The arrival of summer signals the open season for open-air dining, open-air exercise, and of course, open-air driving. Who doesn't like head room limited only by the lower troposphere?
There may be fewer convertibles on the road now than before but the thrill of droptop driving—and a 65-mph hair dryer for the morning commute—never goes out of style. (Our haircuts might've fallen out of fashion, but that's just an incentive for us to drive faster.)
There are plenty of luxury models without a roof, but mainstream automakers offer stellar top-less models ready for Main Street for much less money. Here are our picks for alfresco automobiles that start for less than $35,000 and offer all kinds of sunshine, just in time for summer.
2020 Mini Cooper
The Mini Cooper is an icon for its charm, small body, and nimble moves. The Cooper Convertible shaves off its roof without losing any of that charm. Starting for less than $30,000, the 2020 Mini Cooper Convertible comes with a chunky 134-horsepower turbo-3, automatic transmission, and 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay compatibility. And of course, a power-folding roof.
For $33,750 to start, the Mini Cooper S upgrades to a 189-hp turbo-4 that hits 60 mph from a standstill in 6.7 seconds. It's our pick, and a patient hand with optional extras can keep the list price below $35,000.
2020 Fiat 124 Spider
Fiat's small roadster has a cousin that we'll get to in a second, but the little Italian convertible (by way of Japan) brims with personality. The Fiat 124 uses a 1.4-liter turbo-4 that makes 160 hp. A 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic can be fitted to the 124 Spider; our pick is to row your own with the precise short-throw shifter and easy clutch pedal. Straight-line speed isn't the Fiat 124's first priority: it's a weekend cruiser with room enough for one more and small luggage.
The 124 Spider costs $26,885 to start, which is well under our price cap with plenty leftover to hit the road. Ciao.
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Miata redefined small sports cars back when it arrived more than 30 years ago, and we can't get enough. It's related to the Fiat 124, but the two don't share similar engines. The MX-5 Miata is powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 181 hp. Like the Fiat, it can be equipped with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Also like the Fiat: We recommend the manual model because it's more fun. The Miata has few interior comfort features, but its entertainment value is better found with the roof down and the revs high. A base 2020 MX-5 costs $27,525, and it's a dollar-for-dollar performance champ.
If the question is what small sports car could we not live without: Miata Is Always The Answer.
2020 Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance Package
Countless daydreams have started with America's iconic pony car, an open road, and no roof. The 2020 Mustang convertible sneaks on to our list for less than $35,000 thanks to a turbo-4 version that costs $33,365. That turbo-4 is no compromise either: it churns 310 hp and hits 60 mph from a standstill in less than seven seconds—the province of V-8s from not too long ago. A 10-speed automatic that's optional (but doesn't raise the overall price past $35,000) helps keep the convertible efficient on the highway with up to 28 mpg, according to the EPA.
That's good enough gas mileage to chew through the miles in our minds and in the real world.
2019 Chevrolet Camaro
The Camaro is the yin to the Mustang's yang, locked in a rivalry nearly as old as Coke vs. Pepsi. The truth? Both are very good convertible cruisers with turbo-4 options that keep the price low and the smiles high. For $32,495 to start, the Camaro 1LT with a turbo-4 and manual transmission comes in less than its crosstown rival, but offers plenty of options to ring up the tab. We'd opt for a 6-speed manual Camaro 1LT with RS package and a lick of Garnet Red premium paint on the exterior for $34,840. It's a staggering deal for a droptop with 20-inch wheels, 275 hp, and great muscle-car looks.
It's even better without a heavyweight price tag.