Best roadsters 2023 - our favourite open-top sports cars
The best convertible sports cars offer big thrills with few compromises - these are evo’s favourites, past and present
Convertible sports cars aren’t exactly a perfect match for the UK’s changeable weather, but if you find yourself on the right road, roof down, at the right time, the thrills are unmatched, with no barrier to the sights and sounds of a great drive. Roadsters remain popular on our shores for the fleeting moments we get to enjoy them, but not all are created equal.
Removing part of a car’s core structure brings inevitable compromises in body stiffness and weight - usually both - but the best convertibles keep these margins to a minimum. Sometimes impressively so, in the case of supercars with carbonfibre chassis. Here's a list of our favourite drop-top performance cars of today, and from years gone by.
Maserati MC20 Cielo
Maserati’s new dawn got off to a stunning start with the MC20, its combination of raucous turbocharged grunt and dynamic finesse taking the eCoty crown last year. It’s small wonder, then, that the open-top MC20 Cielo is one of our favourite roadsters of the moment.
The Cielo is underpinned by a carbon chassis built by Dallara, which has been reinforced to mitigate the loss of rigidity from removing the roof. Weight has crept up to 1560kg (dry), and while the springs and dampers have been retuned to suit, the Cielo still captures what we love about the MC20 - namely the explosive V6 motor and wonderfully fluid chassis.
Ferrari 296 GTS
Somehow, after the brutally fast but slightly confused SF90, Ferrari pulled a blinder with its second series-production hybrid. The 296 GTB captures the noise, athleticism and sheer speed of our favourite mid-engined Berlinettas, and the Spider version adds even more drama, opening up the V6 symphony behind your head.
With the same 819bhp as the coupe, the 296 GTS feels sensationally fast - perhaps even more so without a roof. But it’s the car’s natural balance that shines brightest, thanks to its impressively rigid structure and relatively small 70kg weight penalty over the hard-top.
Porsche 718 Spyder RS
Porsche’s entry-level roadster has morphed into an altogether more serious, hugely competent machine since the first Boxster arrived in 1996, and the 718 Spyder RS is the pinnacle of the breed. A drop-top Cayman GT4 RS in all but name, the Spyder RS gets the same 493bhp 4-litre flat-six, which revs to 9000rpm and sounds utterly sublime while doing so.
Straight-line performance is very similar to that of its hard-top stablemate, but the driving experience is a little less hardcore with more road-biased suspension and steering tuning. This is a good thing; on the road, the Spyder RS feels pure, intense and all-consuming, but without some of the harsher edges of the GT4 RS. Few – if any – modern sports cars are quite so intoxicating. As the last combustion-engined Boxster, it's a fitting send-off.
Ferrari 812 GTS
There are few greater joys than unfiltered access to a fabulous engine, and the Ferrari 812 GTS provides exactly that. We certainly weren’t crying out for more noise when we drove the bombastic 812 Superfast, but the GTS’s folding hard-top made us reassess this the first time we uncorked its 789bhp naturally aspirated V12.
Yes, the GTS is 120kg heavier than the coupe, but it’s still surprisingly wieldy and athletic for a big GT, and there’s something undeniably majestic about a front-engined, open-top Ferrari with 12 cylinders.
Lamborghini Huracán Evo Spyder
The Huracán Evo Spyder is everything a Lamborghini should be: brash, loud and on its day, unforgettable. The Evo marks the Huracán’s first steps towards greatness, which culminated in the spellbinding STO and Tecnica versions. But you can’t get either of those in convertible form, so the Evo Spyder it is.
With a 1542kg dry weight it’s a fairly hefty supercar, but on the road the Evo Spyder melds together rather nicely. The dynamic steering is faithful and accurate, the balance is safe rather than spikey and the V10’s power delivery is wonderfully linear. Most of all, the Evo Spyder is memorable, and it doesn’t trade on drama to cover glaring holes in its repertoire. We like it a lot.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that Lotus might not be with us today if not for the dinky, lightweight hero that is the Series 1 Elise. Born from a tight budget and ingenious thinking, the first Elise set the tone for the next two decades of Lotus, and rewrote just how good a small roadster can be.
The ingredients – two seats, a glassfibre body and a 118bhp Rover K-series motor – were simple, the execution masterful. Light and delicate across the ground, yet seeping with feel, the Elise weighed just 731kg thanks to its extruded aluminium chassis; later S2 and S3 cars were heavier, but the original’s pure ethos remained. Somehow, the Elise blends grip and performance perfectly for the road – it’s firmly in the realm of evo legends.
Ferrari 458 Speciale A
As we found out in a group test of four spectacular naturally aspirated cars last year, the 458 Speciale represents a high point for V8 Ferraris before turbocharging swept in, and supercars as a whole. The A (for Aperta) version uses the same drivetrain and chassis tech, including a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, an E-Diff and Ferrari’s Side Slip Control, but with the added benefit of a foldaway metal roof.
The blare from the Speciale’s 597bhp V8 was so intense that Ferrari actually neutered the Aperta slightly to make it more liveable, but most of the coupe’s character is firmly intact. The scintillating chassis balance is just as entertaining as in the hard-top, even though there is more flex in the structure and an extra 50kg in Aperta form.
Porsche 911 Speedster
A convertible 911 GT3 might sound like sacrilege for such a single-minded track machine, but with the 991-generation Speedster, Porsche just about pulled it off – albeit with a subtle character change. With an impossibly low windscreen and sloping rear deck, there’s no mistaking it for an ordinary 911 cabriolet, and that’s before the 4-litre flat-six fires up.
It’s one of the world’s great engines, paired to one of the finest manual gearboxes we’ve experienced. The noise is sensational, and the Speedster has the chassis to match – it’s supple, yet communicative, with a more road-biased ride and handling balance that makes it just as compelling, if not more so, than a 991 GT3. That’s some feat.
McLaren 765LT Spider
It’s rare for a convertible supercar to give up nothing to the coupe version, but it’s even less common for it to be technically even better. The McLaren 765LT Spider is one of the latter, taking the edge off the hard-top’s frenetic, sometimes aggressive, responses. It still feels just as keyed in, though, thanks to a stiff carbon MonoCell chassis that forms the ideal basis for a Spider version.
At 1388kg the 765LT handily undercuts open-roof rivals from Lamborghini and Ferrari, and it has the small matter of 754bhp to fire it down the road. McLaren’s twin-turbo V8 has never been the most sonorous, but it somewhat makes up for that with an unrelenting intensity through each and every gear.
Pagani Zonda F Roadster
The first Zonda arrived in 1999 as a genuine contender against Ferrari and Lamborghini, and by the time of the Zonda F Roadster, Pagani had established itself as a true disruptor. Nothing could match the F Roadster’s controlled assault on the senses at the time, and we question whether anything can today.
With a naturally aspirated 7.3-litre AMG V12 stretched to 641bhp and a manual gearbox, the F Roadster is analogue in every sense of the term, but also highly advanced in its construction. Magnesium suspension components, Öhlins adjustable dampers and a strengthened carbon chassis are just some of the technical highlights, which culminate in one of the most visceral and rewarding supercars of them all.