2017 Mazda Miata RF roof open ・ Photo by Mazda
These 10 best hardtop convertibles have a couple of lessons for us. One is that it’s possible to experience that special thrill of open-air motoring and still have the security of a fixed-roof car, plus protection from the elements. Hardtops turn a convertible into a year-round car.
The other is that versions with power-folding roofs are not proliferating the way we might have anticipated when the technology was introduced. For example, the current Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet (a fancy word for convertible) has a fabric roof. And that car could easily handle the extra weight and cost. So anyone looking to buy a hardtop convertible can rest assured their choice will still be pretty exclusive.
Most people are aware that the 4 Series is really the 3 Series only with two doors instead of four. Except for the 4 Series Gran Coupe, but that’s another story. And the premium compact 4 Series comes as a coupe with a fixed metal roof or a convertible with a power-folding hardtop. Since we’re seeking the best, this car has to be included. It comes with all the driving talent for which BMW is renowned, a high level of luxury and plenty of prestige. The 4 (from $52,445 for the 430i convertible) actually rides a little lower than the 3 and its track (the distance between wheels on the same axle) is a touch wider. This enhances handling and stability.
Photo by BMW
Yes, we’ve just mentioned the 4 Series in general, but the M4 versions in particular merit their own entry. If the 4 Series convertible is among the best of its kind, then the M4 version is the absolute cream. This car enjoys 425 hp (or 444 hp with the Competition package) and 406 lb-ft of torque from its turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, plus a sport-tuned suspension and uprated brakes. Yet there's also a cosseting side with leather upholstery, plenty of tech, and even the option of neck-level warm air vents for the front seats. For the enthusiast who needs one car to cover a lot of ground and bases, the M4 convertible (from $77,195) is pitch perfect.
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The good news is that this is the least expensive brand-new Ferrari. The bad news is that it still costs around $216,000. But our list is about the best and it doesn’t get much better than a car bearing the famed Prancing Horse. The all-new Portofino succeeds the California as Ferrari’s hardtop convertible model. It looks arguably more elegant around the nether regions. And it’s 177 pounds lighter, which is more good news. Inside the sleek long nose is a turbocharged 3.9-liter V8 giving the Portofino a suitably supercar-like 592 hp and 562 lb-ft of torque. If there was a Ferrari that could be driven every day, it’s this. Drop the roof to enjoy the noise.
Photo by Ferrari
Revised for 2018 with better cabin storage space, the Renegade is much more than a mainstream subcompact crossover. Go for the My Sky option and removable hard roof panels means the Renegade converts into an open-topped vehicle, making it technically a hardtop convertible. Suddenly that trip to the beach or the lake seems like much more fun. The Renegade starts at $19,640 and My Sky is $1,495. Big-time rock crawlers and creek waders might want the Trailhawk version at $28,040. Just because it’s small and trendy doesn’t mean it lacks Jeep’s off-road expertise, such as all-wheel drive, extra suspension travel and useful ground clearance.
Photo by Jeep
Anyone who wants to go even more extreme than the admittedly not-that-extreme Renegade ought to check out the all-new-for-2018 Wrangler. This compact SUV has a removable roof. And sides. And a flip-down windshield. If that doesn’t bring enough air into the cabin, you’re going to need a scuba tank. It doesn’t look radically different to the previous generation (why ruin a perfectly good icon?) and it still has that distinct go-anywhere vibe, but the interior has gone up a notch or two in terms of space, comfort and quality. Don’t forget the 4-door Wrangler Unlimited as well. The 2-door Sport starts at $28,190. A turbocharged 2.0-liter/4-cylinder engine is coming soon.
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Although this 2-seater roadster is relatively humble compared with many of the cars on this “best of” list, and only makes 155 hp, it still deserves its place here because it’s so darn fine to drive. The “RF” part refers to the retractable fastback section, allowing the MX-5 to switch between coupe and convertible. It adds some weight to the car (about 120 pounds), but the tradeoff is staying cool at high-temperature high noon and being warm on a cold winter’s night. Meanwhile, the well-balanced chassis, precise steering and slick gear changes (with the the manual transmission) are just some of the other good reasons to buy an MX-5. The well-equipped RF starts at $32,800.
Photo by Mazda
The SL is one of those truly remarkable cars, a lottery winner’s dream. It has elegance, power, luxury, presence and pedigree. We’re now officially in the sixth generation, the second to come with a retractable hardtop (although other generations did offer a removable roof shell). One thing that often gets overlooked in convertibles is the sound system when the roof is down. Wind noise tends to drown out the (quiet) passages. Mercedes-Benz changed that by putting a subwoofer the other side of the passenger footwell, along with judicious placement of the remaining speakers. Now you can enjoy “The Four Seasons” throughout the four seasons. The 362-hp SL 450 starts at $89,195.
Photo by Mercedes-Benz
Like the BMW M4, these SL cars tuned and transformed by Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division are good enough to be separated from the SL-Class in general — even though the regular SL is superb. Out on the autobahn, though, where performance is more important than beauty, the 577-hp SL 63 and 621-hp SL 65 can both hit a top speed of 186 mph (and that’s limited electronically). The 63 has a turbocharged 5.5-liter V8, while the 65 comes with a fabulous turbocharged 6.0-liter V12. This engine configuration is rare these days, so the 65 is a particularly special treat. A specialness that’s reflected in its price: $222,995. It’s how the ultra-rich get their ultra violet.
Photo by Mercedes-Benz
The SLC’s forerunner, the SLK, started the retractable hardtop trend back in 1996. The current SLC, a premium compact 2-seater roadster starting at $49,395 for the 241-hp SLC 300, is still the same basic idea. But it’s a good idea, kind of an SL for the less wealthy, which is most of us. It’s extremely charming, poised and perky, and the AMG SLC 43 (the other member of the lineup, priced from $62,345) is the only car with that particular turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 to send its 362 hp to the rear wheels only (other AMG 43 cars have all-wheel drive) — an extra thrill for the enthusiast. The roof also has a glass section that switches between transparent and opaque.
Photo by Mercedes-Benz
The Targa 4 is, of course, a variant of one of the best sports cars ever — the Porsche 911. A powered roof section moves behind the rear seats. This car’s special design evokes the Targa model of the 1980s which was named after the Targa Florio, a road race in Sicily. Starting at $109,650, it comes with 370 hp and all-wheel drive as standard, and offers rear-wheel steering. The Targa 4S has 420 hp while the new-for-2018 Targa 4 GTS model rumbles with 450 hp. This latter version is an ideal choice, because of the amount of muscle and standard equipment it offers for the (not inconsiderable) price of $140,950. The best never usually comes cheap.
Photo by Porsche