Currently reading: Top 10 best convertibles and cabriolets 2023
An 'al fresco' driving experience is a great way to refresh the senses - and when better to try it than summer?

There are few motoring pleasures that can beat going roof down on a balmy summer's day. On the right road and in the right car your sense of enjoyment will be heightened by all the extra smells, sights and sounds that come as standard when you’re driving  al fresco. In fact, lowering the hood in a convertible can improve almost any journey, day or night, hot or cold.

The good news is that convertibles come in all shapes and sizes, from fabric-topped superminis through to luxurious boulevardiers. Each one aims to inject a little extra stimulation into your daily drive by providing the opportunity to get up close and personal with the elements at the drop of a roof.  

Our list here pretty much covers the full spectrum of convertible and cabriolets, but all of them share an ability to be used everyday. That means we’ve left out the hardcore lightweight specials with a Heath Robinson roof mechanism and the hardcore hypercars that are more targas than true roadsters.

What our top 10 also share is an ability to invigorate beyond the sum of their parts, as each one can turn an ordinary journey into a moment to savour. If you haven’t experienced open top motoring before then you really should, and any one of these machines will prove the perfect introduction to going topless.

1Mazda MX-5

There’s a reason the Mazda MX-5 is the world’s best selling roadster. In fact, there are many. Nearly thirty-five years after the original made its debut, the compact Japanese two-seater continues to serve-up affordable driver fun and represents one of the quickest as easy ways to enjoy good weather at the drop of a hat (or roof).

A large part of the MX-5’s appeal lies in its traditional front-engined rear drive layout that serves-up agile, engaging and throttle adjustable handling. Then there’s the fact that it fits in largely the same compact footprint as its 1989 great-grandfather and weighs around 1000kg - few driver’s cars feel as lithe and right-sized on the road. It also means that even the entry-level 130bhp 1.5-litre feels zingy enough, although the more muscular 181bhp 2.0-litre gets firmer suspension, a strengthening strut brace and limited slip differential.

Then there’s the manual fabric roof, which can be flipped down in seconds with one hand and raised just as easily when the weather closes in. For those looking for a little extra security and comfort then the RF version features a powered folding hardtop. Whichever you choose, the Mazda is perfectly placed to make the best of the sunshine.

Elsewhere, the MX-5 is pretty much as easy to live with as any Mazda, thanks to its light and precise controls, excellent build quality and low running costs. Yes the cabin is cosy and the boot is just 150-litres, but there’s enough space here to handle weekends away and enough refinement and comfort that the daily commute needn’t be a drag, particularly when the sun is shining.

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Mazda mx 5 top 10

2Porsche 718 Boxster

It would be a stretch to call the Boxster one of Porsche’s best kept secrets, but its entry-level status and the shadow cast by the legendary 911 means this mid-engined machine doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. You see, when the roads are good and the sun is shining there are few cars that are more entertaining and enthralling than the Boxster.

The arrival of four-cylinder engines in 2016 robbed the Porsche of some of its aural appeal, but there’s no doubting the potency of the turbocharged units, which knock the old flat-sixes for, erm, six when it comes to straight line pace. And if you do want the full mechanical orchestra, then the 4.0-litre GTS will happily provide it, especially when the roof is down, something that can be easily achieved with the touch of a button. Speaking of which, once the fabric covering is stowed you’re treated to buffet-free progress, meaning topless long haul trips aren’t a chore.

Yet regardless of engine it’s the Porsche’s chassis that shines the brightest, its perfectly balanced and endlessly adjustable handling drawing you into the action. Then there’s the perfectly weighted steering, the strong grip, the cast iron body control and brakes that are as progressive as they are powerful.

Take things a little easier and you’ll discover an interior that’s roomy and rich in material quality, plus a pair of luggage compartments (one front and another rear) that make this one of the most practical two-seater drop tops. Sure, it’s not cheap but the incredible engineering and depth of ability on offer mean that the Porsche feels like it’s worth every penny.

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Porsche 718 boxster top 10

3. Audi TT Roadster

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 its 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 197bhp 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. Be quick though, because the TT's card has been marked - another victim of the drive toward electrification it'll disappear from price lists shortly.

Audi tt roadster top 10

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4. Porsche 911 Cabriolet

For decades Porsche 911 has been one of the most usable sports cars money can buy, and its appeal is arguably only enhanced by lopping the roof off. Purists will baulk at the thought of a 911 Cabriolet, but with the latest 992 generation machine you get all the usual open-air highlights but with none of the dynamic demerits.

An ultra stiff chassis means the Cabriolet handles in the same incisive and involving manner as the coupe, and while the 911’s historic handling traits have been tamed over the years, with its time-honoured rear-engined layout the Porsche still feels like nothing else on the road. It’s quick too, with even the entry-level 380bhp Carrera capable of 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds, propelled all the way by a howling flat-six that can still get your nape prickled. For those looking for the ultimate adrenaline pump, then only the Turbo S will do. 

Like all 911s (wild GT3 aside) the Cabriolet is a 2+2, although those rear seats are best reserved for very small children. When not in use they can be folded flat for extra luggage carrying capacity. Practicality is further enhanced by the insulated and powered fabric hood, which gives almost couple-like refinement when in place, yet can be lowered quickly and easily when you want to get up close and personal with the elements. And if you don’t want the full convertible experience then the Targa should do the job, it’s trick folding roof delivering the perfect halfway house.

Porsche 911 cabriolet top 10

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5. 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.

Bmw 4 series top 10

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6. Bentley Continental GTC

Could this be the ultimate iteration of the Bentley Continental? If you’re going to have one of the most opulent, expensive and attention-grabbing grand tourers of the lot, then you might as well go the whole hog and go for the convertible so you can more clearly see the world looking at you while you’re lording it over them.

You can have the car with the firm’s turbine-like and hugely decadent W12 (although it’s soon to be pensioned off), but the Conti is at its best with the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 and in driver-oriented S guise. With 543bhp it’s got more than enough velvet-lined muscle to get a real wriggle on when you’re in a hurry, while aurally it runs the gamut from bellowing brute to something altogether softer and more restrained when just cruising. It also acts like less of a boat anchor in the nose, helping the big Benters feel remarkable light on its feet when pressing on through a series of corners.

Of course this is still GT at heart, so the air suspension can waft with the best of them, while the interior embraces you and three travelling companions in unrivalled luxury. The richness of the materials, quality of the craftsmanship and sheer sense of occasion are hard to beat. Throw in the appeal of a folding fabric roof that’s coupe-quiet when erect yet allows you bask in the glow of admiring (or resentful, delete as applicable) looks in a matter of seconds and you have one of the most opulently desirable drop tops on the planet. Just add the Cote d’Azure for the ultimate convertible experience.

Bentley continental gtc top 10

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7. Lexus LC Convertible

With its esoteric concept-car design appeal, superbly inviting luxury interior and 457bhp atmospheric V8 engine, the Lexus LC has no trouble grabbing attention. 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.

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 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.

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8. 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.

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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. 

And for those who want to enjoy the sounds of nature even more clearly there’s a new Electric version. A range of 125 miles means short drop top hops will be the norm, but with just 150 coming to the UK exclusivity will be guaranteed. Still, you’ll need to dig deep because the zero emissions open air Mini will set you back an eye-watering £52,500.

Most importantly,  all versions open 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. 

Mini cabrio top 10

9. 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.

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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 percent 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.

Fiat 500c top 10

10. 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.

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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.

Mercedes benz e class cabriolet top 10



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James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

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For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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gavsmit 11 July 2022

Just don't drive one in most of the UK's cities now because it's much easier to get car-jacked.