Affordable Convertibles Put to the Test

Some highly anticipated new luxury convertibles will hit the market this summer in the Lexus IS and Infiniti G37, but what about droptops for the masses? Isn’t everyone entitled to some wind in their hair?

With the sun shining and the breeze cool, we took three popular, affordable convertibles out for a spin to see how they’d fare as a chariot for a weekend getaway. The cars tested were the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata, 2010 Ford Mustang and 2009 Volkswagen Beetle convertible. We considered cargo space, comfort and cool factor. Check out the video above to see how they fared in those categories, and read on to see how we felt about these topless wonders as driving machines.

In the end, our five staffers arrived at a split decision, but not before some heavily spirited debate. What follows is the conversation that ensued after a day of driving the three vehicles over a large chunk of northern Illinois:

Miata

MX-5 Miata (manual)

Amanda Wegrzyn, Advice editor: I’ve heard so much about how fun the Miata is to drive. Unfortunately, I was unable to test that out considering I can’t drive stick shift — reprehensible, I know — so my opinion on that car is solely as a passenger. Although it looked amazing, it was loud and cramped, and the sportiness of the driving doesn’t really translate to the passenger seat.

Kelsey Mays, reviewer: The MX-5 Miata was my clear favorite. Elbow room is overrated, guys; the Miata is a precious little bundle of joy. And not the sort you’ll be stuck with for 18 years. Oh, and automatic only? Reprehensible, indeed. Don’t worry; we’ll make fun of that as often as possible, and the same goes for Sarah.

Sarah Gersh, multimedia coordinator: No, I can’t drive a stick shift, so like Amanda my experience in the Miata was limited. Despite its small quarters, I had more legroom than I initially thought I would, but my limited time in it was enough to know an hour-long trip was about all I could handle.

Stephen Markley, assistant editor : Going into the drive, I was fairly sure the Miata would be my favorite of the three convertibles, but then I got out on the highway in it. The noise and wind were almost overwhelming, and it was just too small. After an hour, the fun of the six-speed manual had worn off.

Patrick Olsen, editor in chief: I found the Miata to be my favorite of the three. Now, to be fair, I intentionally picked the leg where we weren’t on the interstate and where we drove on some very winding roads.

Beetle

Beetle (automatic)

Wegrzyn: I couldn’t get past how much the convertible top blocked my rear view when it was down.

Mays: The Beetle’s visibility issues are a deal-breaker, as is its sloppy highway steering.

Gersh: Overall, I would have to say the Beetle won me over. Despite the blocked rear view with the top down, the Beetle was comfortable and fun to drive.

Mustang

Mustang (automatic)

Markley: By default, my winner was the Mustang, which had a solid feel to the ride, a lot of room and didn’t emasculate me the way the Beetle convertible managed to.

Wegrzyn: [The Mustang] was comfortable, but it still had the “Notice me!” factor you look for in a convertible.

Olsen: I thought the V-6 Mustang a little frumpy, bumpy and sad on the open interstate.

Mays: Patrick is right — highway bumps send the Mustang shimmying like Kevin Bacon in ”Footloose.”

The final tally? Two votes for the Mustang, two for the Miata and one for the Beetle. Looks like the Cars.com editorial staff will just have to agree to disagree on this one.

Convertibles by the Numbers

2010 Ford Mustang
V6 Premium two-door: $28,995
18/26 mpg city/highway

2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Grand Touring retractable hardtop: $28,190
21/28 mpg city/highway

2009 Volkswagen New Beetle
2.5L two-door: $25,990
20/28 mpg city/highway

Comments 

DonB

When did "affordable" become nearly $30,000??? Did I miss something?

well the mazda starts at $22.

Adam

Car editors that can't drive stick?! Am I missing something here?

Adam,
They are not our full-time reviewers. But you'd be shocked how many full time reviewers at other pubs can't drive stick either.

Trust me, it doesn't impact their job performance.

Angelo_Frank

While complaining about noise and wind on the highway with the Miata, what do you think the retractable hardtop is for? How much luggage do you need for a weekend? Unless you are packing for four climate seasons and want to bring along your golf clubs, the Miata will hold enough for two for a weekend. For touring for two the Miata just can't be beat. Besides, who wants to run around in a Mustang that looks like you just rented it at the airport.

AF,
you're totally right. for a roadster the Miata has tons of room. But compared to the others at similar prices in this comparo it is behind. You could totally go on a weekend getaway in a Miata. You could do a golf weekend in the other two though ;)

Juan Carlos

the world is good again, Lindsey is back.

Patrick O.

Dave, I'm going to disagree with you and AF. We asked our staffers to pack the same way they would for a weekend trip -- leaving Friday afternoon, coming back Sunday afternoon. So unless someone is willing to leave normally needed supplies and/or clothes behind, the Miata would not have worked very well for a full weekend trip.

It's just the bags used which are the very popular overhead rollers for airplanes that cause the issue I think the readers are mentioning.

I think there are many luggage companies out there that produce varying bags that will fit plenty of cargo in the Miata. I've filled it pretty full myself. It's one of the best attributes of that car in terms of practicality. Not many roadsters have a trunk not stymied by the folding top. Cubic feet wise the Miata is actually slightly larger than the VW's because it has the lower well. It's also just slightly smaller than a Mini Cooper's cargo area.

That said, there's no doubt the others offer a cargo area more suitable for those standard bags.

Tummy

Excluding perhaps the MX5, for nearly $30k I would rather have a used / certified Porsche Boxster, Mercedes Benz SLK350/55 AMG, or a BMW Z4. All of those can be had for the low 20's now.

I'm curious to see how the VW EOS and Saturn SKY / Pontiac Solstice compare.

Paul

Chrysler Sebring anyone? Chrysler started the affordable convertible again for 1982 with Dodge 400 and LeBaron.Do not forget the company that led everyone else to play catch up with them (remember GMs aborted Beretta/Olds Cutlass convertibles?).

Angelo_Frank

In reply to Tummy, a new '09 Miata with a standard convertible top can be purchased for as little as $21K and there are some remaining '08s on the lots for less.

As far as the ability to carry enough for two on a weekend trip, that's indeed debatable. I know people that need a large SUV to haul their 'stuff' for a weekend away. Two folding clothing bags and two smaller duffel-type soft bags can accommodate what most couples require for a weekend. Those fit easily in the Miata with room to spare.

Note, you would not be able to carry hardly anything with the top down in a Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Skye. That's probably why they were not even included in the evaluation. The Mustang and Beetle are not sports cars to begin with, so I hope they can carry more luggage than a Miata.

Besides, the 'fun' factor should count more. Thus, the Miata is clearly the runaway winner. For those that can't drive a stick, complain about the lack of room, wind, and noise...stay with a mid-size four-door automatic sedan with soft suspension. As for those Miata drivers, no wonder they always have a smile on their faces.

Kyle Morgan

I have to echo Adam's comment about the reviewers.

If a reviewer can't drive one or more of the cars in a comparison for any reason, they should be excluded from the review. The "well, from the passenger seat..." comments are useless to anyone who is interested in the overall comparisons of car models in a given class. These type of spurious comments lessen the credibility of your comparisons.

I have a suggestion -- Arrange a manual transmission driving class for those on your staff that can't drive a stick shift BEFORE they're asked to participate as a comparison reviewer involving a stickshift model of any automobile.

Jules

It's so good to see Lindsay and Stephen again! Let's have more videos starring them.

the world is good again, Lindsey is back

Jason

The cargo space test seems a bit off to me. Isn't there a back seat (albeit small) in the Mustang and VW? Only the Miata would require the bags in the trunk.

When you need to stop, put up the roof and lock the doors. This is supposed to be a weekend trip, so, unless you are going to stop several places and would need put the top up and down a lot (I don't know if all three are manual roofs), it seems to me trunk space is a moot point (except for the Mazda).

skinner

"when you need to stop, put up the roof and lock the doors"?????
How could you possibly compare that to a trunk. Where are you going for your weekend trip, Amish Country?
To me, that screams "Please slash my top and steal my stuff."

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