Convertibles range in size from two-seat roadsters to larger four-seat luxury models. Most convertibles on the market are luxury-brand vehicles, although there are still several affordable drop tops available.
An increasing number of convertibles feature fully powered retractable hardtop designs, which break into two or three pieces and elegantly lower into the trunk. Not only does this result in a more visually pleasing roof, but it provides greater durability, security and often visibility. However, hardtops are more complex, add more weight and typically take up more trunk space with the top down (alternately leaving more space with it up). Soft tops are also increasingly designed with multiple layers to insulate from noise and the elements as well as or better than hardtops.
The cheapest convertible runs about $20,000, while the most expensive luxury models can run well over $100,000. The most populated segment resides in the $35,000-$80,000 price range.
Most midsize models use four- and six-cylinder engines, while more expensive luxury-branded convertibles generally use powerful six-cylinder or V8 engines. Four- and six-cylinder models can get good combined mileage in the low-to-mid-20-mpg range, but most eight-cylinder drop tops turn in less than 20 mpg.
Convertibles generally offer some kind of fixed or pop-up roll bar to protect passengers in the event of a rollover accident. Side airbags that deploy from the seats are a staple among premium-brand drop tops and are almost always optional on less expensive models. Many of those side airbags extend upward to protect the head in lieu of the side curtains found on solid-roof vehicles. Unfortunately, most convertibles have small rear windows, thus creating large blind spots. Blind-spot warning systems, parking sensors and rearview cameras are features to look for.
Luxuries like automatic climate control, heated seats, iPod interfaces, navigation systems, keyless start systems and Bluetooth capability can often be found in non-luxury convertibles. Special features that really make a difference in convertibles include built-in wind deflectors, heated and cooled seats, and even sun-reflective leather upholstery. Access to the rear seat is almost always tricky and the presence of features that make the journey into the back easier is always welcome. Look for front seats that automatically return to their previous position and seatbelts that move out of the way for rear occupants but are still easily accessible for the driver.
"Roadster" identifies a convertible as a two-seater only, while others have small rear seats to seat a total of four. A few models offer legitimate room for four adults but the majority have only enough room for children in back.
Most convertibles have limited trunk space when the top is folded down — especially hardtop designs. With the top in place, however, some models offer as much cargo capacity as their coupe counterparts. Make sure to look at the trunk with the roof raised and lowered, and contemplate the sorts of items you typically transport.
Less expensive models generally use less complicated soft-top mechanisms that require you to unlatch and/or snap a buckle or two to get them open and closed. Most offer a power-folding top as an option. Luxury models, however, feature fully automatic tops that raise and lower at the touch of a button. With the exception of the Jeep Wrangler, hardtops are always power-operated.
Many convertibles now provide wind deflectors that are placed behind the front seats to help keep turbulence down to a minimum while driving with the top down. Some double as the roof's rear window, while the Mercedes E-Class comes with a deflector that rises from the windshield header to further keep the cabin calm. Almost all convertibles offer heated seats at least as an option, while Mercedes and Bentley also offer systems that channel heated air to the neck and shoulders via special vents in the head restraints.
Convertibles generally don't cost any more to operate than their coupe or sedan siblings. Owners over the long haul will have to replace the soft tops, but today's more durable top construction methods at least make them last much longer. Retractable hardtops don't have such problems, but their mechanical complexity does increase the likelihood of a costly repair.