2012 Top 10 Convertibles
Is there any time of year more invigorating than spring? The trees budding, the first flowers blooming, the song of birds through open windows, all reminding us that
warm days are on the way. The chill is gone from the air, we shed our jackets, and finally shake off the gloom of winter.
The final stroke of this sunny picture of clichés is the joy of open-air motoring. The wind through your hair...Okay, we’ve used up our allotment of clichés until autumn.
But there really is nothing quite like popping the top on a warm sunny day and hitting the road. That liberating feeling harkens back to the early days of automotive transport before closed coaches. Or you’re transported back to post-war heyday of the British roadster. Maybe you imagine the burbling of your V8 as you’re cruising the neon-soaked boulevards in big American metal.
No matter where your convertible may take you, you love going there. Even your daily commute becomes fun.
Let’s take a look at some of the more notable drop-tops available today.
Cheapest Convertible: Mazda MX-5 Miata
Wait...what? The MX-5 Miata would be a strong contender for BEST convertible. But it wins the award for cheapest? Count your blessings, people, it’s true. The lowest point of entry for a convertible today is the car the reincarnated the spirit of the British roadster. Minus the smoking electricals and daily-care carburetors, of course.
This perky Mazda is the quintessential rear-wheel-drive roadster, with brilliant handling and peppy, if not face-melting, acceleration. It’s quite comfortable for two, and there’s even adequate trunk space for luggage or a couple of golf bags. You can even choose a folding hardtop for more insulated top-up comfort, but we think the standard canvas top better suits the essence of the minimalist roadster experience.
Before any Fiat enthusiasts start bellyaching, you can call the 500C a convertible if you’d like, but it’s really just a big canvas sunroof. And smart car, your “passion cabriolet” drop-top is as inadequate as your capitalization. Jeep Wrangler? You could arguably make a claim here, but no one is buying this Jeep in its cheapest, stripped spec. For the Mazda’s base price you’re getting a well-equipped ride. Plus, it’s really a truck, not a car. That’s alright; the Wrangler gets its due in another category below.
Stats: MSRP $23,470, MPG 28 hwy/22 city
Family of Four Convertible: Chrysler 200
Is the Chrysler 200 the best 4-seater convertible out there? No. Nor is it the sexiest, or fastest, or anything-est. It is however the best combination of comfort and affordability on the market. After all, we are talking about a family of four here. There are budgets to be mindful of. Have you priced sneakers lately? And you’re gonna be paying for college before you know it!
Also chipping in on the value proposition are some pretty impressive MPG figures for a car this size: 29 MPG on the highway will be kind on the wallet. The very reasonable price also includes a folding hardtop, standard.
The looks of the 200, once homely, have benefited greatly from a recent redesign, with a much sleeker face and the removal of the odd strakes along the hood, but the overall proportions are still somewhat ungainly. Your kids won’t mind that, though. They’ll be happy soaking in the rays in the backseat.
Stats: MSRP $26,775, MPG 29 hwy/18 city
Mileage Champ Convertible: MINI Cooper
Surprisingly, there are quite a lot of convertibles with good gas mileage out there, including some unexpected names that hit 30 MPG or better on the highway, like the Ford Mustang and BMW 640. However, our mileage champ is the MINI Cooper with 35 highway, 27 city, and 30 combined.
Luckily, fuel sipping is not the MINI’s only fine attribute. Time spent with a MINI Cooper reminds you of its BMW lineage with fine materials and excellent fit and finish. All Coopers are an absolute blast to drive, with their legendary go-kart-like handling and just enough pep. The convertible ups the ante by giving you all that fun under more sun.
That pop top has a trick up its sleeve as well. If you’re not in the mood for the full-open convertible experience, the leading edge of the roof slides back like a sunroof.
Stats: MSRP $25,650, MPG 35 hwy/27 city
Dad’s Muscle Car Convertible: Chevrolet Camaro SS
Nothing screams Americana like a muscle car. This uniquely American invention defined a generation and still maintains a strong emotional pull with, shall we say, men of a certain age. Admittedly, this category is quite small, with only two muscle cars offering convertible versions: Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. But with such a visceral attraction, we must have one on our list.
Both the Mustang and Camaro are outstanding, indeed the Mustang is frequently regarded as the slightly better driver’s car. Muscle cars however, are about more than just performance. Curb appeal matters just as much so our pick for Dad is the Camaro. With its ultra-muscular low slung stance the Camaro looks more like a concept car than a production car.
That uncompromised concept car styling comes at a cost in the hardtop, with a driving experience not unlike that of the gun turret in a tank; deep in a bucket with a thin slot for the view forward. The convertible version blissfully remedies the claustrophobia the moment you peel back the canvas.
There’s a Camaro convertible for any budget, starting at $30,180 for the 1LT, if you don’t mind a V6. And most people won’t; it’s an excellent powerplant. But that won’t bring Dad back to the glory days. The tire-smoking 426 hp, 6.2 liter V8 Camaro SS sure will, though.
Gentlemen, start your grunting.
Stats: MSRP $38,330, MPG 24 hwy/16 city
One For the Ladies Convertible: Volkswagen Eos
If this was written a year ago, or a year from now, we would probably be talking about the Beetle convertible instead of the Eos. Although VW has been successful in “masculinizing” the Beetle with the recent redesign, we have a feeling that the convertible will still have greater appeal in the female marketplace.
With a year’s gap between Beetle convertible availability, it just so happens that its stablemate, the Eos, has stepped into the breach. Based on TrueCar.com’s annual gender and car buying study, the Volkswagen Eos is not only the top ranking convertible bought by women, it’s the third highest of ANY car model in female purchases.
So something is clearly resonating with the ladies. Could it be the sleek folding hardtop? It does give you the best of both worlds: open-air cruising when down, coupe-quiet when up. Plus, it’s the only folding hardtop that has a power sunroof.
Perhaps it the typically elegant and stylish VW interior. The Eos has not yet fallen prey to Volkswagen’s decontenting strategy that has been so oddly successful on the Jetta and Passat. Powering this stylish droptop is Volkswagen’s wonderful 2.0 Turbo engine.
Stats: MSRP $34,350, MPG 29 hwy/22 city
American History Convertible: Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet Corvette is the only convertible that has been in continuous production every model year since 1953. 1953! For the past 60 years, you have been able to walk into your neighborhood Chevy dealership and buy a Corvette convertible. That fact is truly remarkable and alone would merit the Corvette a spot on our list. Luckily, there is so much more to recommend it.
Fiberglass-bodied as always, the curvaceous wedge of the Corvette still evokes the styling of the Stingray of the late 60’s. Low-slung with a long hood and bluntly sliced rear face, shark-gill side vents and crazy-wide tires, Chevy’s iconic sports car is as immediately recognizable as Marilyn Monroe. And like Marilyn, there may be current sex symbols that are more bodacious, but none that are more timeless.
Power is outstanding with the 430-hp 6.2 liter V8, yet very nearly frugal with 26 MPG on the highway. On the road, this is not some high-falutin’ technowagen. The Corvette is a good old-fashioned tire burner that will more than happily wag its tail out when pushed hard. Climb in, and drive a part of American history.
Stats: MSRP $54,600, MPG 26 hwy/16 city
Perfect Balance Convertible: Porsche Boxster
Many of the convertibles on our list are a blast to drive. The Miata, the Camaro, the MINI and the Corvette, all have their charms and will keep a wide grin and ample sun on your face. But the pound-for-pound driving champ, the car with the perfect balance of power, handling, and ride, has to be the Porsche Boxster. Debuting just in time for this summer, Porsche has redesigned the Boxster from the ground up, but don’t fret. The Boxster has retained all the traits that perpetually landed the previous version on Best-Of and All-Star lists the better part of the last 15 years.
A key component of the Boxster’s perfect balance is the mid-engine design, which gives this roadster nearly ideal weight distribution, with just a hair more heft on the rear wheels. Porsche’s legendary horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine also lends the Boxster a low center of gravity.
The styling of the new Boxster won’t alarm the faithful. Clearly evolutionary, it takes careful evaluation to notice the small changes in proportion that give the new car a bit more of an aggressive stance. A couple of new flourishes include headlights cribbed from the 918 über-Porsche, and a crease in the taillights that continues across the decklid to form a lip that houses the retractable spoiler.
Is the Boxster better than its rear-engined big brother, the 911? Probably not, but at nearly half the price it will help you balance something else: your budget.
Stats: MSRP $49,500, MPG TBA
Nature Boy Convertible: Jeep Wrangler
Technically, we hosed the Wrangler in the Cheapest Convertible category, but no worries, the most iconic of Jeeps still earns a well-deserved spot on our list. For most people, the convertible conjures up on-road images, the boulevard cruise, the drive to the beach with the surfboard sticking out the back seat. For a select few though, that cruise is on boulders, not boulevards. And the drive to the beach doesn’t stop at the parking lot, it goes right to the water’s edge. For those folks, there is only one convertible that matters: the Jeep Wrangler.
Talk of refinement and creature comforts have little bearing here. Although the current Wrangler is miles beyond past generations in sophistication, its military roots are still showing. Rugged is the keyword here. Even if you never take your Wrangler off-pavement (and plenty won’t) you look like someone who would. Rather than talking about improved interior appointments with soft-touch materials, it’s the off-road goodies like ground clearance, approach and departure angles, and water fording capability that make the Jeep buyer drool a little.
Jeep has empowered the Wrangler with Chrysler’s impressive Pentastar V6, which not only increased horsepower and torque, but improved gas mileage as well.
Stats: MSRP $22,045, MPG 21 hwy/17 city
Oddball Nonconformist Convertible: Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
There was a reason we referred to this list of convertibles as “notable” rather than “best”. The Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet won’t be making anyone’s best-of lists. This is easily one of the most insane designs to have ever reached production. The product of a fever dream or drunken bender. Usually, a car like this would be introduced as a concept, induce gasps of horror, then be curated as an oddity, like a two-headed cow embryo, in some dusty warehouse.
So why include this freak show attraction on our list? Because you’ve got to appreciate and honor an automaker that has the guts, the courage, the absolute brass pelotas to seize upon a vision and just run with it. Focus groups be damned. In an industry that has been far too timid for far too long, it is nothing short of wondrous for a vehicle like this to see the light of day.
Considering the mighty risk Nissan took to produce the Murano CrossCabriolet, surely there must be something nice we can say about it, right? Uh...ok...let’s try. They’ve earned that.
In fact, it is the only convertible crossover on the market. If you have a cabin in the woods that requires travelling on less-than-perfect or unpaved roads, how about that Murano CrossCabriolet? You could get a Jeep Wrangler, but that’s a much more spartan, rugged ride. The Nissan swaddles you in the finest of comfort.
Stats: MSRP $44,540, MPG 22 hwy/17 city
Money to Burn Convertible: Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé
“If you have to ask you can’t afford it” and other mottos of the rich and famous come to mind the moment you lay eyes on the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé. This is an incredibly imposing and ludicrously luxurious beast of a vehicle. You’ve often heard of such massive luxury cars referred to as land yachts. Well, Rolls Royce unabashedly declares that the Drophead was inspired by yachts. The teak-decked tonneau covering the stowed top was our first clue.
Another expensive cue is the brushed steel bonnet (It’s British; don’t call it a hood) that flows into the brushed steel windscreen (again, don’t call it a windshield) surround. The steel is brushed by hand, naturally. The rear-hinged doors further add to the exclusivity. Hope you’re eating plenty of steak, because that lush hand-stitched leather interior requires nine cows. Members of PETA must shudder involuntarily when one passes by.
Still not special enough for you? The Rolls-Royce Bespoke programme (their spelling) offers you countless customization possibilities. How about a refrigerator hidden under the teak floor of the boot (aka: trunk, you commoner). Want to have your Drophead Coupé painted to match your Hermés pocket square? Can do.
Even a car this massive needs to watch its weight, so the aluminum spaceframe maintains strength while shaving precious kilograms. The remaining, and still ample heft is propelled by an aluminum V12 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Stats: MSRP $450,000, MPG 18 hwy/11 city