It’s already March so before you know it, it’ll be summer. One of the joys of summer is open-top motoring, feeling the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.
Driving with the roof down puts you back in touch with nature. You can smell things, see things and hear things you simply can’t when ensconced behind metal and glass.
At least, that’s the dream. In reality we know that, at best, we get two weeks of sun before the rain and wind settles back in. And on those days, you’re left with a car that’s less practical and more expensive than the saloon it’s based on. So why live with the compromises when the benefits only last a few days?
Despite this, the UK buys more convertibles than any other country in Europe. We must just be hopelessly optimistic.
You may decide you want to embrace the optimism and splash out a few quid on shiny drop-top to run around in during the summer. You don’t even need to spend much money – we’ve found five quality convertibles that will set you back just £5,000.
Audi A4 Cabriolet
There are very few manufacturers that do ‘classy’ as well as Audi. And the A4 Cab is one of the classiest cars they’ve ever produced. Over a decade since it was launched it still looks really good, a lesson in Bauhaus minimalism.
The interior is equally good, with text book ergonomics and bomb-proof build quality. It’s a proper four-seater and the boot is pretty generous, as well.
There’s a lot of choice at our price point, with a huge range of petrol and diesel engines, manual and automatic gearboxes, and quattro models available. Standard equipment isn’t overly generous, but there are plenty that were originally bought by people who were enthusiastic with the options list.
There aren’t any particular reliability issues; just check the service history to make sure its been properly looked after.
Ford Focus CC
The folding hard-topped Focus convertible managed to fly under the radar a bit, not catching on in the way the Renault Megane and Vauxhall Astra did.
That’s not to say it was a bad car – far from it. Pininfarina did as good job as they could with the awkward proportions, it’s reasonably spacious for four, well equipped and the handling is a lot better than any of its stodgy rivals.
There’s a single petrol and diesel engine to choose from, both 2.0-litre units. The diesel is prone to dual mass flywheel failure with high mileage, so check the history to see if its been replaced. Other than that, there’s isn’t much to worry about.
Ultimately the Focus CC was probably a bit too expensive against its rivals. And the depreciation was pretty steep. But that just means it’s a bit of a bargain now.
Land Rover Freelander
If you want to really commune with nature from behind the wheel, you need to go off road. In the Freelander, you can greenlane with the top down.
It’s not a true convertible – the rear section of the roof comes off, exposing the back seats and a large sunroof pops out of what’s left of the roof. Hard and soft rear covers are available – the former takes up a lot of space when not in use, but the latter is a pig to put up.
Build quality and interior plastics aren’t great, but the BMW-sourced diesel engine is bulletproof. There’s a 1.8 petrol as well, a Rover K-Series so check if it has had the head gasket replaced.
Equipment levels run from spartan to lavish. Freelanders do have their problems, so make sure everything works properly.
The SLK, first launched nearly 20 years ago, popularised the folding hardtop. It’s still a brilliant thing to watch in operation and the car’s pretty looks haven’t faded.
The interior lets the side down, but it’s screwed together properly. It isn’t much fun to drive, though it got markedly better after the facelift in 2000.
The rear wheel arches and panel edges can rust, and the roof’s hydraulic pump has been known to fail. Other than that, as ever, check the history to make its been maintained regularly.
If you want to make any sort of progress, get the 3.2-litre V6-powered version. The supercharged, four-cylinder engines are fine for cruising. And definitely don’t get one with a manual gearbox – it’s rubbish.
No sniggering at the back, there! The TF is a good little sports car. The chassis may be distantly related to the Metro, but it’s a sprightly handler with no real histrionics, despite the mid-engined layout. You need the 1.8-litre engine if you want to exploit it properly.
It looks good inside and out, though the interior plastics feel cheap. Trim and equipment levels range from prison sell to luxury bachelor pad and there’s some retina-searing colours if you want to stand out.
The rust that afflicts the earlier MGF doesn’t seem to affect the TF, but be vigilant against the K-Series engine’s notorious head gasket problems. Ideally you want one that’s had a replacement fitted.
By Graham King