Currently reading: Top 10 Best convertibles and cabriolets 2021
An 'al fresco' driving experience is a great way to refresh the senses. So if a convertible or cabriolet is on your shopping list, let Autocar help you to determine which one might be best for you
Autocar
News
10 mins read
1 December 2021

Imagine the scene: the sun is out, the weather is warm and a twisty road opens up in front of you. This is the opportunity to enjoy your drive in a way in which you seldom get the chance. What could make it better? Of course, the ability to remove the roof and let a cool summer breeze in.

Convertibles come in all shapes and sizes, and you can choose a long-legged cruiser, a high-performer or a fashion trinket. The common theme will be the ability of retracting back the roof and letting in the glorious weather.

To make our list of the best, though, a convertible needs to offer security and comfort when the weather turns sour, as well as proper usability. We don't, by and large, classify affordable sports cars here; to us a cabriolet or convertible is a different beast, more usable and rounded than a true sports car and suited to more broad use. So which are the best of them?

1Audi TT Roadster

Our cabrio class champ is a car that perfectly typifies why convertibles and sports cars are typically quite different things. The Audi TT has, since birth, played the classy, stylish, usable, extra-special everyday driver better than the out-and-out driver's car; and it continues to now even in convertible form. Keen drivers might find the Roadster a little too easy and unchallenging to drive, but it's that undemanding ease of use that makes the car appeal to those who only want a dash of seasoning with their choice of wheels.

The Audi’s fluid handling and zesty petrol TFSI motor make it fast enough and reasonable fun when you want it to be, even in entry-level form. The engine range kicks off with a 194bhp 2.0-litre option but ranges upwards to include 242-, 302- (TT S) and 394bhp (TT RS) choices. The entry-level engine can be had with front-wheel drive, while the rest are 'quattro' all-paw only.

That range of engine and drivetrain options is a key part of the car's strength every bit as important as its solidly built and appealing interior or its catwalk-model looks. No need to make a head versus heart decision here then. Put simply, this is a 'want-one' kind of car. You want it? You’ll love it.

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2. Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

Mercedes' cars are seldom at their best when targetting driver appeal; that's why it took an out-of-house performance department like AMG (now brought in-house, of course) to really inject some dynamism into its offerings. That fact also makes Mercedes' cruiser cabriolets well-equipped to do well in this chart, and they are, by and large, machines of a mature, secure, self-possessed and luxurious charm which are great at enriching a roof-down journey without necessarily enticing you to breakneck speeds.

The best of them is the middle-sized one, the E-Class Cabriolet, which offers proper four-seater space and usability, and somehow confers greater stature than the smaller C-, without trespassing to the price levels of the open and SL-. The car's got all the technological refinements and luxury cabin lures of other E-Class bodystyles, and feels genuinely rich and enveloping to travel in. Its ride is comfortable and quiet, its character genteel and long-striding; but it needn't be slow or exciting.

The engine range takes in a surprisingly broad selection of diesel options (of both four- and six cylinders) and also includes four- and six-cylinder petrols, although we'd recommend the six-pot options for refinement and smoothness better-suited to the role of a cruiser. Then there's the range-topping AMG E53 4Matic+ with its 429bhp hybrid powertrain, which mixes speed and a discreet sort of involvment with efficiency and good-manners very effectively indeed. 

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3. Mini Convertible

There is evidence that people will pay close to £20,000 in this class for cars that are slow, unresponsive and impractical and feel flimsy and imprecise on the road – provided they come with a roof that lets the sunshine in. Against that background, BMW could have got away with ‘phoning one in’ with this car - but, to its credit, it never has.

The Mini Convertible feels like a much better-engineered car than it needs to be, one of integrity and attention to detail, improved significantly over the car it replaces. It comes in Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper Works forms, the last of those topping 200-horsepower for those who want open-top motoring speed and fun.

Most importanly, the car opens up the vivacious Mini driving experience to the elements without compromising it. And given that open really does mean open with this car and doesn’t with most of its rivals, that’s no mean feat.

4. Lexus LC Convertible

The first big-money convertible on this list is a car dripping in esoteric concept-car design appeal, with a superbly inviting luxury interior and a 457bhp atmospheric V8 engine. Whether that might be enough to tempt you to part with close-to £100,000 for a Lexus LC, which became available in convertible form in 2020, will no doubt come down to whether you like its alternative looks and character, and whether you wouldn't prefer one of the more sporting convertibles that your money might buy.

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If you want a luxury, two-seater cruiser, you'll find an awful lot to like here. The LC is now a more refined car than it was when launched in 2017, having had its runflat tyres traded for better rubber and its suspension retuned for a more supple ride and more poised handling. Unlike in the coupe version, you can't get the LC's 3.5-litre V6 hybrid powertrain here; nor the car's optional four-wheel steering.

But the LC Convertible handles quite neatly for such a heavy car in any case. It's a better in rich, laid-back cruising mode than when driven like a sports car, when the car's superficially direct steering and its woolly-feeling brake pedal stand in the way of top-level driver reward. But still it's a car that it's easy to enjoy at just the right pace.

5. Fiat 500C Electric

Electric cars with convertible bodies have been slow to emerge as the industry has adopted EV technology. One of the earliest EV pioneers, the Tesla Roadster, was an open-top, of course: but if you want a zero-emissions car with a cockpit that's open to the elements now, your options are very few. It's a Smart EQ Fortwo Cabriolet (which doesn't make this top ten, for reasons you can read here) or Fiat's funky new 500 Electric.

The 500 Electric is a convertible in as much as it has a sliding cloth hood that you can wind back behind the rear seats - although you never lose the car's pillars or cantrails. It's the only 500 Electric you can't get in entry-level form, so all versions come with a 117bhp front-mounted electric motor and a 42kWh battery for a claimed 199 miles of WLTP electric range.

Like most EVs, the 500 Electric is good for between 75- and 90 per cent of that claimed range in real-world driving. It has marginally more second-row occupant space than the old 500, but still makes a cramped four-seater. Performance is strong up to about 50mph, and ride and handling are pleasant enough, although they're not as much fun as some might hope. 

However, if you like the idea of listening to the outside world you're coursing through rather than burbling exhaust noise into it, and leaving almost nothing behind as you go, you'll likely enjoy what it offers.

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6. BMW 4 Series Convertible

BMW's new-generation 4-Series arrived in two-door coupe form to begin with, but made UK showrooms in convertible form in 2021. Like the Z4, it has swapped a folding metal hood for a lighter cloth affair; it weighs 150kg more than an equivalent coupe because of the reinforcements necessary to compensate for chopping off the roof; and it has the same rather controversial radiator grille styling that has attracted so much criticism (about which you can make up your own mind).

This is a four-seater cabriolet that seeks to cover a lot of ground. At the upper end of the model range are the four-wheel drive M4 Competition and M440i xDrive versions, which trade on plenty of sporting aggression and driver appeal; but elsewhere there's a range of four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines with often more affordable prices and balanced motive characters.

BMW has boosted cabin isolation and cruising refinement in this car by quite a margin; it's the sort of convertible you can easily hold a conversation in when the roof is down and the windows up, but if you want a more refined version, best avoid the runflat-equipped M440i.

Driver appeal is present to greater effect than it was in the floppier former version, and perceived cabin quality has likewise taken a leap. This is a very complete convertible, in other words and - grille styling aside, perhaps - an easy one to recommend to anyone.

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7. BMW Z4

We are now onto BMW's third model generation of the Z4 roadster. Now a two-seater drop-top with a folding cloth roof rather than a metal one, this is the car that was developed in tandem with the Toyota GR Supra (which can't be had as an open-top), and it's out to restore a bit of credibility to BMW's claim that any modern Z-car can be considered a natural driver's car as well as a sunny afternoon cruiser.

It succceeds at that to a point. Wider tracks and new axles improve the car's handling, while moving the car's driver's hip point forward, closer to the rotational middle of the chassis, helps you to feel in touch with the car's various moments and movements. The Z4 still isn't capable of poised driver engagement as you would find it in a Porsche 718 Boxster, a Lotus Elise or an Alpine A110, but it's now reasonably well-balanced, decently controlled, and can hold its own on a twisty road.

UK prices currently start from a whisker under £40,000, and engines include 194-  and 255bhp, 2.0-litre petrol four-pots and a range-topping 335bhp, 3.0-litre turbo straight six. All versions are rear-driven, with eight-speed automatic gearboxes.

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8. Morgan Plus Four

Little on four wheels is better at slowly sucking out the marrow from a long summer day than a Morgan. These singular, traditional, aristocratic English roadsters are a breed apart both from converted cabriolets and more modern, conventional sports cars. They look like nothing else and, despite having BMW engines and a new all-aluminium chassis, they still drive in exactly the same way.

Surprisingly rich and laid back in some ways, a bit rough and physical in others, and yet with plenty of turbocharged pace when you need it, the Plus Four can be a busy, testing car to drive quickly. It's anything but refined, and both body control and outright grip have appreciably modest limits. But deploy the car at just the right pace, on narrowish country roads where its narrowness is a virtue and its medium-paced steering suits the radius of the corners ahead, and it's a rare pleasure to take in.

The car's six-cylinder sibling the Plus Six is quicker and grippier still, of course. But it's the Plus Four which is more ideally suited to pootling down a sunny British lane with the roof down, and that is able to enrich your journey and add sense of occasion like few others. Giant-killing feats of performance and handling are really neither promised nor expected of this car - and there's something both liberating and wonderful about that.

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9. Audi A5 Cabriolet

The Audi A5 Cabriolet is a car that’s never going to sizzle your senses, though it can still be enjoyable. It is the archetypal 'better to own than to drive' car. At speed, its acoustically lined hood is smashing at insulating you from the outside world, and with it down – a process that requires just one touch of a button and is achieved in merely 15.0sec – it’s bluster-free with the windows up, too.

Fun? Not much (Audi's old S5 has been removed from the lineup, leaving a choice of slightly humdrum four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines). Charming? Little more. Desirable? Absolutely. There isn’t much better for relaxing, care-free, open-top motoring without breaking the bank for it. 

10. Jeep Wrangler

Do not adjust your sets, folks. Yes, this is a Jeep Wrangler offroader in a convertibles chart; and that's because this is one of the only 4x4s left on the market that comes with a fully removable, three-panel 'freedom top' roof (well, what else were they likely to call it?); or an easier-stowing 'sunrider' cloth top as an option.

Where open-air driving experiences are concerned, you can't really get more extreme. Take a set of Torx screwdrivers to your Wrangler and you'll find you can not only remove the forward and rear sections of the roof, but also fold down the windscreen and remove the passenger side doors entirely. That's just in case you find yourself wading through custard and fancy getting some in your mouth, presumably.

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The Wrangler currently comes with a 2.0-litre, 268bhp turbo petrol engine, the old diesel having been discontinued; a 4XE plug-in hybrid is coming. Fashionable three-door models can be had instead of a five-door, if you want to boost the car's kerbside appeal. The driving experience remains just a little rough and ready, but it's perfectly civilised considering how tough and capable the car is, and it needn't put you off the idea of using one every day.

The Wrangler is certainly not short of fun factor. The only question is, would you know what to do with it?