If you’ve spent the past few days looking at that strange yellow ball in the sky and wondering if life might not be better behind the wheel of a convertible you are not alone. But what kind of drop-top should you buy?
Below we’ve separated the market into the different types of convertible on sale. What’s your ideal match?
The Sports Car
Two seats, rear-wheel drive and with the fabric roof stowed away, this is what many think of when talking about a convertible. At the cheaper end of the market you’ll find the likes of the Mazda MX-5 (pictured – and the world’s best-selling convertible, no less) and MGF, which thanks to prices that start at less than £1000 prove you can enjoy open-top driving on a city car budget.
Also tempting at this money is the BMW Z3, which gives you a more upmarket image, if not the same kind of sporty driving dynamics. Or you can spend a bit more to enter the world of Porsche Boxsters and first-generations BMW Z4s, which can be picked up for as little as £3000 for a high-mileage example. Don’t forget Lotus either, for in the Elise the Norfolk-based firm has one of the greatest sports cars there’s ever been.
While convertibles such as the Porsche 911, Mini Convertible and Jaguar XK have rear seats, they are very much of the 2+2 variety, which is to say even small children will find them cramped. For a proper, useable four-seat convertible you need to instead look at something like an Audi A3 (pictured) or Volkswagen Golf as a minimum, as well as ensure it’s got a fabric roof rather than metal – these can be stored in a much more compact space, and thus leave more room for passengers.
Other four-seat soft-tops to look out for include the Audi A5, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and E-Class, Lexus IS and Vauxhall Cascada. If you fancy something with the go to match its show, it’s worth considering high performance derivatives of the above cars such as the BMW M3.
Not everybody who buys a convertible wants to scythe their way down a back road or revel in the feel of a perfectly sorted chassis. Instead, the appeal of driving with the roof down comes from sitting back and watching the world go by, preferably with a big, powerful engine up front that’ll give a solid blast of power when needed.
Cruisers like this can be some of the most enjoyable and relaxing convertibles to drive, with prime examples including the Ford Mustang (pictured) and BMW 6-Series, both of which can be more affordable used buys than you might expect.
Definitions of what constitutes a supercar are vague at best, but the Audi R8 Spyder definitely qualifies, regardless of whether it’s powered by a V8 or V10.
On the Ferrari front there’s numerous options from the front-engined California to the mid-engined 458 (pictured) or 488, while over at Lamborghini you can opt for open-top versions of the Gallardo, Huracan or Aventador.
Alternatively, there are drop-top Volante versions of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, DB9, Vanquish et al, while McLaren offers many of its cars in Spider format too. We are only scratching the surface here, with more models from Mercedes, Porsche et al to consider, the world of soft-top supercars is packed with choice.
The Folding Hardtop
Strictly speaking a folding hard-top is a type of roof rather than a class of car, but the vehicles to which it is attached almost inevitably share a more relaxed dynamic approach as a result of the extra weight up top. The Mercedes-Benz SLK (pictured) and SL were among the cars to popularise the folding hardtop, followed by the likes of the Peugeot 206 CC and Volkswagen Eos. BMW adopted a similar system for its 4-Series Convertible, as did Volvo with its second-generation C70 and Mazda with the MX-5 RF, the theory being that it provides the best bits of a coupe, such as security and refinement, with the open-air appeal of a convertible.
On the downside a folding hardtop adds weight, complexity and takes up a lot of space, and unlike a soft-top roof often requires the car to be stationary before it’ll open or close.
The Luxury Choice
On the right day and the right road any convertible can feel like one of life’s little luxuries. However, if you want a truly opulent experience you’ll need a proper luxury car. For this we are talking about the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Bentley Continental GTC and Rolls-Royce Dawn, each of which will surround you in soft leather, bathe you in ambient lighting and cocoon you when it rains with a multi-layered fabric roof that is matched for snugness only by the thickness of the carpets underfoot. Throw in an ultra-smooth drive and effortless power delivery and motoring life really doesn’t get much better.
The Big Fabric Sunroof
There’s a fine line between a big fabric sunroof and a full convertible, but it would be churlish not to include the former here. For to do so would be to rule out cars like the Fiat 500C (pictured) and Citroen DS3 Cabrio, which represent some of the most affordable convertibles to buy and run. Not only that, but due to the fact these roof mechanisms don’t take up much space, you often lose only headroom rather than legroom, making cars such as this fairly practical.
If you’re in the market for a soft-top SUV don’t expect to have much choice. For something that looks and feels truly modern there’s the Range Rover Evoque Convertible (pictured) and, erm, well that’s it. If you’re prepared to look at older designs you could consider a Jeep Wrangler or Suzuki Jimny, but don’t expect the kind of snug fit or electric folding mechanisms that come with a conventional convertible.
The list here really is endless, and includes cars that encompass many of the other categories mentioned. But as a starting point you could perhaps try a TVR Chimaera (pictured) for thrills, a Triumph Spitfire or MGB for affordability, or a Porsche 911 if you want something that stands a good chance of increasing in value in years to come. Whatever takes you fancy in the world of classic convertibles it’s well worth doing plenty of research, and seek specialist advice if you’re not sure what to look for.
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