Personal picks: Our choices for fun convertibles
Having just tested and lived with a quartet of German roadsters, our staff has convertibles on the brain. No doubt, you've seen the road tests and know the official scores and rankings. We thought it would be fun to go behind the ratings to see what some of our team members would personally recommended.
Tom Mutchler: Other than the BMW Z4, which looks a lot better than it drives, I enjoyed all of our tested roadsters. I took a long and enjoyable road trip in our Mercedes SLK. And our Audi TT was surprisingly enjoyable to drive, with a lot of neat stylish details despite its modest-in-this-group price.
But I deeply miss our Porsche Boxster. I wasn't a big fan of the previous generation, a car that proved polarizing in the hallowed halls of the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, but this time Porsche nailed it. It sounds fabulous and is a joy to drive. Maybe the steering feel has eroded a touch, but it's still fantastic. Plus, the car's decent ride and two trunks make it surprisingly practical. Watching the yellow roadster drive off (quickly) with its smiling new owner brought a tinge of sadness.
Like I said in episode 4 of our podcast, "Talking Cars with Consumer Reports," I personally could get 95 percent of the Boxster's "happiness" from a used $13,000 Mazda Miata. But that doesn't take away from the Boxster's brilliance.
Mike Quincy: I have a tendency to root for losing teams. It's not on purpose, but sometimes I just sense a bit of extra character in people (or things) that seem to try harder even though they're facing almost unmatchable foes. Take the BMW Z4, for example. I love its looks, folding hardtop, and gritty stance. But I knew it was going to get trounced in our Ratings compared to the Boxster and SLK. Still, there was something about it that I liked. And while the turbocharged four-cylinder in our test car returned decent fuel economy and was plenty quick, I'd spend a little more money and get the 35i model with the 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder engine. I haven't met a BMW straight-six that I haven't loved.
This wouldn't transform the Z4 into a winner, but it would at least make it sound better. And a good-exhaust tune is essential when you're top-down motoring.
There's no denying the Boxster's greatness. I like driving it more than a 911. And the SLK is the one in this group that didn't seem to take itself so seriously: Fun, good looking and comfortable for a small roadster. I'd be overjoyed with any of these slick sports cars.
But a Z4—with the zany M Sport/Hyper Orange Package—is the one I'd take and keep for a long time. And the wacky color would fit right in with tailgating at a Cleveland Browns football game (another perennial lovable loser).
Cliff Weathers: The most inexpensive new convertibles still cost at least $20,000, or about the price I'd pay for a base midsized sedan. So here I am, a family man hanging by the tips of my fingers to a middle-class lifestyle, and I'm asked to pick out a new convertible?
There is a practical solution to this dilemma; it's called a used car. My rationale is this: I would probably only want to use a convertible on warm, dry, lazy days between May and October, or maybe 30 times a year at best. This avoids living with the inherent convertible compromises on a daily basis. So, why do I need another car payment for a toy?
For my pick, I'm going with a low-mileage 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible, which I can readily find for under $10,000, maybe even as low $8,000 if I find one in a private sale.
The New Beetle has a great deal of charisma, a well-constructed interior, a responsive engine, and that model year has demonstrated average reliability, so I don't foresee too many problems cropping up during its limited time on the road (knock wood). But what really sells me on the this old New Beetle is the top, which is plush, well-insulated, easy to open, and keeps wind noise out on those rare occasions when it stays up.
What convertible do you crave? Join in the discussion in our convertible car forum.