The first-generation Mazda Miata brought love at first sight.
The second-generation convertible remains a favorite for racing on weekends. The third-generation Miata, well, it has kept Ken Saward employed.
Over the past 20 years, the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history has been a big part the California resident's life. “We are attached at the hip,” he said.
It didn’t start out that way. After he graduated from college in the late 1980s, he worked for Chrysler. Young and single at the time, he wanted a convertible. So, it would have been easy to purchase what would later become Seinfeld's George Costanza's car--a Chrysler LeBaron. He could have even gotten one done up in woody siding.
But when he attended the 1989 Chicago Auto Show for work, he instead fell for the car making its debut. Cut from the cloth of vintage 1960s British roadsters with a sleek look and rear-wheel drive. When he got back to Michigan, he put a deposit down for one of the then brand new Mazda Miata.
Then the ribbing from his co-workers started.
“They said, ‘How much did you pay for it? You got ripped off.’ They could only see it in relation to a LeBaron, and I kept trying to explain,” Saward said. “But I couldn’t get the point across. … They didn’t get the essence of it.”
Shortly thereafter, Chrysler transferred him to Southern California, where both Saward and his new car found sun and happiness.
By chance, his roommate there had been recruited from Chrysler to work for Mazda at the company’s Irvine, Calif. design studio. Saward would soon join him, assigned to work on the next Miata. A dream job.
The first car was so perfect,” Saward said, “that coming in there and working on that car was a little like a stepfather coming in and raising somebody else's kids.”
That second-generation MX-5 Miata launched in in 1998, and the slightly bigger current model arrived in 2006. Together, more than 1 million Miatas have been sold across the globe.
Now that spring has sprung, people are shopping convertibles again across the country. Check out our Editor's Choice gallery where we give you the skinny on our favorites, based on design, driving enjoyment and value-for-dollar, that you can buy.
#10 Jeep Wrangler
MSRP: $22,045 - $29,995
Invoice: $21,461 - $28,256
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg City, 21 mpg Highway
The Wrangler is not what you imagine as a convertible, and certainly not a sports car. But if it’s open air you’re seeking, the Jeep provides it in droves at an economical price. And if you prefer rocky trails to paved roads, then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option.
In this grouping, though it is #10 because, while it is aces on the trail, it is rough on the road and the cloth top and surround is a holy nightmare to reset after you have unzipped it.
The 3.6-liter, V-6 engine is new in the 2012 models, as is a five-speed automatic transmission option.
The standard soft top can be folded down. For security purposes, we prefer the hard top. In both cases, doors can be taken off and the windshield can be folded down.
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#9 Fiat 500c
MSRP: $19,500 - $23,500
Invoice: $18,775 - $22,495
Fuel Economy: 30 mpg City, 38 mpg Highway
You may not want to consider the 500c for long drives, but as city car, you might find you like its small size, not to mention the price attractive.
Popping the top is a simple process. Two roof-mounted buttons retract the fabric roof, and drivers have an option of putting the roof all the way back or atop the trunk, accordion style like a Roman shade.
The 500C is a lot of fun. But it is also in a fiercely competitive category with a lot of eye candy and bling. But, ultimately, the 500c gives consumers some European style at a very economical price. So, we do recommend it.
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#8 Chevy Camaro
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg City, 28 mpg Highway
The Camaro convertible has passed the Ford Mustang in sales in the U.S. pony car war. But while its popularity has surged, this is an Editor's Choice ranking. We give the Ford Mustang the edge because of a better interior design and more iconic style.
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#7 Mini Cooper
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway
The MINI convertible is just fun, fun, fun. We like the standard Mini a lot, but when you add open-air driving to the mix, well...
Picking a bunch of Mini options and features can easily drive the sticker to $30,000, but even at that the Mini convertible stands up as a good value, especially when you consider the excellent fuel economy.
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#6 Audi TT
Fuel Economy: 23 mpg City, 31 mpg Highway
The Audi TT is the entry-level sports car in the Audi/VW AG selection of performance cars, and is aimed directly at the segment leading cars from BMW and Porsche.
The TT blends the original Bauhaus styling with Audi's current modern design theme and advanced technology.
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#5 BMW Z4
MSRP: $48,650 - $64,200
Invoice: $44,940 - $59,245
Fuel Economy: 23 mpg City, 34 mpg Highway
The BMW Z4 has the classic two-seat roadster look, but features a modern two-piece power retractable hardtop. The result is an elegant looking car that blends the sportiness of a coupe with the enjoyment of a convertible.
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#4 Ford Mustang
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg City, 29 mpg Highway
The Mustang remains one of the most widely recognized, respected and desired nameplates in the automobile business. It may be retro inspired, but the Mustang is a thoroughly modern car. Today's Mustang still delivers the bold styling, rear-drive performance and affordability that have been Mustang hallmarks for decades.
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#3 BMW 3-Series
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway
Like the BMW coupe convertible, but need something a little bigger? The 335 comes in two convertible trims that seat four.
The larger 335i offers 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, along with a seven-speed Double Clutch Transmission. For those seeking power, space and luxury, this should be a plum choice.
The 3 Series is probably pound for pound, dollar for dollar the best overall vehicle in the world, so naturally we rate the convertible version pretty high in this ranking.
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#2 Porsche Boxster
MSRP: $48,100 - $65,200
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg City, 27 mpg Highway
The Porsche Boxster is a two-seater mid-engine roadster reminiscent of the legendary Porsche 550 Spyder. The second-generation Boxster pays homage to its roots with the inclusion of a lightweight open vehicle concept Spyder model, showcasing a unique removable canvas top.
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#1 Mazda MX-5 Miata
MSRP: $23,470 - $31,225
Invoice: $21,719 - $28,886
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg City, 28 mpg Highway
Remember our friend Saward with whom we started this Editor's Choice ranking?
Turns out that he not only made a good purchase decision in 1990, but also a good career move when he left Chrysler for Mazda.
We editors would have chosen the Miata back in 1990 as the best pound-for-pound dollar-for-dollar convertible on the market, and nothing has changed.
The design and execution remain flawlessly classic. The ride is more fun than ever. We even drove the Miata with retractable hard-top last winter with Blizzak snow tires and enjoyed driving it through the cold and snow.
And at the price that you can buy this classic, it was not hard to put it at the top of our list.
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