It’s that time of year again. Well, not really, but we can certainly start looking forward to it. As the days get longer, the air gets warmer, and the smells get a little sweeter, it’s hard not to dream about one thing: convertibles. The snow hasn’t completely melted here in Boston, but what’s on the ground now is a far cry from the over 8 feet we’ve gotten this winter, and that completely justifies our looking months into the future.
If you’re like us and want to enjoy the sights and sounds of spring in the form of some good ole open-air motoring, you’re going to need a convertible to do it. Unfortunately, convertibles tend to be expensive, often commanding thousands of dollars more than their hardtop counterparts when sold new. The good news is you don’t have to buy new. If you want to save a little cash, there are thousands and thousands of great used cars out there, many of them roof-optional. The other unfortunate thing about convertibles is the fact that many of them are not the most practical cars on the road. Sure, you could take your Toyota MR2 Spyder to the driving range, but that would involve tying your golf clubs to the trunk (or kicking your buddy out of the passenger seat). Because of this technicality, we’ve limited our list to our favorite convertibles currently available for under $10,000. Whether you’re looking for a cheap-but-fun daily driver or more affordable second car, there’s bound to be something for you. We did a similar list a few years ago, and thanks to depreciation, we’ve been able to add a few more cars to the mix.
10. The Chrysler Crossfire is a bit of a unicorn. It was very well-hyped in its day, but a rare sight these days thanks to its low sales numbers. Given the Crossfire’s scarcity, many owners drive them sparingly, but some do get out there and use the Crossfire for its intended purpose—looking great on the road. The result of a joint effort between Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, the Crossfire is a stunning car visually but comes up short in almost every other department. In fact, Jeremy Clarkson once called the Crossfire “The worst example of American-German cooperation since a chap called Adolphus Busch arrived in the States, tasted the water and thought ‘Mmmm, I could make beer out of this!'” Despite its shortcomings on the road, we still have to give the Crossfire a place on this list. For $10k it is impossible to find a more stylish convertible, although you could certainly find a more well-made one.
9. If you’re looking for a sporty 4-seater with great driving dynamics, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder is your ride. Originally launched for the 1996 model year, the Eclipse Spyder had a reputation for being both fun to drive and practical while maintaining a great price point. To find an example under $10k, you’ll have to look back to approximately 2008, a great year for the Eclipse. This is especially true if you like tunes, as all 2008 Eclipse Spyders came with standard Rockford Fosgate sound systems. Head up to the mountain roads and you’ll have a hard time believing you’re in a family-sedan-based convertible instead of a rabid roadster. Just try not to get too fast or furious—Tyrese may take exception.
8. We talk about the Jeep Wrangler quite a bit, so instead we’ll offer the Chevrolet Tracker as our off-road convertible of choice. With classic nineties exterior colors and “multi-color” interiors, this is an ultra-capable little SUV. Complete with an automatic transmission and selectable 4-wheel drive, consider this a pint-size version of the venerable Wrangler—this time rated at up to 27 mpg highway.
7. The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is almost as enjoyable to drive as it is classy. Thanks to its retractable hard top, the SLK-Class offers the best of both worlds for those who live in certain climates. On cold or rainy days, simply leave the top up, and people will think you’re cruising around in a classy 2-person coupe, enjoying all the fun of the open road while suffering none of the problems associated with the elements. On nice days, just drop the SLK’s hard top and you’ll be treated to an open-air roadster experience. Not bad for $10k.
6. In order to find a Porsche Boxster for under $10k you need to go back a few years, but it’s worth it. For that price you’ll be treated to one of the best combinations of price and fun ever to come out of Stuttgart. Porsche’s entry-level convertible, the ’97 Boxster boasts a 2.5-liter 6-cylinder pumping 201 ponies to the rear wheels. Those might not seem like huge numbers, but thanks to the Boxster’s weight, they’re plenty to get it moving fast enough to be fun. Where the Boxster really shines, however, is in the twisties. One of the most fun-to-drive cars around, there’s nothing quite like taking a Boxster on a windy, scenic road and enjoying all 201 hp… we mean sights.
5. There’s something to be said for a company successfully carrying a nameplate for more than 50 years. Ever since Lee Iacocca helped push the Ford Mustang to production in 1964, this pony car has captured the attention of Americans—especially the convertible. You may be hard-pressed to find a good-looking example of an early generation Mustang for less than $10K, but 10-year-old examples are readily available in CarGurus’ listings. Frankly, we can’t imagine anything more enjoyable than turning up Wilson Pickett, putting the top down, and keeping our sunglasses on in one of these ponies.
4. Not only does the BMW Z3 look awesome, it drives even better. If you want a BMW on a budget, look no further than the Z3. Where Z3 prices dip below the $10,000 mark is around the 2000 model year—perfect timing considering BMW dropped a 2.5-liter engine into the car in 2000, making it as fun to drive as it is pretty. Where the Z3 really excels, however, is on the inside. Designed in a time before European automakers catered to silly American desires, the Z3 features a grand total of zero cup holders, meaning you won’t be tempted to stop off at any drive-through restaurants and can focus on the sole reason for buying a Z3: driving a Z3.
3. Want a fun-to-drive convertible, but still have commitments like family in your life? No worries, the Audi A4 has you covered. With seating for 4 and plenty of cargo space in the trunk, the A4 is one of the most practical convertibles you can buy. Not only that, but Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system is also available, making the A4 one of the best convertibles for all seasons as well (what was the A4 convertible is the A5 cabriolet in the modern Audi lineup). If you need the trifecta of practicality, style, and value, the Audi A4 is your best bet.
2. The Toyota MR2 Spyder has been a great value since it hit the market back in 2000. With an engine plucked from a Corolla, the MR2 Spyder might not sound like the most fun car on the road, but believe us, it’s a contender for that title. The spiritual successor to the famed MR2, the MR2 Spyder sports a midengine layout, delivering all power to the rear wheels. Thanks to its super lightweight build, the MR2 Spyder makes the most of the 138 hp it has at its disposal. While the MR2 Spyder is certainly not one of the fastest cars out there, Toyota worked hard to make sure its driving experience delivered. Thanks to its sporty feel and snap oversteer, the MR2 Spyder is an absolute delight on twisty backroads. Just don’t plan on taking a weekend getaway with one unless you can pack all your stuff into 1.9 cubic feet.
1. Mazda must truly believe in the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” With the Mazda MX-5 Miata, Mazda’s been reaping the rewards of one simple formula for more than 25 years. The Miata takes the simple, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive platform so successful in classic British roadsters and combines it with bulletproof reliability. Lists like these are always fun to write, because they let us stroll back through some of the great cars of the past 10 or 20 years. However, the downside lies in the fearful unreliability of many of our choices. For 10 grand, the Miata may not be the most exciting car here, but rest assured it’s one of the few that won’t leave you stranded someday.
What car would you spend $10k on for some fun in the sun?
-msmith and zwaller
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Used Chrysler Crossfire
Used Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder
Used Chevrolet Tracker
Used Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
Used Porsche Boxster
Used Ford Mustang
Used BMW Z3
Used Audi A4
Used Toyota MR2 Spyder
Used Mazda MX-5 Miata