That wind-in-your-hair feeling. A more visceral driving experience. Whatever cliché you want to pick, there’s something great about driving with the roof down. Spring it washing its warm glow across the country, and our thoughts are turning from all-wheel-drive crossovers with heated seats to visions of open-air jaunts in our favorite roadsters.
The good news is that the virtues of a convertible transcend price tags and horsepower ratings; you can enjoy the joy of top-down motoring just as easily in an affordable, reasonably powered convertible as you can in a 200-mph, six-figure exotic. So long as you can lower your car’s roof and set off for a drive, the type of convertible doesn’t matter.
With that in mind, here are the 10 most affordable new convertibles you can buy in 2016. Any of these cars would be the perfect companion for taking advantage of beautiful days to soak up sunshine and scenery.
2016 Fiat 500C Pop: $21,390, including destination
Customer enthusiasm for Fiat’s teensy 500 and 500C has cooled over the years, with sales falling steadily, but that doesn’t mean there are no reasons to consider the cheery 500C. Compact enough to fit into any parking space—and we mean any parking space—the 500C is perhaps the most sensible drop-top for city dwellers. The standard car comes with a 101-hp, 1.4-liter inline-four engine; we’d want to upgrade to the feistier turbocharged Abarth variant, which has 160 hp and an exhaust growl straight out of a Group B rally race.
2016 Jeep Wrangler Sport 4×4: $24,890
The iconic off-roader comes with a folding fabric roof, though many owners choose to fit a hardtop instead. Yet with the Wrangler’s roof lowered, it’s easy to see why 202,702 Americans bought one last year: It can take you anywhere, with several trim levels offering varying components such as locking differentials and disconnecting anti-roll bars for scaling rugged terrain; it can seat four people; and if you unbolt the doors, you’re even more exposed to the elements than in a traditional convertible. Time is running out to get this version of the Jeep Wrangler, however, as an all-new model is likely to debut in 2017. Fortunately, Jeep plans to keep building the old one for a short time even after introducing the next-gen Wrangler.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport: $25,735
We may have mentioned that we like the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Perhaps it was when we took the new car and its predecessors on a road trip through northern Michigan, when we thrashed it around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, or when we named it a 2016 AUTOMOBILE All-Star. The fact is, the Miata remains one of our go-to recommendations for anyone who wants an affordable, fun-to-drive roadster. Though its 2.0-liter engine makes only 155 hp, the Miata’s lightweight design—starting below 2,400 pounds—contributes to the car’s zesty acceleration, lithe handling, and strong braking. While cargo space is minimal and there are only two seats, it’s hard not to enjoy driving the MX-5.
2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 1.8T S: $26,310
Channeling nostalgia for the original air-cooled model, the Volkswagen Beetle Convertible trades practicality and cargo space for serious open-air charm. The power-operated top can be raised or lowered in just 9.5 seconds and speeds up to 31 mph, and buyers can pick a 170-hp or a 210-hp turbocharged engine. (The optional TDI diesel is not currently available for sale.) There’s even a funky Beetle Dune convertible (pictured) that channels visions of old-school Baja Bug racers. After we spent a year with a Four Seasons Beetle Convertible, we concluded that it was at its best when the top was lowered: “Flaws and all, it managed to charm us with its classic Beetle looks and fun-loving character. It just needs a warning: meant for top-down driving only.”
2016 Mini Cooper Convertible: $26,800
The latest Mini Cooper Convertible, introduced to the U.S. in November 2015, is a little larger and more spacious than before, though the 2+2 layout still doesn’t provide that much room for back-seat passengers. Still, it has all the cute, funky style of other Cooper models, with buyers able to pick between a fuel-sipping, 135-hp, 1.5-liter inline-three turbo engine, a 189-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-four for S models, and a racy 228-hp John Cooper Works model.
2016 Ford Mustang V-6 Convertible: $30,545
When you think of taking three friends on an ice cream run on a summer day, the Mustang convertible may be the car you have in mind. Long one of America’s most iconic cars, the Ford Mustang coupe and convertible were updated for the 2015 model year with a fresh design, new technology, new engines, and perhaps most significant of all, independent rear suspension. We’re huge fans of the revamped Mustang and named it a 2015 AUTOMOBILE All-Star. While we prefer the Mustang GT‘s traditionalist 5.0-liter V-8 engine, shoppers can save money by picking the 3.7-liter V-6 or the 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo-four engine. Whichever powertrain you pick, the Mustang convertible is a great choice for top-down summer jaunts.
2016 Volkswagen Eos Komfort: $32,860
Volkswagen’s Eos, with its power hard top, soldiers on for another year, offering buyers an affordable, stylish, and reasonably spacious way to drop the top. Production of the Eos ends this November, and the car’s price was slashed significantly this year as VW tries to sell off the remaining stock. The Eos was first introduced in the U.S. at the 2006 Los Angeles auto show, so it’s one of the most dated entries in Volkswagen showrooms, and sales have fallen over the past years. In 2015, Volkswagen sold only 2,993 Eos convertibles, down 12.3 percent from 2014.
2016 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible 1LT: $33,695
America’s other classic ponycar, the Camaro, charges a bit more than the Mustang for open-air pleasure. As with the Camaro coupe, a new platform (called Alpha and shared with the Cadillac ATS) shaves significant weight. As with the Mustang, there are three engine choices—a turbo-four, a V-6, and an old-school V-8—plus a choice between manual and automatic transmissions. The Camaro convertible‘s power softtop lowers in seconds at speeds up to 30 mph and can even be opened or closed remotely (when the car is parked) via the key fob. As on the Mustang convertible, cargo space suffers a bit compared to the Camaro coupe, although styling is enhanced by the automatically deploying tonneau cover that conceals the fabric roof when it is lowered. “With the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, the soul of the car remains in place,” we wrote in March. “Instead of a one-dimensional parade car, the Camaro convertible remains a driver’s car, only one with a bigger, more well-rounded personality.”
2016 Buick Cascada 1SV: $33,990
Forget memories of the early 2000s dance-music band by the same name. The Buick Cascada is a rebranded, Americanized version of the Opel drop-top of the same name. Designed as a style-first model that brings topless driving to more people, it prioritizes comfort and looks over sporty driving. As a boulevard cruiser, though, we found the Buick Cascada to be an impressive new addition to America’s convertible lineup. “On the road, the 2016 Buick Cascada is a viceless car, performing every task well but never exceptionally so,” we wrote when we first drove it. “It’s surprisingly quiet with the top up, very tolerable with the top down.”
2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T: $36,525
Just like the smart four-door A3 sedan, the Audi A3 Cabriolet is based on the same modern MQB component set as the Volkswagen Golf GTI. With space for four, a 170-hp 1.8-liter turbo-four as standard or an optional 220-hp 2.0-liter turbo engine, the A3 Cabriolet is a stylish and sensible way to take friends for a blast through the great outdoors. All-wheel drive comes standard, too, for year-round traction whether the top is up or down, as does a backup camera, parking sensors, heated mirrors, and heated washer nozzles. And although it’s still not especially spacious, the A3 Cabriolet even offers more rear legroom than a Ford Mustang drop-top.
Over the coming months, we’re looking forward to learning how much we’ll pay for several other new convertibles. The 2017 Smart Fortwo Cabriolet looks to combine the model’s city-smart sizing with the thrill of topless driving. The standard Fortwo coupe starts at $16,890, so expect a price tag somewhere close to that for the drop-top. Fiat is set to launch its 124 Spider later this year. Based on the Mazda Miata, the Fiat 124 Spider will also spawn a much racier Elaborazione Abarth model with upgraded suspension and brakes. And speaking of the Miata, Mazda will broaden the car’s appeal by opening order books for the Retractable Fastback model this summer. With a power-folding hard top and gorgeous flying buttress styling cues, the Miata RF will probably cost about $2,000 more than equivalent soft-top versions.