The Washington Times - June 2, 2008, 06:51AM

Top-down weather is here

The great perk in being an automotive writer is getting to drive something different every week and I just happened to have a new BMW M6 convertible (its maddening SMG transmission will be the subject of another blog later) during several sunny, dry, near-perfect days. In such conditions there’s nothing quite like motoring down a country byway in a convertible. Come to think of it, driving through Georgetown with the top down on a nice night is pretty sweet too, as is packing a picnic and taking it down the GW Parkway toward Mount Vernon. Oh heck, it doesn’t matter where – or who - you are; you always look good in a convertible! Even follicle-challenged, bloom-off-the-rose me got smiles and thumbs-up gestures as I glided by in the BMW, and the same thing would have happened in any other convertible.

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For those who’ve never owned a convertible now is the time to think about it, because the choices have never been as abundant (there are now 50 different models on the market) or so weatherproof. Gone are the days when owning a convertible meant carrying a towel to keep drips off your pants leg and most soft-top models have glass rear windows instead of those old, fast-yellowing plastic ones.

That said, having owned many convertibles I will never buy another soft-top because there’s a better way to go in the form of retractable hard top models. They offer significant advantages over their fabric-covered brethren, such as a better overall appearance, quieter interiors, greater security and really cool operation. Two models, the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Chrysler Sebring, offer a choice of soft-top or retractable hard top and Mustang’s going to offer the same choice in 2009. Safety conscious buyers can even choose several models that have built-in roll bars to protect passengers in the event of a rollover.

I’m just here to help, so for those of you in the market for one, here’s a rundown of the available models you can currently find in showrooms. The prices range from the mid teens to the mid 6-figures, so don’t feel you can’t afford one unless you simply “must have” a Lamborghini. Take a look:

Rag-tops: Chrysler PT Cruiser; Ford Mustang; Mazda MX-5 Miata; MINI Cooper; Pontiac Solstice; SMART Fortwo; Volkswagen New Beetle; Chrysler Sebring; Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder; Saturn Sky; Toyota Camry Solara; Audi A4 Cabriolet; Audi TT Roadster; BMW Z4; Chrysler Crossfire; Honda S2000; Nissan 350Z; Saab 9-3; BMW M; Chevrolet Corvette; Ford Shelby GT500; Lotus Elise; Mercedes-Benz CLK; Porsche Boxster; Audi S4, RS4 Cabriolet; BMW 6 Series; Dodge Viper; Jaguar XK, XKR; Porsche 911; Aston Martin DB9; Aston Martin Vantage; Maserati Coupe-Cabriolet; Bentley Continental GTC; Bentley Azure; Ferrari F430 Spider; Lamborghini Gallardo Spider; Lamborghini Murcielago; LP640 Roadster; Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead; Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

Retractables: Mazda MX-5 Power Retractable Hard Top; Chrysler Sebring; Pontiac G6; Volkswagen Eos; BMW 3 Series; Cadillac XLR; Lexus SC430; Volvo C70; Mercedes-Benz SLK; Mercedes-Benz SL Series; BMW M6