There were a lot of reasons why the late ’70s was a dark time for cars, but among the biggest reasons was the near death of the convertible. It’s true; in 1976, the only American-built ragtop was the Cadillac Eldorado, and GM had the gall to even market it as its last convertible ever.
Now 40 years later, the open-top market is pretty strong, and this year, we’re seeing a number of new models to make it that much more so. From affordable roadsters to ultra-luxury barges, there seems to be something for everyone at every price.
So from the beautifully attainable to the exclusive and gorgeous (with a little “what were they thinking?” thrown in for good measure), here are our eight picks for the best summer cars.
1. Mini John Cooper Works Convertible
With a supercharged BMW-designed 228-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four, the Mini John Cooper Works is a hot hatch that can run with the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTI. But now Mini has an edge on its competitors because you can buy an open-topped version of its hottest hatch. With race-ready power and handling, and an interior that punches well above its weight, the JCW ragtop is one of the most exciting convertibles for under $40,000, period.
2. Mercedes-AMG S65 Convertible
Mercedes may be working to widen its base with models like the CLA sedan and GLA crossover, but it still knows how to pull out all the stops better than almost anyone else in the industry; case in point is the new S-Class cabriolet. Sharing its beautiful lines with the S-Class coupe more than the formal S-Class sedan, Mercedes has taken its newest ragtop and left it with the mad scientists at AMG to transform it into a snarling luxobarge that could roast most sports cars on the road. Armed with a twin-turbo V12, the S65 will go from a standstill to 60 in four seconds flat, and top out at an electronically limited 155 miles per hour. With an expected base price in the low-to-mid $200K range, this one’s more of a summer dream than a reality for most of us.
3. Mercedes-AMG C63 Convertible
Like the S65, the C63 is new for 2017, and is the result of in-house tuner AMG turning Merc’s entry-level compact ragtop into a (relatively) low-key luxury rocket. The twin-turbo V8 “base model” C63 will make 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Upgrading to the C63 S will net you an additional 34 horsepower and 37 pound-feet. Zero to 60 comes in 4.1 and 4.0 seconds, respectively.
4. Mazda Miata
Thanks to its affordability, fun factor, and handling that can make any driver feel like a hero, the Miata makes a pretty strong case as the most important sports car of the last 25 years. 2016 marks the first full year the fourth-generation car is on sale, and the reigning World Car of the Year is arguably the best it’s ever been. And with a starting price at just under $25K, it’s about as expensive as a Nissan Altima. Keep that in mind next time you put in for a new company car. It couldn’t hurt to ask…
5. Fiat 124
If the Miata is a little too… common for you, give the all-new Fiat 124 a look. Underneath the sexy Italian body (which evokes the classic 1966-’85 124 Sport Spider) lies rock-solid Miata underpinnings. But instead of the 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated Mazda four, the new Fiat comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir four, which is good for 160 horsepower — five more than the Miata. And if that isn’t enough, the 170-horsepower Abarth version will arrive later in the year.
6. Jeep Wrangler
When it comes to summer cars, the Wrangler is a no-brainer. Its roof and doors come off, its quick enough to be lively, and if you really pushed it at the beach, the carpets come out and you can hose down the interior. We recently drove one in New York City, and it even managed to make gridlock traffic fun. Our only reservation? Its creeping price tag — a base Wrangler starts at $24K but can easily creep up into the low-$40K range fast.
7. Range Rover Evoque Convertible
Up to this point, if you wanted a convertible SUV that was a little more plush than the Wrangler, you went for the Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet, and then hoped no one you knew saw you in it. While Nissan axed that model for 2015 amid claims that it was one of the biggest automotive misfires of the decade, Land Rover has picked up the torch for some reason and has chopped the top off its pretty Range Rover Evoque. The company claims the ragtop is just as durable as the hardtop, though we doubt either will see much time off-road. We’re sure the Evoque ragtop will be a fun and luxurious ride, though we’re not sure we’d want to be driving it with the top down.
8. Porsche 911 Targa 4
In 2014, Porsche went back to its roots and brought the classic stainless steel rollbar back to the 911 Targa, and in our opinion it’s one of the best-looking models in the 911 lineup. Unlike the other models on the list, this one isn’t a full convertible; its roof automatically lifts up and folds beneath the Porsche’s expansive greenhouse. Sure Porsche has a full ragtop 911, but it doesn’t come close to the retro charm and mechanical cool of the Targa.