Sitting here with a view of distant mist and not-so-distant raindrops as a stiff breeze blows through the treetops, it’s difficult to believe that more new convertible cars are sold in Britain than in any other European country bar Germany.
In numbers, that means close to 50,000 rag tops leave the showroom floor in this country most ‘normal’ years (ie when the motor industry isn’t being hammered by Coronavirus) despite the fact that the UK seems to be getting damper, not drier – as evinced by the fact that October 3, 2020, became the wettest day on record since people started keeping note in 1891.
But there is a certain logic to the numbers. For a start, a bright spring or summer’s day in Britain can create the perfect environment for top-down driving – not too, hot, not too cold.
Then there’s the slick operation of modern convertible roofs to consider. Unlike in the old days, when a looming rain cloud meant wrestling with the stiff hinges of a wobbly hood frame and straining thumbs to lock it into place with a couple of heavily-sprung latches, today’s soft tops usually open or close smoothly at the touch of an electrical switch.
And, once they’re ‘up’, their thick fabric and dense insulation makes for a warm and cosy cabin that’s just as watertight as a regular roof.
Mention convertibles to many people, however, and the first word that springs to mind is ‘impractical’ – but it’s not entirely justified, since the sky’s-the-limit nature of an open-top car can often enable it to carry objects that even conventional estates might struggle to accommodate (I once used my 1970 Triumph TR6 to transport an eight-seat dining room table and a 12-foot long Moroccan carpet).
But perhaps the most unexpected aspect of a convertible is that it can really come into its own in the winter.
Not on those wet, miserable days but on the deliciously crisp ones, when there’s a sharp frost on the ground and a watery sun in the sky – if you haven’t driven along a favourite road on such a day, with the roof down, the heater up high and the sounds up higher, you haven’t driven at all.
But here are six sensibly-priced convertibles that could put that right tomorrow…..
Until last year, Fiat could have sold you one of its fabulous, retro-look 124 Spider convertibles inspired by an original model from the 1960s. Weak sales mean the model has been axed in the UK – but the marque’s nifty 500C remains available, meaning you can still enjoy some Italian fun-in-the-sun for little outlay. The 500C makes for a perfect town car, but ithas the stamina for longer runs, too – and, while it is undoubtedly a small car, the available boot space isn’t compromised by having the roof ‘down’ as it concertinas neatly into the back window space. A fully-electric version becomes available in 2021. From £15,025 fiat.co.uk
The modern-day MINI will have been with us for a surprising 20 years in 2021 – and it remains one of the most fun to own and fun to drive small cars on the market. The convertible versions are surprisingly practical, with ‘occasional’ rear seats and roofs that can be partly or fully opened. MINI continues to offer buyers a huge range of accessories to help make their car their own, and the ‘Classic,’ ‘Sport’ and ‘Exclusive’ pack options aim to cater for every type of owner. Brexiteers can even specify a soft top printed with a muted Union Jack pattern…… From £20,830 MINI.co.uk
Launched in 1989 when convertibles had all but disappeared from the inventory of the world’s car manufacturers, Mazda’s MX5 sought to revive the look, style and feel of the classic British two-seaters that swarmed the roads during the 1960s – and how it succeeded. Almost 42 years later, the MX5 has gone down in history as the best-selling two-seat sports car of all time, with considerably more than one million produced. The latest, fourth-generation model is the best yet, combining the cool character and driving fun of the original with a perfectly proportioned shape and just enough old school feel. From £23,800 Mazda.co.uk
Caterham Seven 270
Convertible cars don’t have to be sensible, of course – and if you want to experience raw, seat-of-the-pants, open-air driving and don’t care about luggage space or electrically-powered roofs, the legendary Caterham Seven is the obvious choice. The entry-level 270 model is powered by a tried-and-tested Ford 1.6 litre engine that, in the family cars to which it’s typically fitted, offers less than thrilling performance. when bolted into the sub-500 kilo Caterham, however, it provides an eye-watering nought-to-60mph time of just five seconds and a terrifying top speed of 122 mph. And all for £27,490 (or less if you build it yourself….) Caterhamcars.com
Audi A3 Cabriolet
Regarded as one of the best-built small convertibles currently on sale, the A3 Cabriolet offers legendary Audi reliability with low-key looks and all the practicality expected of a daily driver. The electric roof disappears beneath a metal panel behind the rear seats in just 18 seconds, and can be operated on the move at speeds of up to 31 mph. The only downside is that having the car in topless mode eats into the available boot space, which otherwise offers a capacity of 320 litres. From £31,140 Audi.com
BMW 2 Series
BMW’s 2 Series convertible is the smallest soft top in the BMW range and the obvious alternative to Audi’s A3 cabriolet . But with its traditional BMW front engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration it is more of a ‘driver’s’ car – especially in range-topping M240i form, which endows the 2 Series with a six-cylinder, turbocharged engine giving a 0 – 62mph time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. Starting at £45,385, however, it’s almost £15,000 more than the entry-level model. BMW.com