It’s that time of year again. The sun’s beginning to shine just a little too much, and the weather’s transitioning from pleasant and refreshing to downright oppressive. And while some people will turn to more traditional methods of respite—air conditioning is understandably a very popular option, especially in a car—we believe a convertible may be the best cure for the summer heat. We have said it time and time again: that classic feeling of cruising with the top down will never get old. In fact, it seems to get better with time. If you aren’t currently a convertible owner, there are plenty of options out there with a wide range of styles and price tags.
Convertibles are so ubiquitous in the auto industry, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an automaker that hasn’t included at least one convertible in its model lineup at some point. Sports coupes and hyper cars aren’t the only ones with the advantages of open-air driving. Manufacturers from utility brands like Jeep to commuter-focused brands like smart have also offered a removable top. So if you’re in the market, take a look at the following list of what we would consider to be the best new convertibles available. Some have quite storied histories, some are pretty new, but manufacturers have done all they can to provide the best topless ride you can imagine.
10. BMW’s 02 Series of compact sedans, built from 1966 to ’77 and including the iconic 2002, provided the foundation on which the company built its reputation as a maker of top-notch sporty small cars. The 3 Series that replaced it in 1975 has gotten bigger, less focused, and more expensive over time, so if we were looking for a convertible that provides genuine driving thrills and German precision on back roads without breaking the bank, we’d hunt for a BMW 2 Series, specifically an M235i. Its turbocharged 3.0-liter straight six produces 320 hp at 5,800 rpm and 330 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,400 rpm. Cliff Atiyeh found the throttle a little jumpy in Sport+ driving mode, but had a blast with the car, saying it offers more thrills on an open road than other BMWs while also easily handling city traffic.
9. Jaguar has long created some of the most stunning vehicles ever produced; the E-TYPE is often considered one of the most visually and mechanically beautiful vehicles of the ’60s era. The E-TYPE’s spiritual follow-up took 38 years to appear, but since 2014, the Jaguar F-TYPE has reprised the role of an aesthetic and performance marvel. It’s a modern beauty, and it manages to bring all the senses together into quite the driving experience. Its fantastic looks, precise handling, and shouty engine roar combine to produce one of the best driving experiences you can get for under $100,000. Two years and two CarGurus Test Drive Reviews later (2015 and 2016), our reviewers agree that the F-TYPE has few flaws. Cheaper than a Porsche 911, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, or Maserati GranTurismo, the F-TYPE almost seems affordable for the amount of convertible sports car you get.
8. Alfa Romeo is one of the longest-lived auto manufacturers out there. Its noticeable two-decade absence from the U.S. market was finally brought to end when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reintroduced its Italian-sportscar marque to American car shoppers. The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is a startlingly attractive addition to the FCA lineup, the first of a planned series of affordable Italian-style sports cars for the U.S. market. (That effort is already well on its way with the coming Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan, a more practical model.) The 4C Spider doesn’t offer much in terms of space or storage, but its low-profile, 1.75-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and a surprisingly rigid body made of carbon fiber and aluminum make the 4C Spider a great reason for Alfa Romeo’s return.
7. Audi is no stranger to the sporty convertible. Between the cabriolet versions of the A3, A5, and S5, and the classic roadster look of the TT, Audi has any level of sport convertible you could want. But perhaps the most mechanically impressive of the company’s convertibles is the Audi RS 5 (other than the super-powered R8 Spyder). It’s a sleek, powerful, capable, and confident convertible that brings some of Audi’s best features in a $79,000 package. Building off the already impressive S5, the RS 5 makes the most out of 450 hp, a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, advanced AWD, and a dynamic damping suspension. So almost $80k isn’t an outrageous price considering everything you get in this attractive German sports convertible. The RS 5 took the ‘16 model year off, but you can still find the ‘15 model, and the ‘17 is on the horizon.
6. Even without a flux capacitor, a convertible car can serve as a time machine—but one that travels only to the past, reminding us that the first cars all had open tops. Mercedes-Benz’s current SL-Class is a descendent of one of the world’s premier collectible vehicles, the 300 SL, which featured gull-wing doors and the world’s fastest production-car top speed when it arrived in 1954. The current Mercedes-Benz SL-Class offers a vast range of power and price, but as is typical for Mercedes, that range doesn’t include any real bargains. The 2016 SL400 gets a 3.0-liter 329-hp V6 and costs about $85K, but the base trim for 2017 is a new SL450, which gets a 3.0-liter V6 that puts out 362 hp at a price that hasn’t yet been disclosed. The flagship SL65 AMG uses a 6.0-liter 621-hp V12 that’s autographed by an engineer, and the 2016 version costs $215K. Those are steep prices for a car, but they’re pretty good for a luxury time machine.
5. It’s very possible there is no fan base more rabid than that of the Chevrolet Camaro. In his review of the 2016 Camaro, George Kennedy commented that when the muscle car returned to the market in 2010, enthusiasts literally had tears in their eyes. During the past 6 years, the Camaro has become enormously sophisticated. Now in its sixth generation, the pony car offers 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque from the top-spec 6.2-liter V8, and with General Motors’ Alpha platform underpinning it, this muscle car is no longer built solely for straight stretches of highway. Mustang owners will comment on how the styling of modern Camaros severely impedes visibility, which makes a convertible the perfect choice. After all, not only will you be able to see, but you’ll get to hear Chevy’s excellent LT1 engine—if it sounds familiar, it’s not just you; the same engine powers the Corvette Stingray.
4. Nothing says “summer” quite like a Ford Mustang. The original pony car has been in continuous production for over 50 years—something the Camaro can’t claim—and we’ve had the chance to enjoy numerous special editions along the way. Way back in 1968, Ford recognized just how important warm sunny days were to the Mustang’s success, rewarding California (where nearly 20% of Mustang sales took place) with its own special edition. Mike Perkins recently reviewed a 2016 California Special, and he was impressed with the style, power, and—believe it or not—the safety provided by the new-age classic. Safety isn’t often a top priority when shopping for a car without a roof, but the latest-generation Mustang is proof that cars continue to evolve and improve. So, let’s recap: 435 hp, a 5-star NHTSA safety rating, and thousands of miles of blue sky overhead? Yeah, the Ford Mustang sounds like a good pick this summer.
3. There’s an inconvenient truth looming in Stuttgart: thanks to the inescapable powers of physics, the 911 is not Porsche’s best-driving sports car. Driving dynamics simply aren’t enhanced by hanging an engine off the rear of a car, no matter how many years you’ve been doing it. The Porsche 718 Boxster (and its fraternal twin, the hardtop 718 Cayman), on the other hand, applies a midengine layout, and the design rewards drivers who enjoy corner carving more than top-speed runs. The “718” added to both the Boxster and Cayman names honors the Porsche race cars of the ’50s and ’60s, but it isn’t the only change: with the top down on your 718 Boxster this summer, you should be able to hear the distinct whine of the new turbocharged 4-cylinder.
2. As the oldest car on this list of great convertibles, the Chevrolet Corvette is also arguably the most American. Americans and American automakers generally prefer raw straight-line speed to tight handling and maneuverability, and the 2016 Corvette Z06 is the most powerful car on this list, with a 6.2-liter V8 delivering 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. But the seventh-generation Corvette, which arrived in 2014, managed to win respect for more than its brutal power, taking top-10 and car-of-the-year-ish awards from Car and Driver, Road & Track, Automobile, Popular Mechanics, Yahoo, Esquire, Bloomberg, and more. Our reviewer could barely contain himself while driving the 2016 version, calling its performance “mind-altering” and noting that it can compete with cars that cost three times as much.
1. Regular readers know we Gurus consider the Mazda MX-5 Miata one of the world’s finest driver’s cars. And we’re not alone—the Miata is the world’s best-selling 2-seat convertible sports car ever. No, the Miata’s not the fastest or most powerful convertible out there, and its 2.0-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine’s song doesn’t include any real rumble. But getting behind the wheel and piloting a Miata will demand, hold, and reward your full attention in a way driving very few other cars can; because its chassis, steering, and suspension communicate quickly and clearly, and because it weighs less than 2,400 pounds and handles like it’s on rails, it can make even a driver with zero track time feel like a champion. The MX-5 is tiny, so if you need a convertible that can confidently share a highway lane with semi trucks, you might want something with a little more beef—but if you plan to enjoy top-down driving mostly on windy, low-traffic back roads, find yourself a Miata ASAP.
What convertible would you choose this summer?
-John Harrington, Steve Halloran, and Matt Smith
New BMW 2 Series
New Jaguar F-Type
New Alfa Romeo 4C
Used Audi RS 5
New Mercedes-Benz SL-Class
New Ford Mustang
New Chevrolet Camaro
New Porsche 718 Boxster
New Chevrolet Corvette
New Mazda MX-5 Miata