Three convertibles, three choices
Judging by the fact that your lawn is so dry that you could get a splinter walking barefoot over it, this summer has been hot and almost waterless. So what’s the point of enduring the sun and heat, if you aren’t going to do it in style? Sure, you could do like most people and crank the A/C, but what’s the fun in that?You’ll have a better time soaking up the sun behind the wheel of a fun little convertible— something that won’t break the bank, or eat up too much fuel each time you take it out.
We recently had three consecutive convertibles in the Globe Garage. The super-small Fiat 500C, the British Bulldog MINI S Roadster, and a car that I called“the roadster by which all other are measured,”the Mazda MX-5 Miata. This gave us a unique opportunity to dissect each car and better ascertain which car is right for which buyers. Though all subcompact, 4-cylinder convertibles, they are vastly different beasts, and each has a different prospective buyer in mind.
The great thing about a convertible top is that it makes any car instantly hipper. That Chrysler LeBaron? Instantly more, well, palatable, with a convertible top. It works with just about any car, and the transitive law of the convertible is absolutely applicable to the Fiat 500C. The Fiat 500 ($19,500-$23,500) on its own is a fun, nimble little runabout, yet is prohibitively small. At 6’3”, I’m tall, but no one is yelling “FREAK”at me when I walk down the street. However, if I were to take a stroll in Rome, the locals might yell “MOSTRO!” That’s the only explanation I can offer for that fact that I can barely fit in that car with the top up. Someone my height was never considered in designing a car like this. Not so with either the Mini S Roadster ($27,350) or the Miata ($23,470-$31,675). The occupants sit low. Very low. In fact, when combined with the MINI’s high belt line, you feel kind of like a kid playing in dad’s convertible when you first sit in the S Roadster.
If you shorter than myself, the Fiat is actually the most livable car of the bunch. Yeah, crazy, right? The presence of a back seat (albeit excruciatingly diminutive) puts it a step above the MINI or the Mazda.The upright seating, high roof (once again, for everyone but me and my tribe of genetic freaks), and good use of space means that the 500C is quite manageable in daily driving.
When it comes to actually having fun driving, the Fiat gets left in the dust. The Miata has long been one of the most well-sorted suspensions available in a dealership. The years of learning and perfecting the “sports car ideal” that Mazda puts into every new Miata makes the price a steal. Anyone who buys a Miata will live out the rest of their days (because it will likely last that long) looking forward to the commute home in their very own adaptation of ‘C’était un rendez-vous.
In this triumvirate to open skies, the MINI S Roadster is the muscle car. Sure, you could opt for the 121 horsepower inline four, but the S throws on a turbocharger, raising the output to 181. It has an overcast function that increases the usual 177 pound feet of toque to 192 pound feet. With the 6-speed Getrag manual transmission, it’s a car that is as fun to take in a straight line as it is to throw around a turn. And it’s darn good at doing the latter.
Where the MINI and Miata differ, though, is in how that power is put to the road and the effect it has on the ride.The front wheel drive MINI maintains competent handling due to its short wheelbase and wide tires. It conspires to put the power to the road in a manner where drivers feel truly connected, in the form of steering feedback. Add thinner tires and this might not be the case.The Miata, on the other hand, feels so connected between driver, vehicle, and road, that it could be compared to playing an instrument. There are no sophisticated shock absorbers, or high powered engine. Just a 167 horsepower engine, a close ratio 6-speed manual, and a limited slip diff.
I suppose I could have saved all of you a lot of trouble by explaining it like this. Leisurely cruising or most livable? Fiat 500C. Straight line power? MINI S Roadster. Handling? Miata. And if you disagree or I have it wrong, hey—at