A case for conversion
My partner and I have just turned 60 and, after previously buying conservative and practical cars, we’d like to have a little fun — a cabriolet is very appealing at the moment. We’re wondering whether a soft-top car is a novelty that the new owner uses on any sort of day at the start but, after a while. it’s not used very often at all. Are we better off with a coupe with sunroof? It doesn’t seem as much fun as the wind flowing through our greying hair. We have a budget of $50,000. AJ, email Nothing matches the open-air experience of a full convertible, which goes well beyond even the biggest and brightest sunroof. A sunroof will brighten your life and ruffle your hair but a proper convertible is the nextbest-thing to a motorcycle ride through the countryside. When you have a drop-top you’re far more likely to use it and it’s hard to beat a sunset drive in spring or autumn. Open-air choices run from an affordable Mazda MX-5 at $33,340 to an exotically outrageous RollsRoyce Phantom Drophead Coupe at more than $1 million. Sales of the Mazda MX-5 continue to boom. There is its Italian clone, the Abarth 124 Spider, if you want something that looks a little chunkier and adds a turbocharged engine.
Audi A3 Cabriolet, $49,000 A smooth looker that only just sneaks into your budget, the A3 is a tidy little runabout that’s practical and fun. An Audi always has more bling than an equivalent VW but the basics of the A3 come from the Golf and that means it’s a sound vehicle. It’s been around for a while but the value is good and the folding canvas roof works well. Mazda MX-5 RF, from $38,550 It’s not a full cabrio but if you want something a touch more relaxed than the MX-5 roadster the RF could be the answer. The newcomer has a retractable hardtop, so it’s more like a targa-roof coupe than a full-on sports car. There is more protection and less noise than in an MX-5 with the top up and the only real drawback is the shared tiny boot. Mini Convertible, from $37,900 The complete opposite of the MX-5, the Mini is a four-seater that puts fresh air ahead of driving enjoyment. If you want to go quickly there is a John Cooper Works model with plenty of punch but the best thing about the Mini is its cruising ability. As with the MX-5, boot space is cramped but there is always the rear seat.
Used VW Golf Cabrio No, not the Eos. For a time, Volkswagen had two fresh-air models of the Golf and the Eos had an overly complicated roof that was a combination sunroof, targa roof and cabrio. Nice when new but a potential nightmare over time, which is why the Cabrio is a far better choice. Good-looking used Cabrios come in under $30,000 — but check the car carefully.
It comes down to a choice between a sports car and a cruiser. If you really enjoy driving, the MX-5 is the way to go and the RF is a little more refined than the full drop-top. If you’re a cruising couple, the A3 makes the most sense.