Convertibles aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be a few decades back. Certainly not as much as in the 1950s and 1960s, when nearly every automaker offered a range of soft-tops.
Young people today are thought to shun convertibles, in favor of sedans or smaller crossovers that hold a coterie of friends without squeezing. What’s been dubbed “fun in the sun” motoring more typically appeals to baby boomers and even their elders, who recall the heyday of drop-tops.
Still, buyers can choose from a fair number of soft-top contenders, including retractable hardtops that may be more all-weather practical, but aren’t the real thing.
For some of us, the FIAT 500c furnishes about as much joy as can be imagined in a vehicle. It’s the only currently-made convertible with a sliding fabric roof rather than a true fold-down top. That configuration was once fairly popular on micro-sized cars from Europe, and used for the American-made Nash Rambler of the early Fifties.
In either convertible or solid-roof form, the FIAT 500 can hardly help but bring smiles to onlookers and passengers alike. FIAT’s micro-size coupe qualifies as Step One to driving fun. A sliding roof adds an even more distinctive element to each outing on the road.
Critics who argue that the 500’s base engine is tepid, instead recommending the potent turbocharged Abarth, are basically correct. Yet, a special brand of enthusiasm can occur when using manual shift, to extract as much propulsion as possible out of 101 horsepower. Historically-minded purists might prefer the 1957 Edition over Pop, Easy, or Lounge trim levels.
Just because it’s an old-timer doesn’t mean the Miata isn’t worthy of attention anymore. Praise, too, for carrying on the roadster heritage. (British two-seater history, in particular, since the initial Miata was inspired by the old Lotus Elan.)
Despite a quarter-century of production, an MX-5 Miata can still deliver a barrel of driving fun whether on a lengthy trip or highlighting the urban Interstate commute. Even non-fans of stick shifts might have difficulty keeping their hands off that stubby lever.
Mazda has made plenty of improvements since the Miata debuted as a 1990 model. Yet, even if they hadn’t, the MX-5 would still deserve credit as a retro-traditional two-seat roadster with a comparatively moderate price sticker. No, it’s not the quickest of the sports-car lot, but it doesn’t need to be. The pleasure lies in the visceral -- indeed, sensual -- reactions that Miata instills, whether steering through a graceful curve or heading down an open road. That’s the Miata essence.
Let’s be straight here: with the exception of early-generation Mustangs, I’ve never been a huge fan of Ford’s “ponycar.” As a historian, however, its rich heritage and long-standing position on the American scene make it impossible to ignore. Picking a favorite from a trio of sporty rear-drive possibilities (Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger) is almost a tossup. Ford gets the nod by continuing to make the Mustang in accord with early intentions.
Body lines are about as clean and direct as can be. A Mustang is readily recognizable, yet differentiated from forerunners. Buyers can choose an energetic V6 or exuberant V8. Although the latter isn’t essential to pleasure, a GT delivers its brawling energy the old-fashioned way: loudly, almost harshly, striving to be noticed.
Sure, the ride can grow jumpy on imperfect pavement. That’s not necessarily a demerit in the Mustang world, where highly competent handling is the decisive factor. Even those of us who haven’t quite bought into the Mustang mystique would be sorry to see it fade.
Ever since 1998, the two-passenger Boxster has been giving enthusiasts just about all the roadgoing excitement and visual flair that a Porsche can provide, at a substantially lower price than a classic-style 911. Now, there’s a record that’s hard to beat.
As expected, continuous improvement has taken place, but even early Boxsters were sheer joy to drive, ride, and be seen in. Though undeniably snug, as a serious sports car should be, it provides adequate space for two. Performance is responsive and brisk, but not phenomenal in the sense of heart-halting, breathless execution.
Yes, it’s a challenge to pack a week’s luggage, but it can be done, as we’ve discovered on a lengthy journey. Step-up variants such as the S and GTS are invariably tempting, but there’s plenty of potential for ongoing gratification in a base-model Boxster. Why not use that additional $10,000 or $20,000 to enjoy a few long-distance holidays at the wheels of this (comparatively) affordable Porsche.