Summer might be over, but that doesn’t mean our love affair with the convertible has faded in any way whatsoever. In fact, look at the number of convertibles sold, and Britain trails only Germany as Europe’s biggest drop-top superfan.
Why is that? Well, although peeling the lid off any car can sometimes create unwanted wobbles or dynamic compromises, it also nearly always results in a more intense, visceral and memorable motoring experience. Whether that’s under the heat of a blazing summer sun, or on a frosty morning with the heated seats cranked to the max doesn’t really matter. So, while it might be time to pack up the barbecue, that doesn’t mean you can’t still have some al fresco fun. Here we’ve chosen five options that can each be bought for £4,000 or less, and won’t cost the earth to run either. Which one would you choose?
The Mazda MX-5 proves you don’t need to drive something that’s fast enough to blow your hair off to have a good time. It evokes memories of classic British roadsters – albeit without the leaky, breaking down footnotes – and is a brilliantly uncomplicated, rear-wheel-drive sports car. It is the goldilocks of the roadster world: not too expensive, not too powerful, not too grippy. As a result, the MX-5 can be more fun and exploitable more of the time.
A £4,000 budget will comfortably see you into a fabric-roofed version of the Mk3 MX-5, which was built between 2005 and 2015. The 1.8-litre petrol developed 124bhp and was considered a charismatic drive, while the pricier 2.0-litre petrol developed 159bhp and was fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox and limited slip differential.
Both versions are well known for their mechanical reliability, but the manually operated hood should be carefully inspected for damage around the latches, frame and rear window.
If you like your roadsters to be more about romance than racing, then check out the Renault Wind. Looks cute, doesn’t it? Here is a petite, two-seat convertible that is based on the Renault Twingo city car, but with a party piece roof mechanism that is similar in swagger to that of a Ferrari 575 SuperAmerica. The electric hard-top takes 12 seconds to elegantly flip over and keeps all 270 litres of boot space intact.
Unfortunately, the Wind’s diminutive size and comparatively high price meant Renault struggled for sales and production ceased in 2012 after just two years. Today, a £4,000 budget will comfortably see you into a low-mileage Wind with full service history. Engine choice was limited to the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol with 99bhp or a more rev-hungry, naturally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol that also featured in the Twingo Renaultsport 133.
The fancy roof is typically very reliable, but the suspension may require closer inspection. Be sure to listen out for any knocking noises over rough roads that may allude to perished coil springs or worn front ball joints.
Back in the days before iPhones or Game of Thrones, MG Rover was a successful UK car-maker. The MG TF was the replacement for the MGF, a car that had been crowned the UK’s best-selling roadster. Although both sports cars looked similar, the heavily updated TF was better in every conceivable way thanks to improved reliability, new multi-link rear suspension, upgraded brakes and revised styling from the same bloke who designed the McLaren F1. There may not be a 231mph top speed to speak of, or an engine bay lined with gold, but the TF was an involving sports car to drive thanks to its compact dimensions, mid-engine configuration, crisp steering and rev-happy engine.
Access to the TF, and one of the final chapters in MG’s storied sports car past, looks undervalued at £4,000. Yet this budget should bag you a lovingly kept version of the range-topping TF160. Make sure the 1.8-litre Rover engine has been regularly serviced, as it is known for head gasket issues, and keep an eye out for any examples with the optional hard-top roof.
The Toyota MR-2 is a gem of a roadster with a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive layout that sold in far fewer numbers than the more obvious, front-engined Mazda MX-5.
In part, that’s because interior space is limited and the boot is smaller than a gnat’s washbag. Yet practicality aside, this is a beguiling sports car that feels agile and responsive, delivering the same kind of undiluted driving experience as a Porsche Boxster – albeit at a fraction of the price.
While production ran from 2000 to 2006, our advice would be to use your £4,000 budget to source a version from 2002 onwards so it features the revised engine and improved six-speed gearbox. Check the drain holes around the fabric roof are clear and inspect the rear subframe for rot as this often goes undetected.
Audi TT Roadster
The years have been kind to the first-generation Audi TT Roadster. It remains a seriously desirable piece of automotive design that, with a private plate on, could look as fresh today as it did 20 years ago.
There may be other cars in this list that offer greater driving thrills, but few can get close to looking as stylish. The TT’s interior was a real landmark for posh materials and plush finish, too, with options that included everything from heated seats to baseball glove-inspired stitching.
Your budget will cover a huge variety of TT models, from front-wheel drive to four-wheel drive, manual or automatic, 1.8-litre turbos to 3.2-litre V6 units. The best advice is to take plenty of test drives and find the best example for you. The TT is heavier than it looks so listen for any clonks or rattles that may allude to worn springs, bushes and anti-roll bar collars. If the automatic gearbox feels reluctant to shift cogs, then it may mean the mechatronic unit needs a pricey refurbish.
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