Be Like William and Kate: Drive Off In A Convertible

Despite small sales numbers, there are dozens of convertibles to choose from to unleash your inner royalty.

Prince William and Kate Middleton surprised a few royal onlookers when the future King of England drove himself and his bride away from Westminster Abbey in a vintage blue Aston Martin convertible belonging to the groom's father.

Why not? Convertibles have long been popular, and signify fun, glamour and even freedom. Despite relatively small sales of convertibles in the U.S., there are almost sixty to choose from in the U.S. for all wallets, including some brand new entries from Fiat, Nissan and BMW, and more.

Indeed, as fruit trees are blossoming, and Baseball season is closing out its first month already, warmer weather is beckoning those in cold weather states to take their convertibles out of storage or take the tarps off them.

"I can't wait for some real warm, dry weather to enjoy my rag-top," says Martin Cullen, a retired auto industry executive in Ypsilanti, MI. He has a 2000 Mazda Miata he often drives to North Michigan to a cottage he and his wife keep.

At this week's New York International Motor Show, there are several convertibles on display, from the inexpensive to the super luxury. And even if few people are actually buying convertibles, they always attract plenty of lookers at auto shows. Open air driving is romantic and exhilarating even if the car isn't moving, taking those in the driver seat to places that exist in their memories.

One of the newest, and most affordable, is the Fiat 500C convertible. Part of the Italian automaker's re-entry into the U.S. market this year, the open-air version of the car should start below $20,000 when pricing is set in a few months.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata remains one of the perennial favorites among convertible buyers, owing no doubt to its affordable starting price of $23,905 and to the fact that it remains one of the most enjoyable cars to drive on the road today. "The Miata is a brand unto itself," says Mazda spokesman Jay Amestoy. "I think there is more name recognition for Miata than there is for Mazda."

So-called "Pony" cars like Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang have long been offered as convertibles. In the case of Camaro, though, the cabrio version is new because GM only re-introduced the Camaro hardtop in 2009.

Mini offers its flagship MINI Copper as a cabrio, as well, at a starting price of $24,850. The Volkswagen Eos starts at $33,895. The new Chrysler 200 convertible starts at $19,245.

View Gallery: Temperatures Up. Convertible Tops Down.

And, of course, the luxury segment of the auto market has plenty of convertibles to choose from. BMW has a brand new 6 Series convertible it is launching this year with a starting price of $90,500. The Bavarian automaker has six convertibles in its current stable. Audi has a raft of five ragtops, from the TT that starts $41,300 and A5 that starts at $42,450 to the R8 that starts at $127,700.

Aston Martin's DBS convertible starts at $279,500. Rolls Royce's Phantom Drophead starts at $447,000.

In all, there are 59 convertibles on the market today, a surprising number given that each one sells in relatively low numbers. But automakers view convertibles as image cars, giving dealer showrooms some feelings of glamour and romance. And, of course, they sell better in sun states like California, Arizona and Florida than they do in the climes of The Great Lakes and New England.

Convertibles cost more to buy and to insure than hard-top cars. There is considerable engineering that goes into making a car with a mechanically retracting top and stiff enough to drive enjoyably and safely. That costs money. The convertible Camaro costs $6,500 more than the hard-top. The convertible BMW 1 Series costs $5,600 more than its hard-top sibling.

As glamorous and fun as open-air driving can be, chopping the top off a car can sometimes yield questionable results. Chrysler created a convertible version of the PT Cruiser, and the result was not visually pleasing. And Nissan is launching the first "crossover cabrio," a chop-top version of its Murano. The aesthetic appeal of this car is up for debate, but the biggest obstacle to purchase may be the price: $46,390. The hard-top Murano starts at $29,050.

Open Air Driving Costs More

Insurance is hundreds of dollars more per year in most cases than a comparable hard-top car because on a percentage basis, convertibles get stolen more frequently, especially when owners leave the cars parked with the top down.

Convertibles are favorites in movies for obvious reasons. Stars photograph in open-air cars better. In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman's ride to try and rescue Katherine Ross from marrying someone else was in an Alfa Romeo Spyder. Thelma and Louise, of course, took their fateful last ride in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird ragtop. In 48 Hours, Nick Nolte careened around the streets of San Francisco in a light blue 1965 convertible and famously growled, "I'm a ragtop man."

If you like convertible driving, though, just don't take the movie glamour too far. Modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan had a fondness for both convertibles and long flowing scarves. On September 14, 1927 she was out in an open-air car in Nice, France when her exceptionally long flowing scarf became tangled in the spokes of one of the tires and she died of a broken neck.

View Gallery: Temperatures Up. Convertible Tops Down.

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