With few exceptions, when given a choice between convertibles and hardtops we usually default to the latter as their performance tends to trump their topless brethren. Not to mention that wind buffeting tends to wreak havoc on our ear-to-ear comb over. Nevertheless, as summer fades to fall, it would be a shame not to single out some affordable convertible options that could convince even the most follicly-challenged among us to lay down an extra layer of hair spray and drop our tops.
Not only is fall an ideal time to enjoy a convertible, but sales of convertibles peak in spring, making the next few weeks a perfect time to get a great deal on a new car. Realistically, since convertibles account for only around 2% of domestic auto sales, their limited versatility will always trail traditional solid roof cars. This is especially true in a down economy where few people can afford to buy a new car just for fun days in the sun. But with the evolution of better tops and an emphasis on increasing a convertibles “livability” for every day driving, there is no reason that many new convertibles could not be drafted into all-season service as a primary vehicle.
Traditional – Mazda MX-5 Miata
Whatever convertibles have become, the MX-5 Miata from Mazda is the modern interpretation of where it they have come from. Although it has now been around for nearly two decades, Mazda has continually improved upon the 2 seater, which continues to be lightweight and affordable. Most notable for the newest MX-5, is an optional power-operated automatic roof that seems downright luxurious compared to its pedigree. Ease in top-down fun aside, the Miata continues to be a solid value pick on many lists, not only with a reasonable base price of $22,500 and accolades for its dependability, but by delivering fuel economy of 22 and 28 mpg in city and highway driving. Even the most basic models turn in a spirited 0-60 mph time of under 7 seconds.
Upscale – Saab 9-3
Let’s be honest. Saab hasn’t had much to celebrate lately. But contrary to the perception that they are unfairly judged around here, we actually root for Saab to make a comeback now that they have been freed from the burden of GM. Central to that success will be the 9-3 convertible, or something very similar to it; car that has always been popular among the upwardly-mobile. Like other cars on this list, the 9-3 is injected with some performance via a choice of either a turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 210 horsepower, or a similarly motivated V6 that achieves 280 hp. Of course you also get a back seat, which unlike the Miata or Solstice has its advantages as an everyday driver. If you can do without the increased power of the V6, you are also rewarded in the Saab by the engines fuel efficiency of 19 and 27 mpg in the city or highway. Yes, we’d admit that with a base price of $42,130 the 9-3 convertible is stretching the definition of “budget-friendly.” But this is certainly not out-of-reach for most in the market for a luxury-oriented convertibles. And viewing the automakers lackluster sales as a positive, you can be assured that you won’t see too many others like it on the road.
Import – Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder
For whatever reason, admitting that you like the Eclipse Spyder is usually veiwed as an indictment on your maturity level. In fact, the Eclipse does alot of things right and that includes how it looks. Yeah. We said it. Sure it could stand to shed a few of the extraneous pieces on the outside, but in terms of the “look at me” factor, few cars at any price will get the same attention. And in reality, the Spyder version of the Eclipse actually looks more conservative than the standard coupe. The base GS model has a 162 horsepower and an equal amount of torque via its 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder engine, while the real fun comes from the optional 265 horsepower 3.8 liter V6 GT. It also comes with the option of a high-end, 650-watt, nine speaker, Rockford Fosgate stereo that is sure to turn heads if the sheet metal doesn’t. Pricing starts in the mid-28 grand range and stays under $36,000 with all of the bells and whistles.
Compact – MINI Cooper
With all due respect to the Suzuki SX4 or other Japanese hatchbacks, there really is not much in the way of real competition for the MINI. And that includes the convertible versions which boast a sub-15 second automatic convertible top and the ability to be retracted halfway for a sunroof-style ride. There’s even an “openmeter” to measure how much time is spent with the top down. The standard MINI and its “cute” looks are sure only surpassed by the convertible model, which admittedly achieves a feminine quality not seen since the Beetle Convertible was released. The base model produces a modest 118 horses which is almost too much for the MINI whose traditionally svelte weight is almost overcome by the added convertible mass. But for the sport-minded, a turbocharged 172 horsepower version with 7.5 second 0 to 60 mph capabilities can also be had. In either case, the fun factor is very high with the MINI and starts at just over $25,000.
All-American Muscle – Ford Mustang
What could be more American than a Mustang convertible? Like the coupe version, the newly revised Mustang is once again one of the more popular domestic choices, and with good reason. Entrance into the Mustang Convertible party can be had for less than $27,000. Like the standard version, the Mustang comes in both V6 and V8 versions that produce either 210 or 300 horses. Fuel economy predictably suffers with the V8 (15/23 mpg), though not much can beat that throaty growl of American horsepower while cruising around town in the open air.
Get It Before Its Gone – Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky
Who knows whether Penske, or some other private firm will snatch the Solstice/Sky from oblivion when ownership of the brands are finally transferred or shelved in the near future. Which makes the opportunity to snatch up either one of these roadsters all the more urgent. Like the Miata, both the Solstice and Sky offer single-minded, two seated fun. Though many may justly criticize the cramped and sparse interior of these cars, few come away unsatisfied by the experience after driving them. Performance-centered versions are highlighted by a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 260 horses and 0 to 60 mph times of around 5.5 seconds. In terms of fuel economy, the more potent of the two engines is still rated at 19 mpg and 28 mpg in city and highway driving. They may never be truly collectible, but with a base price starting at $24,275 for the Solstice and $28,265 for the Sky, they are certainly attainable.