We all know that feeling. When someone swooshes past in their convertible car, with the roof down, the wind in their hair, and you think – that could be me!
But what if it were to be you? What factors would you have to consider when buying your own convertible? We’ve written this guide to help make your journeys that extra bit cooler.
Best-selling convertibles in the UK
Convertibles, cabriolets, roadsters – whatever you call them, we Brits have always had a soft spot for soft-tops. We buy around 60,000 a year, which isn’t much compared to other categories of car, but it is enough to keep manufacturers launching new models.
The nature of those models has changed in recent years. The market has swung away from convertible versions of everyday cars towards pricier premium models. Not long ago, you could get open-top versions of the Ford Focus, the Vauxhall Astra, the Renault Megane, the VW Golf, and even the Nissan Micra.
But now they’re gone. According to data from JATO Dynamics, shown in the table below, the UK’s best-selling convertible in the first four months of this year was the Mercedes-Benz C Class Cabriolet. It starts at £36,945.
There are still less costly options, however. The cheapest convertible on sale today is the £15,740 Fiat 500C 1.2 Lounge, although it might not be convertible enough for everyone – only the middle part of the roof folds back. The Mazda MX-5 two-seat sports car is a genuine convertible and starts at a very reasonable £18,795 for the 1.5i SE. The Mini Convertible, Britain’s second most popular open-top car, kicks off at £19,265.
Four seater options
How many people do you want to fit in your convertible? How much boot space does it need to have? The answers to these questions will determine the sorts of trade-offs you need to make.
Many of the most popular convertibles are two-seater roadsters, such as the MX-5, the Porsche Boxster. There are plenty that will seat four, although those extra seats come at the cost of some boot space. The BMW 2 Series Convertible, for example, has 285 litres of space in its boot, which is a hefty 105 litres less than the Coupé version. And, because the roof usually folds into the boot space, that volume is reduced further. In the Mini Convertible, it falls from 215 litres to 150 litres with the roof down, which is barely enough for two overnight bags.
The most comfortable convertibles
Manufacturers are more careful when it comes to driver and passenger comfort, and have invested a lot of time and money in different ways to reduce noise, minimise wind buffeting, and increase warmth.
Many convertibles have mesh anti-buffeting screens behind the passengers to stop or slow the flow of air that circles back once it has cleared the windscreen. It’s trickier to do that for the front occupants in a four-seater, but most manufacturers will sell a removable screen to fit ahead of the rear seats if you don’t plan to use them much.
The ultimate luxury is what Mercedes calls the ‘Airscarf’. This pipes warm air onto the necks of the driver and front passenger, meaning that the roof can be lowered even when it’s chilly outside.
Good handling is also crucial to a comfortable drive – and this can be affected by the lack of a roof. A fixed roof helps enormously with the overall stiffness of the car, ensuring that its body flexes less when going round corners, making the car feel more responsive. Despite their sporty looks, convertibles are generally floppier, and older versions have suffered badly from what’s called ‘scuttle shake’, when the body wobbles going over bumps.
These days, manufacturers are doing a lot to prevent this shaking, but the downside is that they achieve this by adding extra weight to the car. For example, the Mercedes-Benz C200 Sport Coupé tips the scales at 1,505kg while the Cabriolet is 140kg heavier at 1,645kg. That’s the equivalent of carrying two extra people.
Beware of fuel economy numbers
Beware! The fuel economy numbers for convertibles are usually only calculated with the roof up. That’s what allows Mini to say that its Cooper Convertible is less thirsty (at 66 miles per gallon) than the standard hatchback version (63mpg). However, putting the roof down adds extra aerodynamic drag that will significantly reduce fuel economy. This could really hit your wallet at the pump, especially if you plan to drive with the top down most of the time.
Which convertables are cheap to insure?
Insurance premiums are generally higher for convertibles. To some extent, this is simply because they’re more expensive. For example, the entry-level Mercedes-Benz C Class Cabriolet costs £4,500 more than the Coupé equivalent.
This makes convertibles more attractive to thieves – and they could be more vulnerable, too. A roof made of fabric is easier to slice into than one made of metal. That’s why most insurers won’t cover theft of valuables from a soft-top convertible unless those valuables were locked in the boot.
One way to avoid that risk is to buy a hard-top convertible. These swap the fabric roof for a metal one that folds into two or three sections under the boot lid. The best-selling models in the UK are the Mercedes-Benz SLC and the BMW 4 Series.
There are a few other convertible-specific issues that you may need to bear in mind, depending on your circumstances. For example, some company car schemes don’t allow their employees to choose a convertible. And some convertibles have poor rearward visibility when the roof is up. In fact, you can’t take your driving test in a Mini or VW Beetle convertible for that reason.
You’re also not allowed in the carnivore areas of some safari parks while driving a soft-top, but we suspect that the threat of lion attack is pretty low down the list of considerations, at least in the UK
A convertible isn’t for everyone. If it’s for you, then we hope this guide has given you the information you require. If you’re in the market for something a little more practical, there’s always our guide to choosing a family car. Either way, happy motoring!