Getting started

Buying a convertible has little to do with practicality and everything to do with looking and feeling good with an open-air driving experience. Modern convertibles come with fewer compromises than the ragtops of yore. More and more convertibles are retractable hardtops, with a folding hardtop that stows in the trunk at the push of a button. When raised, these hardtop models minimize some inherent convertible compromises by providing better insulation from noise and weather, increased interior security, better visibility, and better resistance to fading and wear than cloth. But when lowered, they can consume much of the available trunk space.

Even soft tops are now mostly well insulated and almost all now come with a glass rear window instead of flimsy, scratch-prone plastic windows common just a few years ago.

Today's convertibles tend to have more rigid construction, reducing wear-inducing structural flex caused by the lack of a fixed roof on a coupe, and also improving handling. One thing that hasn't changed is that soft-top convertibles remain more susceptible to break-in and theft than hardtop vehicles.

Hardtop or soft, a convertible can typically transform from closed to open in less than 30 seconds. All hardtops must be stopped before the top can be raised or lowered, though some soft-tops can metamorphose a low speeds.

Key things to consider

Since the whole point of a convertible is driving with the top down, the ease of deploying the top is crucial. Where available, choose a power top. Among those models with a manual top, some let you undo a latch or two and toss the roof back, while others make you get out of the car and fiddle with the folded roof. The simpler the better, and the Mazda Miata has among the easiest manual tops to use.
To narrow your choices, decide first how you plan to use the car. Are you looking for a sporty car? Or a four-seater that happens to have an open-air ability? Is this a car that you plan to drive every day or just as a seasonal weekend car? For an everyday car, comfort, convenience, and fuel economy are important considerations. If driving is your passion, the fun factor might be more important.
As always, price is a key factor, and convertibles usually cost significantly more than an equivalent fixed-roof car. If your budget is modest, your choices will be commensurately limited. In the sporty-car arena, you'll want to look at cars that focus on handling prowess, but for top-down cruising, ride qualities, comfort, and wind noise are bigger issues.
The powertrains for convertibles usually range from a small four cylinder such as the Mini Cooper convertible up to the powerful V8s in American muscle cars and import-brand luxury models. Fuel economy is typically worse than that of the fixed-roof version of the car due to the added weight.
Find out how Consumer Reports can help you choose the best convertible for your needs.