There's something inherently romantic about convertibles. Whether it's the wind in your hair, sun on your face or the panoramic view of the world, a drop-top car evokes a feeling of freedom usually associated with motorcycling -- without the danger, of course. Nowadays, most convertibles feature a quiet, draft-free cabin with many of the creature comforts found in hardtop coupes -- a far cry from early ragtops with leaky roofs and cramped quarters.
The Mini Cooper Convertible delivers plenty of what drop-top drivers want with only a few of the drawbacks that they expect. Owners will have to make do with child-size rear seats and a small trunk (even smaller with the top down), but will be rewarded with tons of personality, fun styling, sporty driving dynamics and a reasonable price. For drivers wanting added performance, the Cooper S and John Cooper Works should satisfy. In any flavor, though, the open-air Mini easily remains one of our top picks in this category.
As one of the purest interpretations of the roadster, the Mazda MX-5 Miata offers an engaging driving experience in a compact package that won't break the bank. Athletic handling and a capable engine give this miniscule two-seater loads of fun-to-drive character, while the available retractable hardtop adds the type of security and insulation from the elements that are normally associated with more expensive convertibles.
The all-new Ford Mustang brings added refinement while remaining true to its pony car roots. Unlike many other convertibles, the Mustang provides a decent-size trunk and spacious front seating. Rear seats are still cramped for adult passengers, but in a pinch they come in handy. In terms of bang for the buck, the Mustang is a standout performer, especially the V8-powered GT models. The Shelby GT500 Convertible variant delivers a bigger bang, but at double the price of the base V6 drop-top.
The BMW 1 Series easily fulfills its role as a premium-badged entry-level convertible. This small Bimmer foregoes cute and kitschy styling in favor of a more refined and serious demeanor, although its abrupt angles tend to elicit love-it or hate-it responses. A taut yet compliant suspension, luxury amenities and comfortable and quiet top-up cruising are all BMW hallmarks, and the 1 Series has them all. As with all BMWs, options are pricey, but we still recommend the Sport package for its exceptional seats and stiffer suspension.
There's a reason why the BMW 3 Series makes appearances in several of our top-pick categories -- it's just plain good. In many cases, it either defines a segment or is the yardstick by which others are measured, thanks to its engaging driving feel and upscale interior. The convertible 3 Series further ups the ante with a power-retractable hardtop that is as substantial and quiet as a coupe or sedan's roof. Options kick the price up quickly, but even the base trim level remains a solid choice.
For those seeking al fresco sports car excitement, the Nissan 370Z should be on the short list of candidates. The Z's raucous V6 and sharp handling are an absolute joy on serpentine roads -- perhaps enough to forgive its comically small cargo space. We're especially fond of its trick SyncroRev Match downshifts and a cabin that is quieter than the coupe's (with the top up, naturally). The latest 370Z also features a much-improved cockpit over the outgoing 350Z's overly plastic interior.
After a decade in production, the Porsche Boxster remains one of our top picks in this category. It's easy to see why, with evocative styling, a potent flat-6 engine, tenacious handling and a steering feel that is spot-on. Porsche sweetens the deal with its PDK dual-clutch transmission that puts traditional automatics to shame and may even pique the interest of some stick-shift purists. However, with a base price just under $50K and topping out at over $80K, it's hard to call the Boxster the poor man's Porsche.
With foreign models dominating our convertible picks, it's refreshing to see an all-American athlete representing the good ol' U.S. of A. Especially when it's the Chevrolet Corvette, which continues its unbroken 57-year history as America's first production sports car. The iconic 'Vette's jaw-dropping performance, mellifluous exhaust soundtrack and accommodating trunk combine to outweigh our most common complaint: its subpar interior.
Like the "little black dress" of the fashion world, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is versatile enough for a host of occasions. Whether as a comfortable open-air tourer, a sporty roadster or just making a statement in a valet circle, the SL delivers. More aggressive styling and sharper driving dynamics further the Benz's appeal for 2010. Plus, it seems there's an SL for every appetite (albeit for those with expensive tastes) -- from the base 382-horsepower version to the absurdly powerful 670-hp SL65 AMG Black Series.
The Porsche 911 is perhaps the most iconic of all sports cars. It has seen continual upgrades over its 47-year history, with each version better than the previous. The 911's level of engagement and refinement sets it apart from nearly any roadster, while its prestige and uber-slick PDK transmission make this Porsche even more attractive. The 911 is available in several styles to suit various needs and budgets, but be warned: Pricey options can easily kick prices well past expectations.