Best Convertibles For 2021
Few automotive experiences can conjure up good vibes as readily as a convertible. Whether you prefer a traditional canvas roof or modern folding hardtop, dropping the top and immersing yourself in the elements is sure to spike the dopamine levels of all but the stodgiest drivers. Critics that contend that the convertible’s inherent design is heavier and less rigid, thanks to folding top mechanisms and structural reinforcements, are missing the point: The heightened sensory experience offsets any incremental losses in dynamic performance.
Still, there are some caveats. A soft top is by nature less secure and more susceptible to damage than a hardtop and may need replacing in the long run. Folding hardtops relieve these concerns, but the mechanisms can be complicated, and the tops can, in rare instances, develop a leak. For these reasons and the market shift towards rugged SUVs and pickups, the number of available convertibles has dwindled from their heyday in the mid-twentieth century. But for the faithful, there is no substitute.
A segment unlike others, convertibles share the ability to let the sunshine in first and foremost, and their styling, pricing and performance can, and often does, vary wildly. Given that, objective quantification is inconsequential, so we list them here in alphabetical order. What is important, however, is their common ability to put a smile on your face. Here are the Best Convertibles for 2021.
Audi A5 Cabriolet
- Sporty handling and available power
- Aggressive styling
- Standard massaging sport seats on S5
- High price point for this segment
- Could use more legroom
- Less cargo capacity than competitors
Why we picked it: The Audi A5 is a more sophisticated and sportier take on the A4 sedan. Whereas the A4 is available only as a four-door car, the A5 offers buyers a choice of three distinct body styles: a two-door coupe, a four-door Sportback hatchback and a summer-time ready Cabriolet. All three styles of the A5 are equipped with a turbocharged 261-horsepower four-cylinder engine tied to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Each is also available as an S5 performance model, powered by a larger twin-turbo 361-horsepower V6 matched with an eight-speed automatic. All variants of the A5 or S5 come with all-wheel drive standard.
BMW 2 Series
- One of the brand’s most fun offerings
- Strong powertrains, extremely quick
- Animated rear-wheel drive chassis
- Poor rear-seat legroom, headroom
- Less than premium interior bits
- Stiff suspension, impractical
BMW stopped selling the 1 Series at the end of 2013 and the German automaker essentially replaced it with the 2 Series, an entry-level two-door luxury compact built on a rear-wheel drive platform. Initially launched only as a coupe, the convertible debuted for 2015, followed by numerous performance variants. (BMW added the similarly-named four-door 2 Series Gran Coupe in 2020, but that model rides an entirely different platform than the two-door 2 Series models, so we cover it separately.) Like its hardtop brother, the 2 Series convertible is a true driver’s car that loves to cut and run at every opportunity.
- Proper blend of class and fun
- Nimble handling
- The M40i’s scintillating soundtrack
- No manual transmission option
- Polarizing front fascia
- Overshadowed by a Toyota; no BMW coupe variant
Back after a two-year break, the all-new Z4 roadster returned in 2019 poised to defend the maker’s honor in the two-door, two-passenger luxury sports car arena. Born from a partnership between BMW and Toyota, the collaboration likely inspired and pushed BMW engineers to create one of the company’s best-handling cars in years. (Toyota’s end of the deal allowed them to bring back the current Supra, which is essentially a BMW with a different skin.) Whereas the previous-generation Z4 was known better as a posh cruiser, the new Z4 roadster devours curves. Now featuring a soft-top rather than the retractable hardtop of its predecessor, it projects a classic profile graced with touches of modernity with the roof up or down.
- Distinct DNA and heritage that dates back to the 1960s
- Wide array of engines (four) and transmissions (three) offer something for everyone
- Dialed-in handling despite the bulky body
- Brand image not for everyone
- Improved interior still feels somewhat dark and sunken
- Difficult to compete against Mustang and Challenger’s massive horsepower offensive
The Camaro’s familiar silhouette and numerous powertrain and trim packages offer a wide array of options for muscle car enthusiasts. However, this segment is ultimately driven by one intangible: a horsepower-addled flagship. And that agenda extends to the convertible, the drop-top Camaro available with a turbo-four, V6, standard V8 or, in the ZL1 trim, a 650-horsepower supercharged V8 backed up by either a 10-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. While other iconic tire scorchers— namely the new Ford Mustang GT500 and Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat—offer headline-grabbing power, the Camaro draws its faithful through ongoing improvements, an impressive chassis with razor-sharp handling and balanced performance. Drop the top and the good vibes are hard to ignore.
- Supercar styling
- Supercar performance
- Proletarian price
- Awkward interior ergonomics
- Poor visibility in any direction other than forward
- Lack of safety features
The latest iteration of the Chevrolet Corvette may be a departure from what longtime fans have been used to, but it still delivers a fantastic, joyful experience behind the wheel that’s hard to ignore. The convertible version adds about $7500 to the price tag, but there’s no substitute for the sensory enjoyment a sunny day in a Corvette can bring. Plus, its automated folding mechanism is a sweet bit of engineering and it still squeaks in right around the $70k mark. Apart from minor gripes, the ‘Vette is a solid sports car that can contend with its contemporaries with ease, and it won’t break the bank.
- 310 horsepower EcoBoost four-cylinder crushes most anything else in its class
- Decent trunk space for a convertible
- A performance bargain that can also get 30mpg or better on the highway
- Huge options list can quickly drive up the price
- Safety tech suite not included in base trims
- Tiny back seats more are more useful when folded down
If American iron is your thing, you can’t get more juice and style for the money than the Mustang, and that includes the surprisingly capable 310-horsepower turbo four-cylinder sleeper to chest-beating 760-horsepower Supercharged V8 in the Shelby GT500. Though the convertible doesn’t come in the GT500 version, it is available in GT trim with the 460-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 under the hood. That’s enough muscle to blow your hair back even with the top in place.
- Sculpted exterior
- Powerful, throaty engines
- Thrilling performance
- Numb steering
- Snug cargo area
- Limited driver assistance features
With its muscular styling, precise lines, and range of powerful engines, the refreshed Jaguar F-Type aims to recapture more of the sporting essence of its predecessor, the now long-retired E-Type classic. Available in either coupe or convertible body style, most would argue the two-seater it looks better in the latter. Three engine options and five trims in both body styles: a 296-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 296 horsepower in the base F-Type or First Edition; a 380-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6 capable of 380 horsepower found in the mid-grade R-Dynamic, and a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine producing 575 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque in the top-of-the-line F-Type R. In short, it is a masterpiece in both convertible and coupe configurations.
Lexus LC 500
- Crowd-slaying looks
- Muscular V8, rich road manners
- Beautifully crafted interior
- Displays and tech features lag the luxury curve
- Not the fastest or sportiest six-figure convertible
- Tiny rear seat
Lexus’ stunning flagship coupe birthed a convertible offshoot in 2020, and the cloth-topped LC 500 delivers the same blue-chip, old-school pleasures: lusty V8 power and sound, a velvety ride and the royal treatment inside. Though it can’t quite match the show-car impact of the coupe, the lovely LC 500 Convertible still draws non-stop stares and compliments. The interior holds up its end, a Lexus-brand showpiece of swoops, angles, pleated leather and obsessive craftsmanship.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
- Fun-to-drive performance and character
- Classic sports car feel, modern sports car tech
- Available hardtop model widens appeal
- Lots of road noise
- Choppy ride on the interstate
- Confined luggage and passenger space
Mazda’s MX-5 Miata has a devoted fan base for a reason. On a twisty road, the featherweight, sharp-handling roadster responds to drivers as if connected to their thoughts. It entertains and encourages in a low-stakes, controllable, and accessible package almost any enthusiastic driver can appreciate and many can afford. Singularly focused on driving enjoyment, it turns even mundane grocery runs into fun drives but also gives little consideration to cargo room or luxury, so you’ll have to pack light and enjoy its back-to-basics feel.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet
- Looks and feels every inch a luxury machine
- Roomy and plush interior
- A solid performer, especially with optional AMG sports suspension
- Very expensive, especially with the options added
- The C300 engine is powerful but noisy
- Shy on trunk space
In every category, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class demonstrates strength. It hits all the marks, making it a balanced proposition in the luxury compact universe. The droptop version starts around $54,945, about $8k more than the coupe (which also earned a place of distinction on our Best Coupes list). But the convertible’s top lowers in only 20 seconds in speeds up to 31 mph and for added open-air luxury, an “air scarf” feature blows warm air on passengers’ neck and shoulders. Accompanied by a willing companion sunshine overhead and a winding road, concerns over the convertible’s price disappear into the ether.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet
- Dazzling, screen-intensive interior
- Mainstream models’ smooth ride
- AMG variants’ fierce performance
- Complexity of the myriad touch controls
- Stiff ride in the AMG versions
- Paying extra for expected luxury features
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has what it takes to meet the needs—or, more accurately, wants—of a large range of luxury-car buyers. They will, however, have to pay up for the privilege. That said, the convertible—there’s also a coupe—hews to the middle of the powertrain roster and is offered in E450 and E53 form, the former with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The duo is among the few four-seat luxury two-doors extant and embody the traditional understated elegance that was the standard of this once-thriving segment.
- Great fun to drive
- Sophisticated engine choices
- Timeless styling
- Gets expensive quickly
- Stiff ride with sport pack
- Android Auto still not available
The 2022 MINI convertible receives its first major refresh since this third-generation model arrived for 2017. The same iconic style—stubby, bulldoggish, and wacky—carries over with sportier looks and upgraded technology. The major changes are the front and rear. The powertrains stay the same. The Cooper is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that delivers 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. The Cooper S is equipped with turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 189 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque. Both are paired to a six-speed manual transmission. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is optional. It’s not for everyone, but Mini has oodles of personality for drivers with the attitude to match.
Porsche 718 Spyder
- Predictable, poised and balanced handling
- Affordable compared to 911
- Options and trim levels drastically raise the price tag
- Limited cargo room
- It’s still $60K to start
The 718 might be the “entry-level” Porsche, but it’s not to be underestimated. It’s small, lightweight and the turbocharged flat-four sits midship, which all adds up to one finely tuned sports car in both Cayman coupe and Boxster roadster trim. Engines range from the base-level 300 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged boxer four-cylinder to the 911-sourced 414-horsepower 4.0-liter boxer six-cylinder in the track-focused GT4. If a light, lithe Porsche’s lengthy and intricate option sheets have achieved near-mythical status, and the 718 Cayman and Boxster do little to disrupt the narrative.
Even as Porsche’s entry-level model, the 718 isn’t left wanting for handling and performance. However, like the rest of Porsche’s line up, higher-level trims translate to lower lap times and higher price tags. Ever since Porsche killed off its front-engine coupes and replaced them with the Boxster in 1995 (joined later by the Cayman), the company has given the public reason to pause and realize what balance truly means. If you’re looking for one of the most expertly built sports cars on the market that isn’t named “911,” the 718 is a good place to start.
Because of the relatively small number of convertibles on the market and their fun-in-the-sun mission, this list is focused on to commonly available models with a base MSRP of under $100,000. (Note, the Lexus LC 500 bounces just above this mark with destination.) Exotic and hypercars were ommitted.
Within each category, ranking was selected by two main criteria: 1) the relative merits and review ranking by Forbes Wheels staff and contributing authors, 2) the relative prices, feature sets and cargo space afforded by each vehicle compared with the others in each category.
Our review evaluation covers five areas:
1. Styling (20 points) An assessment of the car’s overall design, styling and build quality, inside and out. Looks and styling are largely subjective, but a reviewer can still make general observations that hold a degree of objectivity. If the vehicle’s interior trim panels are loose, the switchgear feels cheap and the fitment and gaps of the panels are big and inconsistent, the rating will reflect these observations.
2. Performance (20 points) An assessment of a car’s handling, braking, acceleration, ride quality and other qualitative performance measures like horsepower, torque, zero-to-60 times and top speed. Towing capability for trucks and SUVs also is a consideration. Reviews also thoroughly consider the manufacturer’s data when comparing similar vehicles within the competitive set. While driving, reviewers also look for a melding of attributes relative to the expectations set by the manufacturer about the specific vehicle and by consumer expectations of the segment.
3. Comfort and Convenience (20 points) An assessment of the car’s interior comfort, features and cargo space. Comfort can be subjective, but the reviewer also considers passenger space measurements compared with the segment and competitive vehicles. Cargo space also is based on measurements relative to segment and competitive set as well as functionality and usability. Features are objective and compared against the number and type of standard and available features in segment and competitive set. Price also is a consideration as is execution and efficacy. Extra points may be awarded for exceptional available or standard features or user-friendly infotainment setups. Cars may also lose points for substandard features, or for making certain features only available on pricey option packages of poor relative value.
4. Safety (20 points) The safety score is based on three elements: crash test results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; the number of standard advanced driver-assistance safety technology features, such as blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, emergency automatic braking, lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control; and visibility. Cars with official crash data gain points for a five-star overall rating by the NHTSA, or Top Safety Pick/Top Safety Pick+ status by the IIHS. Vehicles not yet rated by either agency will not lose points.
5. Fuel Economy (20 points) The fuel economy score is based on the combined mpg estimate for the model’s base trim with an automatic transmission, according to the Environmental Protection Agency or the manufacturer if EPA has not confirmed data. Some models will get extra points for offering a hybrid or other more fuel-efficient powertrain within the model lineup. Scoring for pure electric vehicles will be based on range and charging time.