5 Best Convertibles for Summer 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Your nightmares of a polar vortex and endless winter may not have receded yet, but we assure you better weather is on the way -- and that your car's heater and defroster will eventually turn off.

Though snow isn't that distant a memory for much of the country, spring is here and summer will soon follow. If that first gust of warm air wasn't enough to make commuters roll down the windows and dream of a more convertible commuting option, maybe the next few that follow will.

The folks at TrueCar took a look at convertible buying habits and found that folks in California, Florida, Texas, New York and New Jersey are almost always gearing up to take their cars' tops down. Those are the states that tend to invest in convertibles most, while Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho don't feel it's particularly necessary to own a car that can't keep the breeze or rain out for long stretches at a time.

There's a lot to be said about the practicality of a car that needs long stretches of warm, sunny weather to justify its premium price and relative inefficiency. But it's that buy-in cost that may be keeping folks without addresses in some of the nation's richest states from ditching their hardtops.

Still, for car buyers 35 to 54 years old and nearly 40% of the female car-buying public, the convertible is the way to go this time of year. With help from the folks at TrueCar and Kelley Blue book, we put together a list of the Top 5 convertibles on the market for those willing to feel the wind in their faces. It's not for everybody, but neither is wearing kerchiefs to keep your hair from blowing around or swallowing a bug every 20 miles or so:

5. 2013 Mini Cooper
Starting price: $25,150

Years of driving fuel-efficient but flimsy Geo Metros and Hyundai Excels had given U.S. drivers the impression small cars were not only underpowered, but cramped and inherently bad. As films such as 2002's Austin Powers: Goldmember and 2003's The Italian Job showed U.S. audiences, however, a modernized take on the classic British Mini could not only be fuel-efficient, but fun and fast at the same time.

You could swap out colors, arrange the interior, trick it out with gauges and accessories and use its wide wheel base to hug turns while putting its impressive speed to the test. In the decade after its return to the U.S. market, the Mini sold 2.5 million vehicles and became a cult favorite while the big gas guzzlers faded. Now Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Honda and several other automakers each have sporty, options-packed subcompacts. Meanwhile, the U.S. market became so open to subcompacts that the Fiat 500 that was banished a generation ago has made a comeback. For a marque called Mini, it's had a major impact.

The Mini convertible comes loaded with its 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. While's it's also hooked up with Sirius XM satellite radio, Pandora and HD radio, the most indulgent item built into the dash is an Openometer whose sole purpose is to count the number of minutes or hours your convertible top is down during your trip.

4. 2014 Fiat 500C
Starting price: $19,695

As much as its American cousins at Dodge like to promote the bigger, brawnier Charger and Challenger, Fiat doesn't mind making them feel as if they're overcompensating by giving drivers just as much fun in a smaller package. 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, pool-cover-style sunroof, power outlets, five cupholders, cruise control, power windows and 40 miles-per-gallon highway mileage -- not to mention 31 mpg in the city -- are a whole lot cooler to the post-bailout buyer base than gas-guzzling reincarnations of Dodge muscle cars.

3. 2014 Nissan 370Z Roadster
Starting price: $41,470

Zoom. That's what the Z is for.

The top features Nissan wants to make sure you know about once you get beyond that droptop are its 3.7-liter V6 engine and its 332 horsepower. Don't sweat the scant standard features such as xenon headlights, intelligent key, LED lighting and pushbutton starter. Upgrades such as Bluetooth, a Bose sound system and an entertainment/information system are all available.

But you could get those in a far cheaper convertible. No, if you're even considering this particular convertible, you're doing so for its convenience and performance. Worry about accessories later: You've got speed now.

2. 2014 Ford Mustang
Starting price: $27,510

Back in 2005, when the Mustang was redesigned with a "retro-futurist look" that was basically an update of the first generation's classic aesthetic, fans responded instantly. Sales jumped from fewer than 130,000 in 2004 to more than 160,000 in 2005 and 166,500 in 2006. 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 a bit and is getting ready for a 2015 overhaul that makes the Mustang look more like a jacked-up Ford Fusion than anything else. Still, the Mustang is a brawny little pony that lends itself well to a convertible configuration.

Yes, that's 305 horsepower pumping out of that base-level V6, which makes features such as leather racing seats, leather steering wheels covers and high-powered gas headlights not at all ridiculous. But that 29 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 midsize without ditching any of the muscle.

1. 2014 Mazda MX5 Miata
Starting price: $23,720

What did retirees drive before this car existed? Were they all in Cadillacs and Corvettes? Were cheap convertibles such as the Chrysler LeBaron just more widely available?

That last element has a ring of truth to it, as convertibles have become just slightly more scarce in the years since this car's debut. Mini has made strides in the low end and Chrysler's 200 is filling in admirably for the Sebring, but neither of them are the sporty little two-seater the Miata is.

But neither provides Porsche Boxster performance at roughly half the price. You don't go shopping for a Porsche Boxter and come home with a Miata, but the Porsche's label is about about all that's separating these two vehicles. 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 only closes the gap further. What the Porsche does have that the Miata doesn't is engine, cooling, electrical system, power equipment and significant brake problems that add up to a lot of future costs over the life of the car. Boxter owners pay twice as much for that privilege, but at least they're getting a bit more trunk space out of the deal.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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