With the ever-expanding cost of fuel, in addition to more and more urban crowding, the market for smaller cars is larger than ever. Like other segments of the marketplace, within their ranks are a broad variety of cars. Perhaps the most fun are small convertibles. You can enjoy your time in the sun while taking advantage of all the benefits of a very small automobile.
For the most part, this aspect of the automotive universe is populated by two-seat sports cars. However, there are a few four-place automobiles that fit into the small convertible category as well. Of course, it should be duly noted those rear seats are by and large for occasional use only. When the top is raised on most models it cuts into the rear-seat headroom, and legroom for passengers riding coach in these cars (even in their hardtop iterations) is typically at a premium as well.
Still, the small convertible marketplace does offer some lovely cars that are both fun to drive and bound to generate envious stares as you waft about through your day, taking care of errands, odds and ends. Interestingly, imported cars dominate this portion of the new car market. No American offering even remotely qualifies for the list of small convertibles.
While the standard Audi TT Convertible may give up quite a bit in performance compared to its closest rivals, it remains that the Audi is one of the most distinctive looking small convertibles on the road. In its 2.0T configuration, the Audi delivers outstanding fuel economy while still offering up sporty driving dynamics. Another plus for the Audi over out and out sports cars is the smooth ride quality the TT delivers. As for content, you can count on a luxury maker like Audi to supply its sporty two-seat convertible with a wealth of comfort and convenience features. In this case, small does not mean spartan.
BMW’s entry level model in North America is intended to recall the iconic BMW 2002 of the late ‘60’s and early 1970’s. The BMW 1 Series convertible is also the only four-seat, rear-drive offering on our list of the best small convertibles for 2012. As a BMW should, the 1 Series Convertible delivers exceptional dynamic abilities along with a very remarkable balance between a luxury coupe and a sports car. Performance is strong with either the 228-horsepower, normally aspirated 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine in the 128i, or the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six in the 135i, which makes 300 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment for both engines. The 128i gets a six-speed automatic as an option, while the 135i gets a seven-speed dual clutch sequential automated manual.
Here’s a model that doesn’t force its owner to choose between a hardtop coupe and a convertible. Thanks to the folding hardtop BMW’s engineers fitted to the Z4, buyers can have both a coupe and a convertible in the same car. The Z4 also offers a choice of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces more torque than the normally aspirated 3.0-liter inline six occupying its engine bay in 2011. BMW’s only two-seat sports car uses a classic long hood, short deck configuration—placing the driver and passenger just ahead of the rear axle. The engine is mounted behind the centerline of the front axle, so all of the weight is concentrated in the middle of the car. This makes it handle just as well as it goes and stops. In other words the BMXW Z4 is a small convertible car that is also lots of fun to drive.
All new for 2012, the FIAT 500C muscles it way in on MINI’s territory with a tidy size, a cute smile and seating for four. The model Fiat chose to mark its return to the North American market, the 500 practically heads up the list of small convertibles for 2012. In fact, only one car on the list is smaller (the smart for two). Again, in a nod to current realities, the Fiat 500c may be small in size, but it is big on amenities. These include keyless entry, full power accessories, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, a trip computer, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary input jack for portable audio devices.
Back in 1989 when the Miata appeared as a 1990 model, the car was such a big hit some dealers were charging as much as five to ten thousand dollars over MSRP for the diminutive roadster. In fact, there’s probably still somebody out there somewhere upside down in a 1990 MX-5. The dealers could get away with this because Mazda got the Miata’s formula dead solid perfect right off the top. Enormously fun to drive, cute as all get out, and as reliable as a battalion of elite Marines, the Mazda MX-5 redefined what a small two-seat sports car should be. The formula was so successful; BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Toyota all fielded their take on the concept. However none of those cars captured the imagination of the motoring public the way the Miata did—and still does to this day.
As we stated in the previous entry, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class owes it existence largely to the runaway success of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Being a Mercedes, of course the SLK offered a stronger feature set than the Miata (as well as a higher price). This included a folding hardtop, which the SLK has had since the very first generation of the small convertible. The current version of the small Mercedes convertible car features a translucent roof, which can be darkened or lightened as need be to admit sunlight when the roof is closed. Mercedes also fitted a 201-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder as the base engine for 2012.
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the MINI Cooper returned to North America. An instant cult icon, the current MINI model lineup benefits tremendously from the institutional memory of people enamored with the original introduced in 1959. The convertible version of the MINI Cooper, like the coupe, has fun as its primary differentiator. OK well, fun along with a distinctive style, a unique attitude and a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience. The true beauty of the MINI Cooper convertible lies in its ability to be a do-anything car. This entry on our list of best small convertibles for 2012 looks just as good arriving at a formal event as it does rolling into the parking lot at a little league baseball game.
Given the agility, sharp reflexes and engaging driving demeanor of the standard MINI, it was only a matter of time before a two-seat MINI “sports car” emerged. Capturing everything we love about the standard MINI and folding in even better handling along with the cachet of being a two-seater, the MINI Cooper Roadster is best purchased by true driving enthusiasts who will appreciate its sharper handling when compared to the standard MINI convertible. It also offers a bit more cargo space, because the back seats are deleted. To get the full experience, opt for the John Copper Works version of the MINI Cooper Roadster.
The previous model of the Nissan sports car to offer a convertible top from the factory was this car’s predecessor, the Nissan 350Z. However that development was an afterthought. In other words, Nissan decided to make that car a convertible after the coupe had already been designed. The 370Z on the other hand was designed with the convertible version in mind from the very beginning. Thus, the convertible top looks more integrated into the overall design, and the Nissan small convertible looks more sleek with its top folded as well. One of the best performing small convertibles you can buy, the Nissan 370Z Roadster is also a true sports car.
The 2012 Porsche 911 is actually the old 911 because an all-new 911 debuted for the 2012 model year. However the all-new car only comes as a closed coupe for 2012, so to get a brand new 2012 911 convertible you have to get the old 911. Kind of confusing isn’t it? Basically the new 911 Convertible is the old 911 because the new 911 is not a convertible—or something like that. Regardless, for some of the best fun you can have behind the wheel of a car without a roof, a Porsche 911 is very tough to beat. Offering a powerful engine, outstanding brakes, exceptional handling, and nearly telepathic steering, the Porsche 911 Convertible is easily the most desirable sports car on our list of the best small convertibles for 2012.