The recession hasn’t been good to drop-tops. The Cadillac XLR, Chrysler Crossfire, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Honda S2000, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, Toyota Solara—they’re all gone.
Yet those that survive are likely to be around for a long time. That’s because they share some vital traits: trendy styling, affordable pricing and lots of fab features. Plus a slew of all-new models—such as the Audi A5 below—are arriving on the scene to keep inventory fresh.
So for gays and lesbians looking to soak in the sun, this just may be the summer to go topless.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mpg: 22 city/28 highway
Introduced to rave reviews in 1989, this pint-sized icon is cute, peppy and still full of promise. This fourth-generation model proves the Miata is still the standard-bearer of low-cost compact convertibles. Other roadsters are larger, pricier or simply not as much fun. There are three trim levels, with everything from fog lights and run-flat tires to Bluetooth, satellite radio and steering-wheel audio controls. All offer optional automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Mileage is decent, though not stellar. And despite only a 167-hp four-cylinder under the hood, this two-seater thrusts and parries through even the densest traffic—thanks to the light 2,500-lb. vehicle weight and a secure chassis that hugs the ground. While the soft top is quick and easy to stow, there’s now a hardtop version to make the cabin quieter and more secure. Perhaps the only drawback is the tinny stereo.
Mpg: 18 city/25 highway
The MX-5 Miata isn’t exactly milquetoast, but it’s about as hardcore as good-girl Rachel on Glee. Nissan’s sizzling Z, on the other hand, is pure Puck, with plenty of pent-up energy and a glib bad-boy image. The ride is fast and thrilling, thanks to the punchy 332-hp V6, sharp steering and a suspension so stiff you’ll never need to use that Butt Blaster again. In fact, the only thing soft on this high-test racer is the fast-folding cloth top. Fit and finish—inside and out—is superb. And there’s lots of standard gear: xenon headlights, heated side mirrors, push-button ignition, keyless entry and automatic climate control. As for options, go for the heated/cooled seats, eight-speaker Bose stereo and voice-activated nav system with user-friendly, seven-inch display monitor. True, there are some downsides: cargo space is lacking and the cabin’s a bit noisy—though no more so than on any Porsche. And the affordable Z costs only half as much.
Mpg: 23 city/30 highway
The A5 is a couture convertible with sculpted side panels and a low-slung stance. Created by a top Italian designer, this Teutonic gem replaces the old-school A4 cabriolet. There’s no retractable hardtop, which is a bummer. But the canvas roof folds in just 15 seconds and at speeds up to 30 mph—a big plus during sudden downpours. Braking is spot-on, as are the myriad safety features: all-wheel drive, backup camera, ABS with brake assist, blind-spot warning sensors and adaptive cruise control that prevents you from tailing too closely. The uptown cabin is mod yet manly with snug bucket seats, brushed aluminum trim and heated air ducts that blow seductively on your head and neck. Choice of two engines: a capable but bland 211-hp four-cylinder or a taut 265-hp V6. For the most gusto, there’s the 333-hp S5 model, with slick seven-speed manual transmission and a $15,000 bump in price.
Mpg: 21 city/27 highway
The elite Lotus Elise—the lightest car sold in America—has Hot Wheels styling and go-kart proportions yet zips from 0 to 60 in just 60 seconds. Traction control is optional, but who needs it? Handling is nimble. This year, the Elise gets a major facelift, with wider grille, sleeker headlights, larger tires and a bigger rear-end. Two models: base and supercharged SC. Top speed for both is 150 mph. Standard fare includes remote ignition, tire-pressure monitor, antitheft alarm with engine immobilizer and premium ABS for better braking. No, this isn’t a true convertible. But remove the two roof panels and it sure feels like one.