When the rains have moved on and the heat hasn't quite settled in yet, there's no better time to consider buying a convertible.
Prior to the recession, buying a convertible meant sinking your cash into a Chrysler Sebring/200, a Jeep Wrangler or a higher-end luxury vehicle from BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz. Convertibles still cost more than their hard-top versions, but gas prices that are averaging $2.33 a gallon and 5 cents lower per gallon than they were at this time last year. For convertible buyers, that levels the playing field a bit.
In 2014, TrueCar looked into convertible buying habits and found that drivers in California, Florida, Texas, New York, and New Jersey were the most likely to buy them. Not surprisingly, folks in Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho who face short summer and cold winters are a bit less likely to take the plunge.
With vehicle sales up just 1.5% through June, according to MotorIntelligence, we aren't exactly surprised that folks would hold off on a convertible. Still, car buyers 35 to 54 years old and nearly 40% of the female car-buying public love the convertible and are forcing the industry to give them more options. However, there are just six convertibles on the road today that are capable of 30 miles per gallon or more -- and Tesla doesn't make any of them.
With U.S. fuel efficiency standards closing in on toward 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, as the Environmental Protection Agency has mandated, more fuel-efficient vehicles have become both more plentiful and less expensive. The average fuel economy (window-sticker value) of new vehicles sold last year was 25.2 mpg, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. That's still less than halfway to the EPA and Department of Transportation's goal set back in 2012, but it beats the roughly 19 miles per gallon that the Department of Transportation measured for the same pool of vehicles in 1995. Convertibles by their very nature aren't all that efficient, but here are ten under $35,000 that'll at least keep initial costs down:
Starting price: $23,995
Miles per gallon: 17 city, 21 highway, 19 mpg
The wind slapping against that soft top in the summer is loud, its combined 19 miles per gallon isn't exactly efficient and it's a little cozy unless you spring for the stretched out Unlimited version. However, that iconic look and off-road performance don't have an acceptable understudy.
The ground clearance and four-wheel drive come in awfully handy in miserable winter weather, while that removable hardtop makes it a sweet open-air ride in the summer. Carbuyers don't pick up a used version of the Wrangler, because they want to truck the kids around or make grocery runs. They buy it because they want a "Jeep" and all the fun that comes attached to that name.
Starting price: $30,685
Miles per gallon: 18 city, 27 highway, 22.5 combined
Back in 2005, when the Ford (F - Get Report) Mustang was redesigned with a "retro-futurist look" that was basically an update of the first generation's classic aesthetic. It gave the Mustang line a huge boost just before the Great Recession and prompted Chevy and Dodge to make similar retro tweaks to their Camaro, Charger and Challenger.
Ford's softened up that style in 2015 and gave the 2015 Mustang an overhaul that looks more like a jacked up Ford Fusion than anything else. However, there's still 300 horsepower pumping out of that base-level 3.7-liter V6, which makes features like leather racing seats, leather steering wheels covers and high-powered gas headlights not at all ridiculous. Yet 27 miles per gallon on the highway, six-speaker sound system and 4.2-inch touchscreen entertainment and navigation display give it all great features of a practical mid-size without ditching any of the muscle.
Starting price: $33,065
Miles per gallon: 20 city, 27 highway, 23.5 mpg
What if you could have a car with luxury amenities but also mid-range power? That's the question GM's (GM - Get Report) Buick brand spends each year answering, but this time it's applied that formula to a convertible. This 1.6-liter 200-horsepower four-seater boasts about "turbocharged performance," but should maybe focus on the insulated soft top that opens in 17 seconds at up to 31 miles per hour. Features like the Buick IntelliLink with a 7-inch-diagonal color touch screen -- featuring text alerts and Siri Eyes Free for Apple phones with an iOS 6 or newer operating system -- OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot (includes three-month/3GB data trial), available navigation, available premium audio, rear parking assist, remote starter, leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and front and rear power outlets are the big selling points here. Especially considering that trunk space shrinks from 13.4 cubic feet to 9.8 with the top down.
Starting price: $31,905
Miles per gallon: 20 city, 30 highway, 25 combined
Nearly 400 pounds lighter, a bit wider, lit in 24 colors and rocking a 6.2-liter V8 with 455 horsepower on the high end (even the four-cylinder base engine produces 275 hp), the redesigned Camaro is a crowd pleaser.
Hooked up with Apple CarPlay, a 7-inch touchscreen, available MyLink navigation, an available phone charging pad, available in-car Wi-Fi, voice-activated controls and smartphone-activated locks and starter, this Camaro is certainly smarter than its predecessors. However, since it doesn't give up any of its trademark brawn to take on that added intelligence, it's a smart call for a convertible.
Starting price: $24,725
Miles per gallon: 25 city, 34 highway, 29.5 combined
The iconic Beetle dates back to World War II but, by the mid-1970s, other compact cars began encroaching on the Beetle's turf and Volkswagen was staring down bankruptcy. To right the ship, Volkswagen had to ditch the Beetle in favor of the Golf hatchback.
Thus began the more than 20-year absence of new Beetles from U.S. roads. By the time a New Beetle concept car surfaced in 1994, engineers had figured out how to put the engine up front, how to give it front wheel drive and a more spacious interior and make it look like an updated version of the original while giving it little tweaks like a flower vase in the dashboard. The current Beetle's power soft top, 6.3-inch touchscreen apps display, rearview camera, blind spot monitor and 210-horsepower turbocharged engine don't get the reception that accompanied the Beetle's comeback and spawned the "new futurism" of updated Mustangs and Camaros, but it's still just as sweet. Sadly, this is rumored to be the last year for Beetles, as young driver have no sentimental attachment to it and their Boomer parents now prefer this roadster...
Starting price: $24,915
Miles per gallon equivalent: 27 city, 36 highway, 31.5 combined
The Miata is every bit the same powerhouse as the Porsche Boxster it competes against.
O.K., so the engine is is a little pokier at 155-horsepower from a 2-liter, 4-cylinder -- no matter which trim you pay for. That said, the two cars have similar acceleration (zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds for the Porsche, seven seconds for the Miata), similar ratings from Consumer Reports (90 for Porsche, 89 for Mazda) and similar customer satisfaction. The Miata's available hardtop that kicks the starting price up above $27,000 -- still far less than the Boxster's $52,000 starting price -- only closes the gap further.
Redesigned last year with lower ground clearance than ever and with musclebound, stingray-style curves, the Miata is also 148 pounds lighter. That's great for its mileage and for the addition of perks like a Mazda Connect touchscreen and communications system, but it also makes that engine feel almost Porsche fast.
Starting price: $24,995
Miles per gallon equivalent: 26 city, 35 highway, 30.5 combined
Of course, if you like the Miata but want something a little more European, this is the way to go. Fiat's (FCAU - Get Report) initial version of the 124, sold from 1966 to 1985, was a cute little convertible. This newest incarnation, released last year, is basically an Italian-badged Miata.
Sure, it has different body panels than the Miata and a similar 160-horsepower engine. Yes, it has Fiat's suspension and turbocharged engine that should give it some advantages over its Japanese Cousin. However, it was co-developed with Mazda and built in a Mazda factory in Japan.
That said, is that such a terrible thing? You people love the Miata. More Miatas are sold here than anywhere in the world, including Japan. Of the roughly 16,000 produced globally in 2015, 8,600 were sold here -- the most since 2008.
Starting price: $25,950
Miles per gallon equivalent: 27 city, 38 highway, 32.5 combined
Mini has never been an adequate description of all this car has to offer.
The Mini's toys, including Mini Connected entertainment center featuring a 6.5-inch high-definition display, Apple-designed Bluetooth interface and app for smartphone and iTunes connectivity and optional GPS all make this remarkably zippy 134 horsepower subcompact a fun ride. The Sirius satellite radio, Pandora and HD radio just provide the soundtrack, but the most indulgent item built into the dash is a Rain Warner that sends a message to your smartphone when rain is coming and your car's top is down. Between that feature and the top that lets you open just a sunroof-sized portion if you desire, this Mini convertible is no econobox.
Starting price: $16,490
Miles per gallon equivalent: 31 city, 40 highway, 35.5 combined
Making every Fiat 500 available as a convertible is perhaps the best thing fiat has ever done. The cinquecento measures a scant 140 inches long and 64 inches wide, gives parallel parkers a 30.6-inch turning radius for squeezing into tight spots and finds room for 10 cubic feet of trunk space -- nearly double that of the Mini.
The retractable, soft top, power outlets, five cupholders, cruise control, power windows and 40 miles-per-gallon highway mileage -- not to mention 31 mpg in the city -- can't go where the Jeep Wrangler does, but they're just as accessible.
Starting price: $28,750
Miles per gallon equivalent: 122 city, 93 highway, 107 combined
Electric charge range: 80 miles
Smart is upgraded the look and feel of this car last year to make it a bit more curvy and cute and less like a German utilitarianmobile. This is perhaps the best example of those efforts.
The upgrade widens the wheelbase, gives drivers a smartphone dock for better access to the car's myriad apps that substitute for dashboard items and adds items you likely thought were standard: Bluetooth hands-free calling, cruise control, power steering, power windows and crosswind assist for its tiny frame. The roof, meanwhile, retracts in 12 seconds. It's also bulked up the vehicle's horsepower from 47 to 80, while pushing the top speed to 80 mph. It still feels as if that mileage should be better for the money, but Smart has gone a long way toward making this little car a bit more loveable. The available media system's 7-inch touchscreen display with navigation and energy data are nice touches, while the optional Climate Package provides a heated steering wheel and additional insulation for efficiency and comfort in colder climates. The fact that it can now take an 80% charge in 2.5 hours -- two hours quicker than the last version, shouldn't be ignored.