There’s nothing quite like the feeling of driving a convertible car on a warm summer’s day, with the wind in your hair.
Even the most mundane of cars feels special if it is a convertible in these conditions (I should know, I once had a convertible Mini as a hire care when on holiday in the Cook Islands).
But what is the best used convertible for the money?
In this article I take a look at some of the best convertible options (both two and four seaters) that can give serious thrills for not a lot of coin.
You don’t need to have a bank balance like Elton John to enjoy a convertible; you can have drop-top fun for very reasonable money.
Let’s get started by taking a look at the best, affordable used convertibles out on the market.
Please note that this is just our opinion of what some of the best affordable convertibles are; we welcome your opinions and insight, so just leave a comment at the bottom of the article.
This also isn’t a comprehensive buyer’s guide for the vehicles listed below. If you want more detailed advice on buying and maintaining a particular car, then look for the links to our relevant buyer’s guides where available.
Now, let’s get underway and find you your dream, affordable convertible.
We have selected three options, based on our research and knowledge. Although there are many great convertibles out there for decent money, we think that all three examples have compelling arguments for their purchase and ownership.
No list of quality, affordable convertibles would be complete without putting the mighty Miata (or MX-5, depending on where you live) straight at the top.
In some respects, the Miata is the yardstick by which all other convertibles are measured.
Spanning over four generations, Mazda’s Miata is the best selling sports car & convertible of all time – and for good reason.
Whichever Miata you buy (both in terms of generation and trim) you’re going to be getting your hands of one of the greatest vehicles ever produced.
While Miatas may not set the world on fire with performance, you are generally going to find you way into a quality, reliable used convertible that has excellent support, serviceability, parts availability, and a loyal following and community.
You don’t need a king’s ransom to get into a Miata either; decent examples of earlier models can be had for low four figures and counting (obviously this will vary based on age, mileage, where you are based etc).
We have one of the most comprehensive Miata/MX-5 buyer’s guides on the Internet – check it out here for more information on sourcing yourself a good Miata.
If you are after an affordable, fun, used convertible, then you’d be hard pressed to do better than the Miata to be honest. If you’re that way inclined, you can also do a lot of modding with the Miata to draw out extra power, handling prowess and so on.
Downsides are limited practicality, potential for rust, poor safety (on early models) and mediocre straight line performance compared to more powerful sports cars.
Unless you have any great opposition to a Miata/MX-5 based on brand preference etc, or you require a more practical convertible, then we strongly recommend you look at this as your first port of call.
MGF & MG TF
If you’re after a bit of a left-field choice (and in markets where this is an option) then you might want to take a look at the Rover MGF, or the later MG TF.
While both the MGF and MG TF lived – and continue to live – in the shadow of the MX5/Miata to some extent, these British sports convertibles can be a good option and have a loyal following in a number of countries. In fact, these were the best-selling sports cars in the UK during their production period.
Here in New Zealand, you can pick up an MGF in vastly superior condition to an MX-5 of equivalent age for thousands of dollars less. A tempting proposition for sure, especially if your focus is on “smiles per dollar”.
Both generations (although technically these are two distinct models) are two seat, mid-engine convertibles with a variety of trim options. Until 2000, the MGF was only available with a manual gearbox, although a version was released with a CVT gearbox called ‘Steptronic’.
The MGF had Hydragas suspension, and was known for a cossetting ride quality – provided the suspension was in good working order. However, the MGF could also hustle around the corners and reward an eager driver. In a straight line, the VVC (variable valve timing) models were quick with 0-60 times around 7 seconds, and non-VVC models still quick enough to provide fun. Many owners report that what they like most about the MGF is the fact it is comfortable when needed, but can then transform into a back-road blaster when called upon.
The MG TF was designed from the ground up to be even more focused on being a driver’s car. Hydragas suspension was replaced with coil springs, sacrificing some ride quality for handling prowess. The MG TF is generally seen to be more challenging to live with day to day, but more rewarding when pressing on.
Fitted with the infamous Rover K-series engines, which were known to get through head gaskets like you and I get through hot dinners, owing to a stressed cooling system, reliability was never considered to be the strong suit of the MGF & MG TF.
However, research reveals that MGFs and TFs generally suffer from a well-known set of issues that are all usually fixable. For example, the head gasket issue is fixable – and may well have been fixed on any example you look at.
If you buy a good example, then you are getting in to an exciting and quirky convertible for a good price. MG is a legendary British brand and has true heritage; you’d do a lot worse than to own one of these convertibles, provided you are acquainted with potential issues.
We don’t have a buyer’s guide on either of these cars yet, but are working on putting one together. However, for now we recommend you check out the MG Club of New Zealand’s buyers guide. It is very detailed and informative.
Saab is perhaps most famous for building quirky vehicles that were extremely safe for their time (in fact, some older Saabs still hold up fairly well in modern crash tests in terms of occupant protection … obviously they lack other features like collision avoidance etc).
Saab also produced some great convertibles in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s.
However, earlier Saab convertibles have shot up price-wise in recent years, meaning you need to look at slightly more modern vehicles like the 9-3 to get the best bang for buck.
The Saab 9-3 spanned two distinct generations, from the 90s-late 2000s.
There were a number of models produced, from basic sedans through to high performance variants like the 9-3 Viggen (a very polarising vehicle it seems, with some reviewers claiming it is one of the worst cars ever made, and others lavishing it with praise … a real “Marmite” car for those familiar with the expression).
The Saab 9-3 was available in a convertible form across the generations.
As with the regular 9-3s, you could have the convertibles in a variety of specifications, including the desirable Aero spec which was the most powerful and luxurious.
Saab 9-3s were never the last word in driving dynamics when it comes to handling – don’t think you’re going to set out to make any lap records, even in a 9-3 Aero convertible.
However, what you will enjoy for reasonable money is a practical car (by a convertible’s standards) with four usable seats, good safety compared to other cars in the class – the 2nd generation 9-3 being the first car in its class to score 5 stars in the Euro NCAP crash test system – and a nice combination of Scandinavian quirkiness and refinement.
Depending on your choice of trim/engine, you will also have a car that can pull like a freight train in a straight line.
Don’t believe me?
Here are some 9-3 Aero acceleration videos:
If your idea of a good cheap convertible is being able to cruise the highway in comfort with a few friends, then you’d be hard pressed to find a better option in some respects – if you can live with the quirkiness and potential parts/repair challenges due to Saab having gone out of business some time ago.
On a positive note, there is a strong Saab enthusiast community out there both online and in person, so if you do encounter issues people will be willing and able to help.
Conclusion – What Is The Best Cheap Convertible?
The best affordable/cheap used convertible will ultimately depend somewhat on your requirements and budget.
For example, if you want a convertible with more than two seats, then that rules out something like the MX-5.
You would instead probably want to look at one of the options from BMW/Audi/Mercedes/Saab, which will provide you with a more practical convertible (to the extent that this is possible).
All things being considered, if you don’t mind just having two seats, then an MX-5/Miata is probably the best answer (in fact, according to many “Miata is always the answer” – see why people say that here). You’ll enjoy a time-tested, proven platform with solid reliability and parts availability, and likely avoid too much excessive expenditure which might otherwise spoil your
Don’t forget to check out our Miata buyer’s guide for more information on buying yourself a great example of the Miata.
Ultimately, the right affordable used convertible for your needs will come down to a mix of:
- Your budget
- Your requirements
- Your appetite for risk (a more complex vehicle might provide additional performance, features etc but increase the chance of something breaking and costing a lot to fix)
- Your ability to carry out maintenance yourself; the more you can do yourself to a quality standard, the easier and less expensive it will be to keep your affordable convertible running.
We hope you found this guide helpful. If you have any suggestions, questions, or complaints, then feel free to drop a comment below or you can always email email@example.com