Summer isn’t nearly as enjoyable without top-down driving. As much as we’re fans of hardtop automotive design and the way a sweeping roofline catches the eye, we have to admit that the clear growl of an engine and the wind in your hair makes the warmer months that much better. Even a drive up Pacific Coast Highway in a cream-hued 1995 Chrysler Sebring Convertible can be a pleasure (as long as no one actually sees you). Bully for you, convertibles are better than ever — gone are the fussy tops, the anemic engines, and silhouettes that would make Quasimodo cringe. The crop of current convertibles range from modern nostalgia to supercar power players, but one thing they all do is make your motoring pleasure good for all the world to see.
50 Articles, 150 Gear Essentials, 1 Trek Across Cuba: Your Guide to Making Summer 2013 The Best Ever »
Mazda MX-5 Club
Convertible for the Purist: If ever there was a little roadster that reignited the world’s passion for convertibles, it was the Mazda Miata. Now, in its near perfect form, the Mazda Miata MX-5 Club is the epitome of summer driving fun. The ultimate compact roadster in Club garb means you get a more than capable 167-hp normally-aspirated 4-cylinder, a wickedly good short throw 6-speed manual, a tight sport suspension, limited slip diff and a shock tower brace — all for the purpose of nailing those apexes on the way to work. Plus, the simple and proper soft top means you don’t mess with center of gravity. It’s a ride you won’t soon forget since you’ll be smiling from ear to ear; even the rich and famous will feel a twinge of envy as they see you trace the raw asphalt’s edge.
Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
Convertible for the Power Boulevardier: If you’re wealthy and 25 years old, this car will make you look like a dork poseur, since you need an air of confident sophistication to even appear right driving it; it’s all about driving wickedly fast while having nothing to prove. Though not as powerful as the V12 (but arguably better), the SL63 AMG has plenty of punch with its 530-hp 5.5-liter biturbo V8. For $70K less than the SL65 AMG, it only gives up 3/10ths of a second in the launch from a standstill to 60. Plus, the aluminum body sheds 300 pounds from the previous car, making it more nimble (relatively speaking). You’ll appreciate the power when you’re trying to get away from the hordes of gold-diggers eyeing your ride.
Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Convertible
Convertible for the Beach Comber: If you’re looking to break any land speed records, you’ll pass this one by — but you’d be mistaken in thinking that this car isn’t much fun. In fact, in its new, more masculine design (the old one couldn’t be less masculine, really), the VW Beetle Turbo Convertible is about as fun as it gets when it comes to ragtops. The 2.0-liter turbo four has 200 hp and will get to 60 in under seven seconds, so it’s no sea slug, and the 18-inch Twister wheels even echo vintage Porsche 911 (believe it or not). This affordable convertible should make for some lifelong summer memories, and you just might forget you even have a job after a weekend at the beach with it. We’re just glad that you can now drive one without the completely emasculating bud vase.
Lamborghini Aventador Roadster
The Paparazzi Magnet Convertible: Good luck getting your grubby mits on this fantastical fixed roof, wheeled stealth fighter. More of a targa than a convertible, the Aventador Roadster adds even more panache to this already glorious supercar. The 691-horsepower all-wheel-drive monster delivers open-air goodness via a remarkable 13.2-pound triple-composite roof that stows under the hood (leave your snacks at home — there’s no room). The revised engine covers and rear treatment are sights to behold, but you’ll be too busy keeping your pulse at normal levels as you tear up the tarmac in one of the most coveted cars in recent memory.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible
The Home Grown Exotic Convertible: The new Corvette Stingray brings the American steed from a mild state of darkness (the interior, especially) into the glorious light of a true exotic — and still at a bargain price. Now that the Convertible version has bowed, we’re chomping at the bit to hit the summer roads with the best-looking ‘Vette in decades. And even though you lose the beautiful rear quarter panel window of the coupe, the top-up look is still streamlined and sexy. The seriously upgraded interior is finally rife with better materials and ergonomics, too. We’re simply relieved that it’ll come with a magnificent 7-speed manual transmission, so we can row through the gears as the wind violently parts our hair.
An Unkind Convertible
There are some convertibles that never should have been. The Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible made an already hideous car positively ghastly. Inspired by an industrial oven door, the rear is the worst kind of automotive afterthought. The B-Pillar hoop is a pull-up bar for unruly toddlers. The interior boasts the ergonomics of a wooden figurine whittled with a dull butter knife. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the shameful owner would leave the top up so as not to be viewed by the general public.
Ferrari 458 Spider
Convertible for the Track Carver: One of the best driving cars in the world just happens to come as a hard top convertible. The rightful heir to the F430, the 458 is more elegant and slender than the previous car (it’s arguably one of the best looking Ferraris in a long time) and handles like an extension of its driver’s own body — and 570 hp V8 sounds as amazing, delivering that intoxicating Ferrari rasp. The retractable roof that stows behind the twin hooped seats is the kind of mechanical artistry that makes a $260K price tag seem worth it. That, along with the kind of driving pleasure that Ferrari delivers to both the well-heeled and the Mega Millions winners, alike — as long as they keep it shiny side up.
Mini John Cooper Works Convertible
Convertible for the Hotboxer: The iconic Mini (even in modern form) has morphed into so many models, we can barely keep track. But who can complain when each flavor is something to relish? The Mini JCW Convertible is hotbox performance at its best. The 208-hp twin-scroll turbo four has a potent 192 lb-ft of torque, and you can even invoke the overboost for 16 more lb-ft. Add Brembo brakes, aerodynamic bits and some slick 16-spoke wheels, and you’ve got yourself summer pocket-sized fun. Oh, and we highly recommend the six-speed manual, which is not only a hoot to rope through but also helps in hitting that impressive 35 mpg on the highway.
McLaren MP4-12C Spyder
The Anti-Ferrari Convertible: Not to be outdone by the Prancing Horse, McLaren Automotive upped their game with the super-exotic Spyder version of their powerful MP4-12C. We’re happy to say that they’ve even kept the completely purposeless but captivating butterfly doors, which are something like placing a bomb hatch on a bald eagle. The MP4-12C Spyder goes toe-to-toe in performance and pricing against the Ferrari 458 Spider, but the McLaren goes with a 616-hp twin-turbo while the Ferrari stays naturally aspirated. One thing’s for sure, though — you’ll turn heads a tad more than the Ferrari, since McLarens are hard to find and the MP4-12C Spyder has enough vents to suck up unwitting wildlife. If a convertible supercar just isn’t enough for you, the McLaren’s uniqueness should fit the bill just fine.
Porsche Boxster S
The Bargain 911 Cabrio Convertible: The Boxster is no longer an underpowered, 911 convertible wanna-be that you relegate to your girlfriend. In its own right, the Boxster is Porsche driving precision and great automotive design rolled into one. Arguably as good as a 911 Cabrio — only much cheaper — the Boxster S is powered by a 315-hp, mid-mounted flat-six, and the driving dynamics are nothing short of awesome. 0-60 arrives in 4.8 seconds, and the German drop top hits 172 mph, enough to tousle your hair and make you feel like the world’s luckiest kid. What’s more, for the first time in the Boxster’s history, it’s simply gorgeous.
Maserati GranTurismo Convertible
The Italian Songstress Convertible: Why this beautiful hardtop convertible doesn’t sell better is beyond us. First of all, it’s just the kind of open-air cruiser that can set you apart from the rest. What’s more, it speaks sophistication in volumes with its long tapered hood, deep-set grille and beautifully appointed interior. Okay, so 0-60 in 5.7 seconds from its 433-hp 4.7 liter V8 isn’t exactly blistering, but that’s not why you buy this car. The MC Stradale version is far more maddening, but the standard Convertible is more like a streamlined yacht in its spirit than the hardcore MC.
Bonus: 1962 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Cabriolet Pininfarina SWB
The Ultimate Drop Top Convertible: The chance of you ever getting your hands on this will probably come to heavenly fruition when you wake up looking like George Clooney with Warren Buffett’s bank account. The 400 Superamerica Cabriolet Pininfarina SWB is quite possibly one of the most beautiful convertibles ever made. Back in its day, it was the ultimate statement of luxury performance by Ferrari — evidenced by the ultimate in coachwork and the Carrozeria Pinin Farina exterior design. It was powered by a 340-hp V12 good for 150 mph and 0-60 in in under seven seconds, standing as one of the most powerful road-going Ferraris of its era. The version you see here commanded $3.6 million at auction a few years ago, so even if you can afford it, don’t go looking for one of these rarities to be popping up on eBay anytime soon. You’re not high brow enough to pull it off, anyway. Trust us.