Best convertibles for 2021 – Roadshow

I love a good convertible. Only my very first car had an actual roof. Since then I’ve only driven convertibles, from a Jeep CJ7 to a Honda del Sol to my current obsession with Mazda Miatas. I will never not have a convertible in my stable.

And why not? Convertibles are fun, they feature zippy powertrains and they’re different. Sure, sometimes they leak when you go through the car wash and keeping a soft top clean is a major pain, but that’s all a very small price to pay for the eternal grin I have on my face whenever I get behind the wheel of a drop top.

I’ve assembled a list of some of Roadshow’s favorite and best convertibles available today. Take a read and check out some of the tips I’ve got for dealing with owning a convertible daily driver afterward. 

Craig Cole/Roadshow

There is a reason why the answer is always Miata. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is the quintessential convertible: small, rear-wheel drive and room for two. The latest Miatas are available with a soft top or in the gorgeous RF trim with a targa top. To take down the soft top, simply undo one central latch and push the top back. To lower the RF, the car must be moving no faster than six miles per hour and takes 13 seconds.

The 2.0-liter I4 engine pushes out 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque and yes, you can get it with a six-speed manual transmission. It’s not the quickest thing in a straight line but when the road turns twisty you can embarrass much more powerful cars with its brilliant handling.

The best part? They start at $27,825 including $995 for destination, and even the most expensive RF can be had for right around $35,000.

Read our 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata review.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

If you want to talk about value for money, it’s all about the Chevrolet Corvette. This mid-engine bad boy starts at $68,495 including $1,095 for destination, but it gives six-figure super cars a run for their money. The power retractable hard top can be lowered in 13 seconds at speeds up to 30 miles-per-hour. 

A 6.2-liter V8 pushes out 490 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. You can add the $5,995 Z51 Performance Package to add 5 points on each of those numbers, a limited-slip differential, sport suspension, Brembo brakes and sticky summer tires, all of which work to compel the ‘Vette from 0-60 mph in under three seconds. 

Take that, Ferrari.

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The BMW 8 Series Convertible can be had in 840i or M850i xDrive trims, or those who want to go bonkers can get the full-on M8 convertible. I like the middle M850i for its blend of power and luxury and the addition of all-wheel drive. Here you get all the Merino leather you could ever want, plus the option of wood, piano black or carbon fiber interior trim. Heated seats, armrests and steering wheel are here, as are ventilated seats and the option of a neck warmer which you should 100% spring for. 

You can opt for a 1,375-watt Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System as well as plenty of super-techy driver’s aids like a backup assistant that can trace the car’s reverse path for getting out of tight parking situations. 

A 4.4-liter twin turbo V8 engine is good for 523 horsepower 553 pound-feet of torque in the M850i and the multilayer fabric soft top can lower in 15 seconds at speeds up to 30 mph. Of course, all this German goodness doesn’t come cheaply. Expect to pay $122,395, including $995 for destination just to get a bare-bones M850i. 

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Emme Hall/Roadshow

It’s big, it’s beautiful and it costs a fortune. Yes, the Rolls-Royce Dawn is for the fancy-pants rich folks among us, with a starting price of $363,500. It sports a well-insulated soft top that can lower in 22 seconds at speeds of up to 32 mph. 

The Dawn’s 6.6-liter twin-turbo V12 engine is good for 563 horses and 605 pound-feet of torque that work silently — and I mean silently — in the background. This thing is like driving a cloud, and there is so much open-pore wood in the cabin of this car you’d think you were in the middle of Muir Woods. You can have your heated and cooled seats on at the same time while also getting a massage, and the unique climate control means you can set different temperatures for your body and your feet. And hey, if you ever get stuck in the rain there is an umbrella in the door. How handy. Speaking of doors, you don’t have to close them yourself. You can just push a button. Only the hoi-polloi close their own doors. 

Of course, most customers don’t pay for a base Dawn, instead opting for the bespoke method where Rolls-Royce will customize your paint job or even, and this is not a joke, harvest a tree from your estate for the interior wood.

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Steven Ewing/Roadshow

To get the best performance out of a convertible, look no further than the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet. A 3.8-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder engine is good for 640 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque with an eight-speed PDK transmission, motivating the 3,800-pound convertible. Top speed is 205 mph, it can scoot to 60 mph in just 2.7 seconds and cover the quarter-mile in 10.6 seconds. Oh, and the soft top is pretty quick, too. You can lower it in 12 seconds at speeds of up to 31 mph. 

All-wheel drive keeps this thing from oversteering too hard through the twisties while grip is provided by Pirelli NA 255/35 tires on 20-inch wheels in the front and massive 315/30 on 21s in the rear. 

The Porsche is pricey, though. Look to pay $217,650 to start, including $1,350 for destination.

Read our 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S review.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Of course, if you want super car convertible performance and looks, you’ll have to step up significantly, and here I like the McLaren 720S Spider. First off, the convertible roof is available in carbon fiber or a cool electrochromic glass that can change from tinted to clear. Regardless of roof choice, it lowers in 11 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph.

The 720S Spider is powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 churning out 710 angry horses and 568 pound-feet of torque. Power goes to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. With a curb weight of 2,900 pounds, the McLaren can scoot to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds and hits the quarter-mile in 10.4 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 212 mph. Great googly moogly. 

Now since this is a super car, you get super car looks including billionaire — excuse me, dihedral — doors and sculpted body panels that really make the McLaren stand out in a crowd. The cost? Just $317,500, including $2,500 for destination.

Read our 2020 McLaren 720S Spider review.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

If American muscle is what you’re looking for, check out the Chevrolet Camaro convertible. The top can be raised and lowered in 14 seconds at speeds up to 30 mph and while you can go bonkers with the ZL1, I like the naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 engine. This nets 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque going to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission or a 10-speed automatic. That’s plenty of power, and you don’t get hit with the ZL1’s gas-guzzler fee.

A V8 Camaro starts at $40,995, including $995 for destination, which is a decent price for a classic American pony car.

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Mini

I like the Mini Cooper S convertible for its dual function soft top. You can slide it back halfway for a bit of an open air feeling, or push a button and watch it fully open in 18 seconds at speeds up to 18 mph. Plus, you can get a Union Jack design woven right in. Bonus!

Aside from the unique top, the Mini is just a blast to drive. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine pushes out 189 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch unit putting power to the front wheels. Minis are famous for their go-kart-like handling, and the convertible is no different. It’s low-slung, diminutive proportions and power delivery just mean it’s a blast when the road gets curvy.

Expect to pay a starting price of $32,250, including $850 destination for a Mini Cooper S convertible.

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Mercedes-Benz

It’s tough to find a four-seat convertible that actually allows adults to sit in the rear seats, but the Mercedes-Benz E-Class does a decent job at it. Legroom in the rear is 34.1 inches. That may seem small, but compared to the paltry 29.5 inches of rear legroom in the BMW 8-Series convertible it’s downright palatial.

The E-Class also has the Aircap wind deflector that reduces air turbulence for front and rear seat passengers, and the Airscarf system keeps all necks warm. The top can be lowered in 20 seconds at speeds of up to 31 mph.

The E 450 Cabriolet is powered by a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder turbocharged engine. The 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque gets an extra 21 ponies and 184 pound-feet of torque thanks to the mild-hybrid EQ Boost system. Expect to pay an even $73,000, including $1,050 for destination.

Read our 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class review.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

If you want your convertible to go nearly everywhere, you can’t go wrong with the Jeep Wrangler. However, be prepared to use some muscle to go topless. The three-piece hard top has two “freedom panels” that you can take off on the fly, sort of. It still requires tools and time, but you can store them in your Jeep if you haven’t overloaded yourself with recovery and camping gear. The larger third of the hard top needs tools and a pal to remove — and you need a place to store it in your garage. 

There are two soft tops available, but don’t think they lower at the touch of a button. There are windows to remove, zippers to be pulled and Velcro straps to be fastened. It’s usually easiest to just keep the top down from March through November and if it rains… oh well.

Still, even in its base form the Wrangler can get you far from civilization, to say nothing of the top Rubicon trim with its front and rear lockers and sway bar disconnect. Buyers get a choice of a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mill, a 3.6-liter V6 with or without e-Torque or a 3.0-liter V6 diesel. Expect to pay $29,970 for a base 2-door Sport, including $1,495 for destination.

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Comparison of the best convertibles for 2021

Category Name Convertible top speed Base price
Best convertible overall 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata 3 seconds soft top/13 seconds hard top $27,825
Best convertible for the money 2021 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible 13 seconds $68,495
Best luxury convertible 2021 BMW 8 Series convertible 15 seconds $122,395
Best ultra-luxury convertible 2021 Rolls-Royce Dawn 22 seconds $363,500
Best performance convertible 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet 12 seconds $217,650
Best ultra-performance convertible 2021 McLaren 720S Spider 11 seconds $317,500
Best muscle car convertible 2021 Chevrolet Camaro V8 Convertible 14 seconds $40,995
Best small convertible 2021 Mini Cooper S Convertible 18 seconds $32,250
Best four-seater convertible 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet 20 seconds $73,000
Best convertible SUV 2021 Jeep Wrangler 18 seconds Sky One-Touch/est 5 minutes soft top/est 10 minutes hard top $29,970

The Mazda MX-5 Miata will always be found on any best convertible list.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

What’s the best convertible to buy?

The best convertible to buy is the one that you can afford, fits your lifestyle and makes you smile. Seriously, I could tell you all about how the Mazda Miata is the greatest convertible of all time, but if you have a family of six or regularly roll with three friends, it’s not going to be the best convertible for you. Similarly, if you’re on a beer budget, the champagne-like Rolls-Royce Dawn isn’t for you. 

The good news is that there is a convertible for everyone. If you like to go off-roading, get a Jeep Wrangler. If you’re into straight-line power, the Chevrolet Camaro has got you covered. And hey, if money is no object, you could do much worse than the McLaren 720S.

Is a hard top or soft top convertible better?

This all comes down to personal preference. A hard top is usually electronically operated and with moving parts comes the chance of failure. However, a hard top is often better sealed against leaks and can withstand the weight of winter snow better. They also are better insulated and more secure if you have to park on the street.

Soft tops are often quicker to take down, although the Jeep Wrangler’s soft top is a bit complicated. They can be a less expensive option than a hard top, too. However, they require extra care to keep the fabric clean and contribute to a lot of cabin noise. If your soft top of choice comes with the option of a glass rear window instead of a plastic one, pay the extra money for the glass. The plastic ones scratch easily and within a year you won’t be able to see too well out the back.

You may also find that a soft top is a magnet for thieves. I have adopted the habit of keeping nothing of value in my car and keeping it unlocked. A knife through your soft top can be really expensive. Let the jerk open the door to rifle through your crappy CD collection. 

With the right tires, a convertible can easily be driven year-round.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Are convertibles good in rain?

Yes, convertibles are good in the rain. Older soft tops may leak a bit in a deluge, but new convertibles shouldn’t have any problems. One thing you should look out for, however, are your tires. Hear me out: Convertibles often come from the factory with summer tires, which are made to perform best at higher temperatures. Once the rain comes and temps dip, your tires may not offer as much grip in the wet. Those who live in colder climes are well sorted to grab a set of dedicated winter tires.

Can you drive a soft top convertible in the winter?

Absolutely you can drive a soft top convertible in the winter. Be sure to clean off all the snow before you head out and heed my previous warning about tires. The soft top won’t insulate you as well as a hard top, so you may want to bring a sweater and crank that heat all the way up. 

Bundling up and dropping the soft top on a clear day with snow all around is one of life’s few pleasures, but remember that many soft tops shrink a bit when it gets cold. They may be easy to take down, but putting it back up may take a bit of muscle.

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