- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

It was a long winter for the auto industry. All through those dark months, the media chronicled the startling realities of bankruptcy for Chrysler and GM, as well as the nation’s plunging car sales.

Now with the sun shining across the country, we’re reminded that despite all the dire news, the showroom enthusiasm tank hasn’t hit “E.” There are superb roadsters and convertibles on sale this summer.

And considering the continuing high level of incentives throughout the market, now might be the best opportunity in quite some time to take the plunge for a “want” car.

Convertibles and roadsters — whether with two seats or more — typically are a costlier proposition than everyday cars, so we divided these drop-tops into more-affordable options and premium models.

Affordable roof removal

Volkswagen Eos ($31,615): What’s not to like about the Eos’ blend of practicality, comfort and performance? The folding hardtop retracts in seconds and provides comfy foul-weather protection, the turbo-charged four-cylinder is lively and fairly frugal, and the Eos seats four. You might complain that the $31,000 starting price isn’t “affordable,” but the Eos is one of the more inexpensive four-seat convertibles around.

Saturn Sky ($28,265): Oooh, this two-seat Saturn fronts some of the slinkiest lines you’ll find for the money. Yeah, the Sky (and its equally great-looking Pontiac Solstice counterpart) is best considered as an around-town runabout because GM’s stylists forgot to leave room for any storage, but it’s fun enough to drive and even has potential collector value now that Pontiac is shutting down and Saturn will no longer be a part of GM.

Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder ($25,949): A longtime best-seller, the Eclipse Spyder encompasses just about everything an affordable roadster is all about: great price, decent performance and sexy sheet metal that’s noticeably restyled for 2009. We’d spend extra money for the GT model and its 265-horsepower V-6 for the “go” to match the looks.

Mazda MX-5 Miata ($25,680): The Miata is the world’s best-selling convertible for good reason: it’s an unqualified delight to drive (don’t deny yourself the delectable six-speed manual transmission) and, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2009, is a killer bargain. There’s even a hardtop version that retracts the metal in 12 seconds flat.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited ($24,240): The iconic Wrangler is known mainly for its SUV-ness, of course, so it’s easy to forget the top comes off these things, creating one unique driving experience. We priced the four-door Wrangler Unlimited here because it’s so much more useful than the two-door Wrangler, but either way, the Wrangler is a definitively American slant on the convertible formula.

Premium suntan machines

Volvo C70 ($40,625): A lot like Volkswagen’s Eos, the C70 is Volvo’s reasonably priced four-person convertible. The folding hardtop seals like a drum, and there’s the C70’s 227-horsepower turbo-charged five-cylinder. The C70 oozes restrained class and style, while Volvo engineers don’t let the absence of a roof detract from their safety standards.

Audi TTS ($47,500): Audi’s TT coupe is one of the world’s most delicious-looking coupes that made a sweet transition to soft-top roadster. The TTS adds some steroids to the formula with a storming 265-horsepower turbo-charged four-cylinder and the brand’s quattro all-wheel drive. OK, $47,500 is a lot of change for just two seats and a non-metal folding top, but the TTS is a sun-machine that can hang with muscle cars when asked.

Lexus SC430 ($66,805): There’s no beating around the bush: Lexus’ SC430 is getting old, and its moves are kinda soft. But the SC430 is the veteran-ballplayer luxury convertible: it’s still got some game in the form of effortless V-8 performance and that inimitable Lexus quality.

Mercedes-Benz SLK300 ($46,825): Mercedes makes several different flavors of convertible, but the SLK300 is a well-rounded player with its 228-hp V-6. Although replacement time is overdue, the SLK still looks assertive and sleek - and remains the real deal in the premium-convertible realm.

Porsche Boxster ($46,600): Just listen to the magnificent shriek from the six opposed cylinders of the Boxster’s engine as it labors behind your back, and you’ll understand why the Boxster is the most serious roadster “regular” money can buy. Porsche doesn’t give up a lot of extras for the base price: the Boxster is about convertible simplicity and performance above all else. It works like magic.

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