Best convertible cars 2021 - our top roofless performance cars
There's nothing quite like the wind in your hair as you drive, but which are the best convertible cars for keen drivers?
In the UK market, convertible cars could be seen as a genre of vehicle aimed at the eternal optimist but this country does have the second highest ratio of drop-tops per capita of any in the world so there's plenty of glass-half-full motorists about. It’s not surprising then to see that manufactures fall over themselves to chop the roof off various sports and supercars with varying degrees of success. Removing the roof can often come at the expense of sound driving dynamics but the best convertible cars manage it with very little penalty.
As a result buying a convertible sports car can be be a minefield of shimmying mirrors and dreaded scuttle shake, but if you have a penchant for endless headroom yet still place the thrill of driving at the top of your agenda, these are our favourite ways of enjoying the (lack of) British sun, roof up or down.
Convertible cars: the main types explained
Before we round-up our evo droptop favorites, we take a look at the different types of convertibles on the market.
Roof designs and folding mechanisms have diversified as the convertible's popularity has risen. From the small aperture of a Targa to a fully reclining hard-top, each topless form offers security, refinement and puts you in-touch with the outside world to varying degrees. Most importantly severed finger tips are no longer being fished out of rusty rain gutters...
Soft-top convertible cars
The humble and original convertible configuration of the soft-top remains. Raised and lowered at the flick of the switch or by an arcing arm - manual is always better - it is light and more easily packaged when down. The multi-layered fabric materials used today for soft-tops do a far better job at insulating the cabin from sound and the elements than the set-ups of old.
The soft top roof’s days looked to be numbered a few years back as the rise of the folding hard-top took hold, but many brands are returning to fabric arrangements in search of the weight saving and packaging benefits they afford. Fabric roofs range from the popper-fixed wrestling match that purports to keep the rain out of a Caterham to the slick sound and weather sealed electric canopy on a Rolls Royce Dawn.
Hard-top convertible cars
Mercedes was the first manufacturer to really mainstream the folding hardtop roof when it launched the first generation SLK. The idea was to improve refinement, but with that came significant weight penalties that often hampered the handling balance. Questionable design was also a compromise, as all too often models would be hit pretty intensely with the ugly stick – Ferrari California anyone?
Since then folding hardtops have found their niche, now usually residing in mid-engined supercars like the Ferrari F8 Spider and McLaren 720S Spider. The apparent weight and packaging penalties don’t seem to have such a negative effect when sitting over a compact cabin as in these models, while usefully aiding refinement.
Targa-roofed convertible cars
The targa roof is a compromise between the full convertible and the fixed roof coupe that allows a more open cabin while retaining the chassis stiffness that is so important to the car’s dynamics.
Porsche has recently re-developed the Targa derivative of the 911. Seating the removable roof section above the flat-six to open a small inlet above the cabin. A similar design can be found in the new MX-5 RF. This halfway house style is the next step on from having a sunroof without opting for a full blown convertible.
Cars with no roof
Doing away with any protection from British inclemency is an option only for a hardcore few. Here, weight shaving takes precedence over purpose and practicality and such cars by nature are not strictly-speaking convertibles.
Totally roofless cars are normally the reserve of the track or, weather permitting, weekend jaunts. So if you’re looking for usability on a day-to-day basis Radicals and Atoms are best avoided.
Best convertible cars top 10
Ferrari 812 GTS
Kicking off our list is not just a drop-top Ferrari, but one with a naturally aspirated V12 engine mounted ahead of the driver, putting it in a class of one if you want open-air access to 12 cylinders in front of you untouched by a turbocharger. The 812 GTS was revealed in 2019 as the first series-production V12 convertible from Ferrari in generations, sharing all key elements with the 812 Superfast, and more recently the 812 Competizione.
Tucked right up almost underneath the dashboard sits Ferrari’s 6.5-litre V12, producing 789bhp and 529lb ft of torque. It pulls effectively from just above idle and doesn’t then stop until nearly 9000rpm (the limiter calls time at 8900rpm), the final third of the rev band possessing all the manic energy of a 1-litre superbike. It’s connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and deploys a vast armada of electronic systems. Zero to 60mph takes ‘less than three seconds’ and the top speed matches that of the coupe at 211mph+.
The convertible bit is new, however, with Ferrari’s preferred folding hard-top roof slipping underneath a bespoke rear tonneau. When lowered, the effect isn’t one of being completely open to the elements – large buttresses aft of the cabin make it more of a Targa-plus – but we think you’ll agree that any extended access to what is one of the world’s most stunning engines is a good thing, so if you can afford the £293,150 asking price we’d recommend you snap it up while you can.
Morgan Plus Four
If your search for open-top motoring includes a bit (OK, a lot) of nostalgia then the Morgan Plus Four offers an experience that’s unlike pretty much all others. Yet while this post-war cabriolet might look old-world, in reality it’s actually very new, only ‘new’ in a different sort of way.
That’s because in 2018 Morgan introduced a whole new generation of aluminium chassis, pairing that classic old-world charm with a new construction method and thoroughly modern BMW powertrains.
The new Plus Four shares its 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with many a BMW (and Toyota), while there’s a whole raft of new tech inside the cabin to make it a more pleasant and less compromised experience than its archaic predecessors offered. Just don’t go thinking the Plus Four is a Z4 with some louvres and round headlights, because compared to modern rivals it is still motoring’s equivalent of an Agatha Christie novel.
Aston Martin Vantage Roadster
Controversial statement. The Aston Martin Vantage Roadster is a better convertible sports car than a 911 Convertible. Yes, you do need to compromise on those admittedly tiny rear seats, and the 911 is better built and can be specified with more toys, but when the coupe’s ultimate focus is outweighed by theatre, the Aston makes quite a case for itself.
Compared to Porsche’s anodyne, if effective flat-six, the Vantage’s AMG-derived V8 engine is a total showman. It’s raucous and aggressive, but never uncouth or embarrassing. Yet more than that, it’s immensely capable thanks to the broad spread of torque and snappy eight-speed auto transmission.
So while your automatic reaction might lead you in the direction of a Porsche centre, it very much is worth remembering that Aston’s Vantage Roadster is by no means a compromised rival, rather something of an unsung hero in the class.
Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0
Imagine opening the curtains on a crisp morning to a glorious view of sunshine outside. The roads are empty and you’ve got nowhere to be, but on the driveway sits a car that just urges you to get up, go out and drive. We can’t really think of a car we’d rather have the keys to in this scenario than a Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 for a long, aimless drive, whether it be on roads of which you know every dip and crest, or somewhere lesser known.
The flat-six engine is, and has always been, the perfect sidekick to the Boxster’s sweet mid-engined chassis, and when it was taken from us at the beginning of the 718’s tenure, proved to be the missing link to its success.
The GTS 4.0 update has been the Boxster’s return to form. Ignoring for a moment the Spyder and GT4 which also pack the same flat-six power unit, it’s the Boxster GTS that brings the entry-level Porsche closest to its original glory, and for a not-at-all-unreasonable price. The fact it’s also largely accessible, rather than something kept for Porsche dealers’ priority, makes it a more democratic sports car, too.
By some margin the cheapest car in this list, the little roadster is still a pocketful of fun. Looking three-quarter scale thanks to its diminutive proportions, the latest-generation Mazda MX-5 has so much promise and only lacks a little polish. Tucking neatly between the headrest and boot deck, its manually operated soft-top is a cinch to drop and requires little effort to secure in place, while the alternative RF (“retractable fastback”) model brings Targa-style utility and a coupe-like roofline.
Both MX-5 engines are zingy enough, with the 1.5-litre squeezing out only the bare minimum of power. Drop away from the top of the rev range and it’s gutless, but deft use of the six-speed transmission should safeguard momentum – and the gearchange is, as ever, an MX-5 highlight.
The 2-litre models have recently had a boost to 181bhp and the updated engine is more free-revving than its predecessor. It gives a fairly healthy turn of pace too, but the car’s chassis still has its limitations – high levels of body roll feel out of step with the car’s responses. In some respects the 1.5-litre car – slower and softer without the 2-litre’s Bilstein suspension – feels more natural to drive.
That said, the MX-5 is still a simple recipe delivering the simple charms of a rear-wheel-driven sports car at law-abiding speeds.
Lamborghini Huracán Spyder
If any car should have its top cut off, this Lambo is surely one of them. It's very much a true Lamborghini – exceptionally showy and all the better for it. With low-slung, incredibly aggressive swooping lines and angular points, it looks every bit a modern supercar. Concealing the roof behind you exposes occupants to the glorious cacophony orchestrated by the naturally aspirated V10.
If anyone was to doubt the importance of noise in creating an enveloping driving experience, they must be strapped into a Huracán Spyder. The unique, high-pitch frequency of ten cylinders firing creates an effervescent, multi-layered soundtrack that any force-fed powerplant simply will not match. The immediacy with which the 603bhp is available makes a charge towards the red zone more irresistible with each deeper depression of the loud pedal.
Lamborghini’s own description of the Huracán Spyder as the ‘lifestyle’ model in the Huracán line-up pre-empts some of the issues present in this open-top version. Those standing above six-feet-tall may have to compromise on legroom and the high driving position restricts headroom too.
Despite the intimidating exterior, the Huracán Spyder is a benign thing mooching around a town and on the open road. The lack of an overhead structure is highlighted on broken road surfaces, but otherwise the agility and response makes the most of a well-mannered and predictable chassis. This sense of control though doesn’t endow the Huracán with ultimate thrills, with a rear-torque bias never apparent. The almost identical R8 Spyder is a more engaging and exciting drive.
Audi R8 Spyder
The R8’s anatomy is largely the same as the Lamborghini Huracán’s, with plenty of componentry shared between the two VW Group models. The R8, however, holds its own against its shouty sibling, being the better car to drive.
The second-generation R8 Spyder still looks every bit the supercar. The rear deck encasing the soft-top looks a bit fussy, but it's a small price to pay when you consider the R8 offers more than just the targa-style opening in the Huracán Spyder.
Extra noise penetrating the soft-top roof will only be heard by those keeping a conscious ear out. The euphonious, naturally aspirated V10 is never dormant though. Free of any breathing apparatus, the motor sounds its way up from deep, low-down growl to a tingling howl that accompanies the 533bhp maximum output (in the lesser-powered form). It is truly an electric engine and a great last bastion of atmospheric supercars.
The 5.2-litre’s vast reserves are dealt with by Audi’s quattro system and a seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. The result is a sense of security and control no matter how hard you push the R8. Its unflappable character does split some hairs, robbing you of engagement and excitement at times, not helped by the vague steering. That said, it feels just as sorted as the coupe, which is probably the best compliment you can pay the Spyder.
McLaren 600LT Spider
This might be one of the easier inclusions in this list. While roofless cars will always be an acquired taste for some, to others a drive is even more thrilling without a roof, and with the 600LT taking the big prize in evo Car of the Year 2018, it’s only natural the Spider would feature here.
What you need to know: roof aside, it’s basically identical to the regular LT, which means the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 making 592bhp and 457lb ft of torque, the same 2.9sec time for the 0-62mph sprint, and a top speed that’s still over 200mph – just – provided you leave the roof in place. It also features the same chassis tweaks as its coupe counterpart, including forged wishbones, recalibrated dampers and different suspension geometry, and if you opt for the Clubsport pack you get seats from the Senna, titanium wheel bolts and various carbonfibre goodies, though all-up weight is still 50kg more than that the coupe.
It’s no less incredible to drive, though. McLaren has a good record with its LT variants, and the aggression and precision of the coupe remains intact here. It’s not a car that needs to be driven up to and over its limits to enjoy, either – well calibrated controls and excellent steering, plus the theatre of that gruff V8, make it fun at more sensible velocities too.
Bentley Continental GT Convertible
The latest Bentley Continental GT is a fabulous grand tourer, and the convertible variant has done nothing to change that. In fact, with roof-up refinement as impressive as that of the previous-generation Conti GT coupe and elegant, speedboat-like styling when the roof is stowed, there’s an argument to be made that it’s an even better GT in soft-top form.
Qualities that remain include the GT’s performance and handling. For a car that weighs 2414kg, its poise is truly remarkable. Active anti-roll technology plays a part in that, and while you undoubtedly feel the car’s bulk if you test it through switchbacks or on downhill sections with higher braking demands, no 2.4-ton car has a right to handle this well – or go this quickly.
Qualities enhanced by the folding roof include a sense of occasion, and the GT’s already spectacular cabin. Walking up to the car, key in hand, feels very special, and with the beautifully constructed and tastefully trimmed cabin bathed in natural light, there aren’t many other places from which you’d prefer to undertake a long journey.