If there were a perfect place to test out all the latest and greatest convertibles on the market, that place would most likely be Key Biscayne, Fla. The quaint and scenic island community just south of Miami did just that when it played host to the Southern Automotive Media Association's second-annual Topless in Miami event that saw 17 convertibles competing for five awards. The award categories included Small Convertible, Family Convertible, Luxury Convertible and Sports Car Convertible as well as an overall Convertible of the Year award. So grab your sunglasses and sunscreen, and read on to see which drop-tops shined in the South Florida sun.
Defining a family convertible proved to be pretty hard based on the variety of entrants for this award with muscle cars going up against a hardcore off-roader and a couple highway cruisers. In the end, the Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible brought home the award for the Best Family Convertible of the Year beating out its longtime rival, the Ford Mustang, as well as other popular convertibles such as the Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Murano CC and Chrysler 200. This category was definitely comprised of the most diverse vehicles, but the Chevy Camaro likely came out on top thanks to its excellent performance and cool, top-down styling. Not that most families would need it, but the car entered into this event was the Camaro SS with automatic transmission giving it 400 horsepower (cars equipped with the manual transmission get a decent boost in both horsepower and torque). For the ultimate open-air performance family car, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible delivers 580 horsepower!
Buyers who wish to balance both enjoying and preserving the environment, this group of small convertibles allow for a unique open-air driving experience while still returning excellent fuel economy. This year, the FIAT 500 Cabrio (decked out in the Gucci trim level) edged out the smart fortwo, VW Eos and MINI Cooper to repeat as the Best Small Convertible of the Year. Winning this award two years in a row, the FIAT 500C features a unique convertible top that creates a large opening in the roof without affecting the doors or side of the car (preserving driver visibility). With its peppy 98 horsepower MultiAir engine, the Fiat 500 Cabrio is fun to drive while still returning great fuel economy estimates of up to 30 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway (when equipped with the manual transmission). At $19,500, is one of the most affordable convertibles on the market without losing any of the practicality that some cars sacrifice, but the Gucci styling increases the price to $27,750. The extra money spent on the 500C by Gucci is easily recognizable with its red and green striping on the convertible top and on the seats, but it also has unique wheels, metallic exterior finishes and the Gucci logo on the doors.
Sports cars come in all shapes and sizes, but they all deliver a similarly enjoyable driving experience. The best part about this category was that high-horsepower drop-tops took on lightweight, agile roadsters, and at the end of the day, the Audi TT Roadster won the award for the Best Sports Car Convertible of the Year over the Nissan 370Z Roadster, Mercedes SLK55 AMG and Mazda MX-5 Miata. Against such stiff competition, the Audi TT proved to be the top convertible this year thanks to a great balance of fun and sporty attributes. Yes, the Mercedes would crush the TT in acceleration and the Miata and 370Z would give it a run for its money on a road course, but the TT's light weight, peppy engine and great handling all helped make it the winner of this category. Under the TT's hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that produces 211 horsepower and helps the car accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds. Even better, the TT still gets decent fuel economy with a rating of 31 mpg in highway driving.
Not to be confused with the sports car category, the entrants for the luxury convertible award deliver great performance but also plenty of luxury including comfort, technology and the overall cabin experience. Fittingly, the limited-production Jaguar XKR-S Convertible was named the Best Luxury Convertible of the Year over the Infiniti G37 Convertible, Mercedes SL550 and the Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster. In addition to all of the standard luxury available in the Jaguar XK, the XKR-S ups the ante in the convertible segment with 550 horsepower, a top speed of 186 mph and acceleration from zero to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. On top of all this, only 25 2012 Jaguar XKR-S Convertible models will be sold in the U.S. this year, meaning that the lucky buyers who are able to procure the $138,000 sports convertible will have one of the rarest, fastest and sexiest convertible ever made. Just like the car's overall performance, the retractable soft top of the XKR-S Convertible is pretty quick with the ability to raise or lower in just 18 seconds at speeds of up to 15 mph. Aside from the deeper growl from the engine and exhaust, the XKR-S is distinguishable from the XKR thanks to its unique styling including a new front fascia and carbon fiber rear spoiler.
In total, 17 convertibles made it out to Key Biscayne for the second-annual Topless in Miami event, but while each car had something unique to offer, only one could bring home the top title of 2012 Convertible of the Year. Topping last year's inaugural winner, the Audi R8 Spyder, this year's top car was the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster with its ultra-exclusive appearance and performance. Not only did the SLS AMG Roadster impress the media enough to win this award, but the passers-by also had a fun time getting their pictures taken with the car, giving a thumbs up or just doing a slow walk around of the car to soak it all in. The 563-hp SLS AMG Roadster was easily one of the most popular cars at this event with the car never being parked longer than it took for drivers to switch.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross