Top 10: The best used convertibles

Britain’s obsession with convertibles is part of its motoring heritage, and stems back to the days when a small, British convertible was a staple of the car industry. The latter may no longer be applicable to the car market, but Britain’s appetite for soft-tops is still strong, so here are the 10 best convertibles on the used market today.

1. Mazda MX-5

It’d be impossible to have a run-down of the best used convertibles without mentioning the Mazda MX-5, so you won’t be surprised by its spot at the top of our list. Reliability, driving dynamics and desirability are all excellent. There was a Coupe Cabriolet version, but these are more expensive, and can get stuck half open, so keep things simple with the traditional rag-top. It’s a good idea to thoroughly check the roof mechanism on the Coupe Cabriolet or standard soft-top, though.

Our pick: Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport

2. Audi TT Roadster

The original Audi TT was lauded for its crisp styling, while the second-gen TT was slightly less sharp looking, but made scores of improvements upon the original. Although there aren’t any rear seats, realistically they’d be too cramped for practical use. It’s best to avoid higher-spec TTs because they offer very little for the extra money they command, especially the TT RS. Watch out for problems with all transmissions but the manual, so make sure you take a thorough test drive before committing.

Our pick: Audi TT 2.0 TFSI

3. Mercedes-Benz SLK

Another close runner to the top two, the Mercedes-Benz SLK is also a five-star used car. Sporty, F1-inspired styling is matched by engaging handling, and punchy enough engines to keep everything balanced. There were fewer SLK 280s sold, so they’ll be much harder to find, and don’t offer anything which the easier-to-find and gutsier SLK350 doesn’t. Examples equipped with the Airscarf option are worth looking for, too. The only reliability problems to report with the SLK are engine motors that sometimes seize up, so a thorough check before you buy is advisable. Mercedes’ services are expensive, too.

Our pick: Mercedes-Benz SLK 350

4. Porsche Boxster

The Porsche Boxster has continually pushed the boundaries of how good a convertible can be. Reasonable affordability is somewhat balanced out by high running costs compared to competitors, hence the (close-run) fourth place to the TT and MX-5, but reliability, refinement and styling are all excellent. The Tiptronic automatic gearbox is inferior to the manual, though, so is best avoided. Go for a PDK, if it’s within your budget. Watch out for track-used cars, so take a close look at paintwork. A full service history is essential on a Boxster, too.

Our pick: Porsche Boxster 2.7 (pre-2006)/2.9 (post-2006)

5. BMW Z4

The BMW Z4 missed out on a five-star used rating because of its overly stiff ride, but this works in its favour elsewhere, as grip and body control are top notch. Go for SE rather than Sport unless you have a good chiropractor, as the ride is stiffer still on Sport models. Servicing is pleasantly cheap – no more expensive than a 3 Series, but the Z4’s decent residual values mean that you’ll have to drive a hard bargain or raise your budget to get as much for your money as some others. Generally, the Z4 has proven reliable but watch for tampering with service indicators, and ensure it has a full service history.

Our pick: BMW Z4 2.0 SE

6. Volkswagen Eos

Arguably the most practical car on our list, the Volkswagen Eos is both a stylish, refined coupe and comfortable, dynamic convertible. There’s a remarkable amount of room with the roof up, and running costs are kept reasonable by frugal, flexible engines. The one to go for is the 2.0-litre diesel and the Sport trim adds style, both inside and out. Just watch out for leaks, squeaks and rattles, so take it on a challenging test drive route with scarred roads aplenty.

Our pick: Volkswagen Eos 2.0 TDI Sport

7. Vauxhall Astra Convertible

The Vauxhall Astra convertible offers the same package as the Eos, on a shoestring. The lack of diesel option and staid styling prevents it from climbing higher on our list of best used convertibles, but it’s a convincing package nonetheless. It has a firm ride, but handles well and the steering is impressively precise, with a lot of room for luggage – for a convertible at least – to boot. Kit levels were generous from entry-level spec upwards. Low insurance and reasonably economical engines keep running costs low, as do Vauxhall’s low cost of servicing. We wouldn’t deter you from going independent for servicing, either. Just look out for faulty air-con, timing belts and leaks.

Our pick: Vauxhall Astra Convertible 2.0 Design Twin Top

8. Mini Convertible

The Mini hatch is certainly not short on character, so the kitsch appeal of the Mini Convertible is palpable. High new buying prices mean that the Mini is a used market favourite, but this in turn means that the Mini holds its value well. You get a lot of fun for your money though; the Mini is great to drive, the roof mechanism is fast in operation and there’s decent refinement when it’s up. It’s cramped in the rear though, and rear visibility is poor. Watch out for dashboard rattles, and manual gearbox and clutch issues.

Our pick: 1.6 Cooper

9. BMW 1 Series Convertible

The 1 Series Convertible is a handsome drop-top, which features only eighth because of its cramped rear seats and slow roof. Its rear-drive setup means it’s a hoot to drive though. In addition to this, it’s comfortable and well screwed together, as well as fast and frugal in 120d guise. The coupé lets in a lot of wind and road noise, so don’t expect the convertible to be all that refined, either. The smart money goes on a 120d, with a thorough check of the interior, as some trim can be less than durable.

Our pick: 120d SE

10. Lotus Elise

Few mainstream cars are more extreme than the Lotus Elise, which works both in its favour and against it. On one hand, its performance is unmatched by the rest of our list, while a judgement on its handling alone would put it among the top three. It’s an impractical car at the best of times, though, with little kit or safety equipment, very little space for luggage, and just about enough for the driver and passenger. Blown head gaskets are a recurring problem, so check for oil in the coolant and white residue under the oil filler cap. More recent models are pricey, so go for an early one.

Our pick: 120bhp