As we emerge from under layers of down and wool and feel the warmth of the sun on our skin, now is a good time to think about rewarding ourselves with a sporty roadster. There is nothing like feeling the wind tussle your hair and hearing the roar of the engine behind the wheel of a lithe little sports car. It’s a more pure, visceral form of driving, and an easy way to make the most of the summer months.
Though not all of us can afford a new drop top, there are still plenty of fun, smaller and affordable open-air roadsters available in the used market to make the move feasible.
It’s hard to believe that 15 or so years ago, there was nary a two-seat roadster available in North America. How times changed; today there are a number of drop tops that vary in price and performance.
When the Porsche Boxster two-seater debuted in 1996, it was decried by purists as a “hairdresser’s car.” Don’t listen to them; this is an authentic mid-engined German sports car, with a powerful flat-six engine and razor-sharp handling. Only the early and high-mileage models will start around $10,000, and they go up from there. But be forewarned: being a Porsche, they are expensive to repair.
The other Germans waded into the genre, too. BMW has its Z3/Z4; good-looking cars, but with vague steering and harsh rides, they didn’t measure up to the handling of the Boxster. Audi has its distinctive TT convertible, from 1998 and on. These cars can start for less than $10,000 in the late 1990s to early 2000s; just watch the mileage.
The Japanese chopped their roofs as well around that time; one of the sharpest of these roadsters is the Honda S2000 (2000-09). But the tradeoff for the razor-sharp handling is a rough ride, and the 2.0-litre four cylinder needs to rev high to get the most out of it. They’re also hard to come by, especially in decent shape.
Even General Motors added two cars to this category, with the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky in 2006. Both will turn heads, but they suffered from poor performance, excessive wind noise and, again, little storage space. As they are relatively new (discontinued in 2009), it will be difficult to find one for less than $13,000.
Dollar for dollar, it’s difficult to argue with the car that rebooted the roadster craze: the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The little two-seater has met with nothing but acclaim since it debuted in 1989. It’s not the most powerful, but its light weight and 50-50 weight distribution allow for spirited driving and belly-laugh handling. Overall, it has proven to be extremely reliable, and if something does go wrong, it’s affordable to fix. And because these cars have been around for 25 years, there are plenty for sale, which means lower prices – you can easily find an earlier one for around five grand.
Why not head right to the inspiration for these modern roadsters and look at some English cars from the 1960s and ’70s? Only if you like being stuck on the side of the road with your thumb in the air. Anything with a Triumph or MG badge – among the most affordable today of those period cars – were notorious for electrical and engine gremlins, frequent oil puddles and safety standards far below those of today. Stick with newer if you’d rather drive than tinker.
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