outdoorsy spirit to the next level, a powerful Cabrio or convertible is one of the best ways to experience a road trip.

Can a Cabriolet and a Convertible Have Four Doors?

A cabriolet or convertible can have four doors, but these are very rare on the market. There are several reasons for this situation. In the not-too-distant past, four-door convertibles were the rage. Nowadays, most convertibles and cabriolets have two doors and four seats.

The primary reason for this is because of the structural design of today’s cars. In the past, sedans used a ladder-style chassis, which allowed users to roll back a fabric top.

Newer models feature a monocoque chassis to support more rigid door frames. The new design makes it difficult to use soft, foldable roofs that can glide easily to the back of the rear seats.

One of the most popular four-door convertibles is the Jeep Wrangler. Its separate chassis means you can have a foldable hard or soft top that you can remove easily. Then there is the Peugeot 108 Top and the Citroen C1 Airspace.

Mercedes designed a four-door convertible in the early 2000s, but the concept car never made it to the highway.

If you really want a regular sedan convertible, there are companies that will do the conversion for you. However, nothing compares to the feeling of having the wind rush through your hair in an original cabriolet or convertible car.

What About the Number of Seats?

Most convertibles and cabriolets come with four doors. In very rare cases, you find that a convertible can seat five comfortably, although the Jeep Wrangler and the DS3 Cabrio from the Citroen brand are big outliers.

Again, the reason for this sitting limitation is structural. Because the aerodynamics of the car changes when you remove the roof, engineers use a stiff chassis and reinforce parts of a convertible’s sidewalls and sills.

The modifications provide a more comfortable ride with the top down and allow the roof to tuck neatly into the side walls. But this can also eliminate the space for a centrally seated passenger.

If you find a regular sedan convertible with five seats, it’s most likely a hardtop conversion. But the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is a natural five-seater, although it might not be the ideal choice if you don’t enjoy outdoor adventures.

What Is the Difference Between a Convertible and a Roadster?

A roadster and a convertible both have a retractable roof.

But besides having an open-top, a roadster has two doors, two seats, and a sporty feel. A roadster is often lightweight and has no rear windows when you fold the roof.

Some roadsters don’t even have a convertible top, leaving you at the mercy of the elements.

Conversely, the convertible or cabriolet is almost always a four-seater. It is also bigger and comes with a rear window when the roof is folded. Convertibles provide more power, plusher interiors, and better creature comforts.

Contrary to popular belief, a roadster is not a sports car.

The vehicle’s design is on the sportier side, which allows drivers to get speed-induced adrenaline hit.

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