Ah, the open road. What better way to enjoy the great outdoors than to drop the top of a convertible and feel the wind in your hair and sun on your face. Today's convertibles are a vast improvement over previous generations, which featured difficult top mechanisms and clumsy tonneau covers. Thanks to the choice between folding hardtops and tight-fitting, well-insulated soft tops, life with a convertible can be just as comfortable as with a coupe.
It doesn't get any more American than the Ford Mustang. As a hardtop coupe, the Mustang is top dog among the modern muscle cars, and it stands to reason that the convertible version is also our No. 1 pick. Whether you choose the powerful-yet-economical V6 or opt for the fire-breathing 5.0-liter V8, you really can't go wrong. Besides tearing up the pavement, the Mustang is also suitably comfortable for all-day driving comfort. Rear seats aren't nearly as accommodating, but certainly come in handy. Trunk space is a bit smaller than the coupe's, but still adequate for most applications.
While the Mustang reigns supreme over our picks, no convertible list would be complete without mentioning the Mazda Miata. As the definitive roadster, the Miata delivers an incredible amount of pure driving enjoyment for comparably little money. The small Mazda's athletic handling, responsive steering and a willing engine are benchmarks in this category, as are its low cost to own and rock-solid reliability. As an added bonus, both soft-top and retractable-hardtop versions are available.
BMW's 1 Series might not win over everybody with its squat, pugnacious styling, but the feeling from behind the wheel is sure to please. Whether you choose the 128i or the raucous turbocharged 135i, power is plentiful and well-matched to the car's tenacious road-holding. Inside the cabin, even the entry-level 1 Series is worthy of the BMW badge, featuring materials and build quality similar to high-priced Bimmers. The rear seats are best left to the smallest of passengers or cargo, but otherwise the comfort quotient is admirable, and the trunk won't limit how much cargo you can haul (with the top up, anyway).
Luxury and refinement begin to make their presence known as the price rises, and the Audi A5 Cabriolet certainly has plenty of both. With classic proportions and graceful styling that doesn't try too hard, the A5 is the definition of understated elegance. Rather than opting for the typical six-cylinder engine found in so many convertibles, this Audi is powered by a turbocharged four. As a result, fuel economy is impressive even while acceleration remains surprisingly authoritative. Also noteworthy is the A5's upscale cabin that places equal emphasis on comfort, workmanship and feature content.
Not far behind the Audi A5, the BMW 3 Series convertible has much to offer. The 3 Series has a steadfast reputation for quality, and the hardtop convertible offers the best of weather protection and a top that's easy to operate. Every 3 Series model is powered by BMW's legendary 3.0-liter inline-6 engine with varying power outputs and corresponding levels of excitement. As the standard-bearer for entry-level luxury, the BMW 3 Series maintains its reputation for a near perfect balance of ride quality and athleticism, along with impressive interior styling and materials.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class returns to our recommended list after a thorough redesign. The new styling echoes that of the evocative SLS gullwing, while there are plenty of sports car mechanicals underneath to provide credentials for worthwhile performance. The car handles with a light, entertaining flair, and the powerful 3.5-liter V6 has a wonderful mechanical growl. The base 1.8-liter four-cylinder is no slouch either, and will also deliver excellent fuel economy. On top of it all, the SLK features the fine craftsmanship expected of any Mercedes-Benz.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet pushes open-top luxury to even loftier heights. Either the E350 or E550 model will provide more than enough power to propel four passengers at a rapid pace, all in relative comfort. The AirCap system greatly reduces turbulence in the open cockpit at higher speeds, while the finely crafted interior makes every drive an occasion. Top up or top down, the E-Class manages to keep the harshness of the outside world at bay.
If your tastes lean more toward sports cars, the Porsche Boxster will more than satisfy. Power is plentiful and there's handling to match, a finely balanced combination that will thrill even the jaded. A dizzying array of options ensures that you can have your Boxster your way, but at a price, of course. Price notwithstanding, this roadster will stir your soul with communicative steering and a glorious soundtrack from the flat-6 engine. As an added bonus, there's even enough cargo space for day-to-day life with this entertaining package.
Porsche is also represented well by the 911 Cabriolet. The latest redesign is being rolled out as a coupe and other iterations will follow later, so the current convertible is actually built from the previous 997 platform. But there's no flaw to be found in the driving experience offered by the current convertible, older platform or not. From the base 911 to the bonkers Turbo variant, there's a Porsche 911 convertible for a wide variety of tastes. There's a reason why the Porsche 911 remains one of the greatest sports cars of all time; it's just plain good. Between its refined cabin and pure performance potential, you really can't go wrong.