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Personal picks: Our favorite convertibles for summer

By: · July 25, 2011

With a heat wave continuing to cook much of the nation, we asked our team to share their personal choices for top-down, summer rides. Despite all the convertibles available today, the group focused on just a handful of models that tested well and/or just appealed on a more visceral level.

Read our picks below, and research your own convertible choices in our New Car Selector where you can sort and filter by the factors that matter most to you.

David Champion: No question, I’d choose the Ford Mustang GT convertible with the six-speed manual transmission. This latest edition of Ford famous pony car delivers great performance, reasonable fuel economy, seats four people in a pinch, and sounds great. Truly, this is what a convertible is all about. The Mustang GT convertible is also a nice cruiser that doesn’t beat you up too bad when you have the time for a fun sightseeing drive.

Jeff Bartlett: I love the new Mustang dearly—far too much to neuter it in convertible form, with the added weight, limited visibility, confining back seat, and added cost. But to be honest, I don’t care for convertibles. They require too many compromises for seasonal sensations. Were I looking for a summer, open-top weekend vehicle, I’d look past our ratings to an American icon, the Jeep Wrangler. With the hardtop, large panels can be removed to let the sun shine in. For more air flow, the doors can be readily removed. The cloth-top can be a chore to raise and lower. If I wanted the full open-sky experience, I’d leave the top off and just park in a garage overnight. Best of all, this fun can be had without exorbitant cost, there is tremendous open-top versatility, and it can be four-season adventure machine.

Eric Evarts: As this list undoubtedly makes clear, different types of convertibles serve different people. I can’t pick a convertible without mentioning the one I own (and my wife drives): the 2008 Volkswagen Eos that Consumer Reports tested when it was new. The Eos is our top-rated four-seat convertible, and among the most versatile, all-season cars with a folding top. With its roomy trunk, habitable back seat, and front-wheel drive, it works fine as the main, year-round transportation in our household. Most days, when the top has to stay up, the hard-top and glass roof make the Eos easy to see out of (for example to change lanes) and prevent the car from feeling claustrophobic, as other convertibles can with the top up. Reliability, though, has predictably been its Achilles’ heel.

A cheap, well-used Mazda Miata would be a blast for me to commute in, but it won’t work in winter and can’t fit the family. New ones aren’t cheap, so the enticing Miata remains an impractical dream.

If I lived in a warmer climate and used the convertible as a second car, I’d pick the Ford Mustang in a flash. It combines just enough of the Miata’s driving fun with the Eos’s practicality. The GT’s V8 sounds fantastic, but I’d probably trade it for the lighter, more agile feel (and lower price) of the V6.

Mike Leung: If I’m looking strictly at the models we’ve tested, my favorite convertible is the prestigious Mercedes-Benz SL550, hands down. Although we haven’t tested it, I suspect that I would also love the Audi R8 Spyder with the sweet V10 engine.

But if I must be realistic, I would fall for a Mazda Miata, the last version of the Toyota MR2 Spyder or the previous Mini Cooper convertible. All three small, sport cars are just the right size for my taste and lots of fun to drive.

Tom Mutchler: Just as I picked the Honda Odyssey for the best $20,000 family car, I followed my own advice when I bought my favorite convertible: a Mazda Miata. My 1995 M-edition Miata cost as much as a good lawn tractor. I use it to get ice cream, to pick up my weekly CSA produce, or to putt around the neighborhood on nice days with the top down. If I was more ambitious, I could turn it into an autocross terror, but I’m not going to do that. As a fellow Miata-owning enthusiast told me, the car gives so much and asks for so little in return. Sure, I’d like a 2009 or newer Miata Grand Touring, but that’s real money for a car I’d seldom use.

Mike Quincy: Several years ago, I drove our tested Mercedes-Benz SL550 on a four-hour cruise from the Poconos Mountains, PA, to my home in Connecticut. It was a warm fall day and I kept thinking I’d pull over and eventually put the top up. But I kept driving and pretty soon forgot about raising the roof. The SL was incredibly comfortable and managed to keep the wind buffeting to a minimum (something, I think, most convertibles miserably fail at). I know this car requires stupid money to buy and likely will cost a fortune to keep, but that beautiful drive forever implanted in my brain that convertibles need not give you a headache if you’re covering lots of highway miles with the top down.

See our convertible buying advice and ratings.

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