For many people, a convertible represents an escape back to youth. Its insouciant imagery resonates most with those middle-aged and older who grew up when droptops were in vogue and who have indelible recollections of their experiences in them.
It's also true that these seasoned sorts are more likely to part with the extra $5,000 or so the folding top tacks on the ride's price tag.
If you're someone whose fancy turns to toplessness in spring, you should considering moving up the buying process a season — because now is the best time to buy. If you order a convertible in the dead of winter when auto sales are slow, you can get exactly what you want in plenty of time for spring and save money.
Dealers have told me that when you order a convertible, rather than buy one off the showroom floor, they can cut their costs — and yours — because they have no floor-plan expense (the interest they pay on bank-financed inventory).
So let's check out a ragtop quartet and see if there's any appeal. With practicality and affordability in mind, we'll limit ourselves to cars with backseats and base prices ranging from the mid 20s to low 30s. Since the Asian automakers don't seem very interested in a genre that garners only about 1 percent of the market, we'll settle for two domestics and a couple of Europeans:
Mini Convertible (base price $26,700). The Mini is BMW's modern evocation of the iconic little English car that could. (People even raced the little guys.)
The Mini Convertible has a very high cute quotient, but in its base form, it doesn't score very high on the oomph-O-meter. Its turbocharged, 1.5-liter engine manages a mere 134 horsepower. Still, it's fun to take it through its six manual gears — and around corners. This is a nice-handling little front-driver and well-equipped. The goodies range from a limited-slip differential to a chilled glove box.
EPA mileage ratings are a respectable 28 city and 37 highway.
Volkswagen Beetle Convertible ($26,840). Speaking of icons, the "people's car" is right there with the Jeep and the Model A Ford. This latter-day incarnation is, of course, light-years ahead of the bug that begat it. It's a slick, modern automobile with a lively 174-horse, 2-liter turbo and a smooth, six-speed automatic gearbox.
The car is fun to drive, and the folding roof augments the enjoyment. Handling is a plus, and so is engine response. It has a decent equipment list in base form and manages good EPAs of 26 city and 33 highway.
Mustang EcoBoost Convertible ($31,085). Speaking of American icons, this current generation 'Stang isn't just a particularly handsome rendition of the Mustang's traditional proportions and presence. Ford has amped up the car's refinement, technology, and driving dynamics considerably.
I like the turbocharged, direct-injected EcoBoost engine Ford developed for this current car. Economical for a high-performance engine (it has EPAs of 20 city and 28 highway), this torque-rich 2.3-liter four develops 310 horsepower, which ought to satiate most folks' need for speed. If it doesn't, you can get the 460-horse GT V-8, but that will set you back $44,595.
Chevrolet Camaro LS ($31,905). Like its fellow American muscle meister, the Camaro is a handsome devil that uses a small, economical direct-injected turbo in base form, and a big, powerful V-8 at the other end of the fiscal spectrum.