I'd argue that the Pacific Northwest is the best place in America to own a convertible. Don't wait for a punch line; I truly believe this. The intense sun and heat of other climates force drivers to raise the roof and crank the AC, but our milder temperatures make top-down driving delightful.
What we lack in quantity is made up for in quality.
Begin the search for your four-wheeled tanning bed the same way you'd buy any vehicle: Size up your needs and budget. Next, decide between a classic fabric roof and a folding hardtop. Rigid tops are more secure, but their bulk fills trunk space when retracted.
Here's a roundup of popular drop-tops under $60,000. I'm passing on the Aston Martin Volante and Bentley Continental GTC, as they both start at around $200,000. Those dream rides make the $91,000 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet and $89,000 Jaguar XK convertible seem affordable. Almost.
All prices quoted are base MSRP, including delivery.
The prize for least-expensive ragtop goes to the smart fortwo passion cabriolet, starting at $18,440. Another popular two-seater is the Mazda MX-5 Miata; priced at $23,905, it's unbeatable in the "smiles per gallon" category. It comes in both cloth and retractable-hardtop models.
Other two-passenger convertibles include the sleek, compact Audi TT ($42,175), the BMW Z4 ($48,325) and the high-performance Chevrolet Corvette ($54,995). About $39,000 will get you into Nissan's performance classic, the 370Z Roadster.
At $56,675, Mercedes-Benz offers the SLK350. Its retractable hardtop features an exclusive variable-transparency LCD glass roof panel as an option. And don't forget the Porsche Boxster. It's hard to believe a car this entertaining -- a Porsche, no less -- can be had for $49,050.
Because of their small size, the Mini Cooper convertible ($25,550) and the Fiat 500 Cabrio ($20,250) could almost belong in the two-seater category. But their diminutive back seats are able to hold small kids, perhaps making them practical enough to win over a reluctant spouse.
The best value in open-air family transportation is the $27,195 Chrysler 200 Touring. Consider upgrading to the $32,190 Limited model to gain the rewarding 283-horsepower Pentastar V-6. A welcome upgrade from the Sebring, the 200 is also available with a retractable hardtop for those wanting more security.
For even more safety, and the peace of mind that comes from owning a Volvo, go for the C70. For $40,825, you get a retractable hardtop, seating for four and curvaceous Swedish style. Volkswagen's Eos has a glass retractable roof that's among the best in the business, and it's a value at $34,765.
The luxury performance category is crowded, making decisions difficult. Audi's svelte and taut A5 ($43,800) and high-powered S5 ($59,925) both sport cloth tops. The BMW 328i convertible's top is the hard kind ($47,325). So are the roofs on the Infiniti G37 ($46,645) and the Lexus IS 250 and 350 C ($43,235 and $47,515, respectively).
Ford and Chevrolet are duking it out again. The Mustang convertible ($28,105), available for years, recently added a 3.7-liter Duratec V-6. Combine the 305-horsepower engine and 31 mpg highway rating with 30 SPF sunscreen, and you have a winning trio. The new Chevy Camaro convertible ($30,125) is ready to fight like Bumblebee for a slot in your garage. Its base V-6 pumps out 312 horsepower, and edgy design is standard equipment.
To really stand out in the sun, however, nothing beats the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet ($47,200). Built in very small numbers, it's the world's only production crossover convertible.