The British Open
As Summer gets into gear, thoughts turn to convertible motoring. Jonathan Crouch offers some suggestions for a few models you might want to consider.
There aren’t as many convertible models on the market as there used to be – mainly because there aren’t as many coupes on the market as there used to be. With the rise and rise of the SUV, the coupe body style has somewhat fallen from favour in recent years – and most convertibles are based on coupe platforms.
Nevertheless, there are still some great drop-tops about. Here are a few of the very best….
Affordable – MINI Convertible
It’s pretty hard to take exception to MINI’s third generation Convertible model, particularly in its latest mildly updated form. Smarter and more media-savvy than before, it’s also more efficient. Best of all, the stiff chassis makes it surprisingly good to drive. As a result, it’s far more the kind of car that every MINI should be. And not before time.
This third generation MINI Convertible is not only bigger than its predecessors but is also a much more solid-feeling thing. The adoption of BMW’s UKL1 platform and extra strengthening has now made it feel impressively rigid and there’s little of the juddering body flex that you used to get at speed over bumps. The electrically-folding fabric roof can be raised or lowered in 18s at speeds of up to 18mph and most models come with a useful ‘Rain Warner’ app that monitors the weather and alerts you to climate changes ahead of time, so you don’t get caught out by sudden showers. Cabin buffeting is also well managed, providing you’re able to keep the side windows up and click the optional wind deflector into place across the rear seats.
With the soft-top raised, this MINI is very well insulated from the hubbub of the outside world. Where some cars with a canvas roof become uncomfortably loud at higher speeds, here occupants can carry on a conversation without having to shout. In changeable weather, there’s an alternative to full retraction of the top thanks to a feature that allows you to open the front section of the fabric top by 40 centimetres so that it works more like a sunroof – or like the kind of top you get on the rival Fiat 500C. This is ideal for driving at motorway pace or when the weather is a little too chilly to go fully open.
Roadster - Mazda MX-5 RF
It would have been incredibly easy for Mazda to ruin the MX-5 by putting a folding hard top roof on it. Just as well then, that instead of rushing this concept to market, the Japanese company did a proper job on this car. It's not just an MX-5 with a different roof. Mazda have managed to imbue the RF derivative with a more mature feel without losing the fun factor. More power for the 2.0-litre version is the finishing touch.
The MX-5 RF's electrically retractable hardtop consists of front, middle and rear roof sections - and a rear screen. When the top is lowered, the front and middle portions are stowed together, while the rear glass sits behind the seats, leaving the rear roof section in place to create a unique open-topped look, plus a cabin feeling that combines a sense of open air freedom with the impression of being securely ensconced within the car.
A 5mm increase in roof height aside, the RF retains the same overall length, width and wheelbase as the standard MX-5 convertible, but thanks to gently downward-slopping buttresses that tuck in at the sides to create a teardrop shape, the RF's elegant fastback silhouette accentuates the MX-5's dynamic and contemporary sports car proportions in quite a unique way.
Otherwise, things are much as they are in any other MX-5. True to sportscar tradition, there's a stitched leather-trimmed short-throw gearshift lever, with further premium leather on a grippy three-spoke steering wheel that looks and feels great and now adjusts for reach as well as height. Through it, you view three satin chrome-ringed gauges, a large rev counter centrally positioned in pride of place.
Mid-Sized Executive – Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet
This Mercedes’ C-Class Cabriolet targets open-topped versions of BMW’s 4 Series and Audi’s A5 more effectively than the Three-Pointed Star has ever managed before. Elegant styling makes it stand out in the showroom, plus you get sophisticated convertible touches from some of Mercedes’ more exotic drop-top models.
On the road, this C-Class Cabriolet comes with a multi-layered fabric roof that can activate in less than 20s at speeds of up to around 30mph. Once the hood is unclipped and on its way backwards, what Mercedes calls an ‘AIRCAP’ draught stop system springs up on the windscreen header rail. At the same time, a wind deflector can glide up behind the rear seats and together, these two elements are very effective in limiting cabin buffeting at speed. Add in the comfort of the ‘AIRSCARF’ neck-level heating system and this becomes a very civilised means of al fresco travel.
That roof mechanism, along with the body strengthening necessary to accommodate it, takes its toll on the scales of course. As a result, this model is 125kgs heavier than the C-Class Coupe model it’s based upon, extra bulk you really feel when you’re pushing on around twisting secondary roads. On the plus side though, this Cabriolet is stable and very well balanced, aided by a standard ‘DYNAMIC SELECT’ driving modes system that not only tweaks the throttle and steering but also alters responses from the standard ‘AGILITY CONTROL’ adaptive suspension.
Convertible – Super Luxury – Lexus LC Convertible
Not long ago, if Lexus had launched a car into this segment, it would have been a direct competitor to the Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet. But it says much for the way that the LC Coupe has changed our perceptions of what this brand's dynamically capable of that we now have no trouble in perceiving this LC Convertible as a rival to far more sporting large luxury soft tops like the Porsche 911 Cabriolet.
There’s only one engine on offer, a 32-valve old-school normally aspirated petrol V8, but it’s more than up to the job of moving this car along very quickly indeed, storming to 62mph in 5.0s en route to 168mph. Inevitably, this 457bhp 5.0-litre powertrain lacks the torque that would come as part of the turbo technology that all this car’s competitors use, but Lexus reckon you won’t really register that thanks to the trick this V8-powered LC has up its sleeve; a 10-speed automatic gearbox.
This open-topped model represents the Lexus brand’s first use of a fabric folding top, rather than one with metal-folding panels. It doesn’t activate quite as quickly as the roof of an open-topped Aston Martin Vantage, but a raising or lowering time of just 15 seconds is more than acceptable and it can happen at speeds of up to 31mph.