Solar Stratification: Where Have All The Droptops Gone?

Mazda Miata

Mazda’s Miata remains both affordable and compelling.

Washington, DC – So, you’re looking for transparency in government? Aren’t we all? And if you hope to find it within the Beltway, best to do it behind the wheel of a convertible. Of course, if you’re a deep-pocketed lobbyist your choices are many, beginning (alphabetically) with Alfa, Audi and Aston and continuing – as you’d expect – thru Bentley, BMW, Ferrari’s California T, Jaguar’s F-Type and McLaren’s 650S Spider. Of course there are more, and most embrace the low six figures as easily as you and I might embrace a $50 bill. But in the same way you’ll be hard-pressed to find the $100K townhouse in this town (crack houses go for more…) it is painfully difficult to find an affordable convertible. As this is written the sun is shining, temps are in the low ‘80s – and it’s still worth trying.

Setting the bar at under $30K puts a number on a term – ‘affordable’ – that is, at best, negotiable. From my underpaid/under-employed perspective, $30K with roughly 20% down equates to sixty monthlies at less than $500 per month. (Of note: if addicted to caffeine and coffee you could easily spend $200 per month on smokes and Starbucks.) So, with the imaginary budget burning a very real hole in our pocket we set forth, in roughly alphabetical order, to see what’s out there…beyond, of course, the moon and the sun and the stars. They’re why we’re here in the first place.

Ford Mustang Convt 2015

Ford’s Mustang: powerful, practical and accessible.

With roughly 500 magazine covers (and counting) since its ’15 launch, the availability of a Mustang convertible won’t be news to anyone; the only thing we haven’t seen is V. Putin behind the wheel, without – of course – a shirt. And while there are those of us wishing this all-new Mustang had dropped weight in a manner not unlike its F-Series sibling, you really can’t argue with Ford’s thinking on this; the newest Mustang represents more of the same, just substantially better. At a well-equipped base of $29K-and-change the Mustang droptop just squeaks in under our limit, but you can expect a transaction price on the base model to be less. You can also expect to spend something close to $50K if allowing your horsepower-driven fantasies to roam unchecked. It’s best to stay closer to $30K – or simply rent one.

If there exists one roadster that defines the contemporary droptop, it’s Mazda’s evergreen Miata. Today’s model remains compellingly attractive, especially when costing you but $24K. Think of it as your high school girlfriend/boyfriend at the 10th reunion: a tad less playful, but able to speak in complete sentences. The next one will supply more Miata while delivering less weight. For those that enjoyed the Lotus-inspired architecture over these many years, however, the Fat Lady has sung. Adieu Elan – Hello Honda.

Not looking like anything from Lotus are the Mini brand’s droptops. For those thinking they want their Mini in maxi mode there’s the traditional 4-place convertible. If, however, you can count your close friends on but one finger then the Mini Roadster would be your gotta’-have-it droptop. As this is written both variants are on the old platforms, but the new platform (currently underneath only the newish Coupe and 4-door) should be under the 4-place droptop soon. The jury remains out on the future of the 2-seater – at least in its present Dudley Do-Wrong form.

VW Beetle Convt 2015

VW’s Beetle fits both old hippies, young hipsters.

From here we go to the other retro-inspired confection, Volkswagen’s Beetle. And if the idea of spending $250K on Ferrari’s California T strikes you as incomparably silly (you can, after all, buy crack houses for less than that…), know that the base price of the Beetle droptop is but 1/10th of that Italian Stallion. Yup, a number around $26K will furnish you all the comforts of the 4-place Beetle, with enough rays to worry any dermatologist. Despite our very real affection for Mazda’s Miata in any new/old guise, the Beetle – especially with its 1.8 liter turbo powertrain – may be the sweetspot in this modest collection.

We’ll wrap this up with three outliers, Fiat’s 500c, the Polaris Slingshot and smart fortwo. The Fiat isn’t a classic droptop, but with its ’50s-inspired footprint and a still-reasonable $20-something price point, it rings true – especially in urban-centric venues. Our strong preference would be for the Abarth variant, but in its cabrio form you’re talking almost $30K. Better, we think, to pop for the cooking version, using the leftover funds for Ducati’s new Scrambler.

The Slingshot, from bike and ATV maker Polaris, is marketed as a motorcycle, despite a sports car-like cockpit and GM-supplied 4-cylinder. With three wheels and only the most minimal attempts at interior comfort, this is a bare-chested take on the classic sports car, albeit with just three wheels on which to sit it. That, along with bringing to market a rear ¾ view that looks to have been designed with an ugly stick. At prices ranging from $20K to roughly $25K these are cheap seats, but probably won’t play day-to-day.

Daimler’s smart division has yet to look too smart, at least here in the US. But if, in your urban area, parking is tight and you remember how to spell metrosexual (m-e-t-r-o-s-e-x-u-a-l) this may be the droptop for you. And the cost of a bag – to wear over your head while driving – won’t alter its affordability, with a modest window sticker of just $18K.

Finally, we’ll proffer an Honorable Mention. Chevrolet’s Camaro comes in roughly 5% above our self-imposed budget. Figure, however, that incentives will apply on most days of the week ending in ‘day’ and you, your significant other and your banker can all applaud the decision. With the top up it supplies all of the sunshine of a World War II-era U-boat, but lowered DC becomes Droptop Central. Totally transparent.