The arrival of spring ignites all sorts of poetic ideas. Days become longer, dresses and sleeves become shorter and people are imbued with a joyous spirit. And for motoring enthusiasts (reading this, you certainly fall into this category) the notion of buying a roofless vehicle is likely to excite. With crossovers and sport utility vehicles taking priority on manufacturers’ creation lists, the editorial team of this supplement had to have a good, long think about the topless offerings available in the country.
It is a relief to find a sizable number of products in the genre, across the spectrum of segments and prices. It ought to be noted that this is not a shootout in a traditional sense, but rather, a broad look at what you can buy. Lastly, it is a celebration of the format, which continues to dazzle drivers and occupants by giving greater connection to the sights and smells of the outdoors.
Opel Adam Rocks: From: R287 100
The Opel Adam was launched to great acclaim, representing a spunky alternative to the usual suspects in the boutique hatchback league. With a rugged façade, the Rocks derivative is geared towards fashionable city-slickers — and it is one of the least expensive ways to get open-air thrills. Admittedly, it is not an authentic drop-top, employing a fabric ceiling that retracts in the manner of a sunroof. But it opens far enough to let the wind tousle your hair and allow the sunshine to kiss your shoulders. A lively selection of colours lend themselves to the cheerful spirit of the dainty Adam, as does the cutesy interior.
Performance from its 1.0-litre turbocharged mill (85kW and 170Nm) is equally effusive. We live in a modern society and we cherish the thought that traditional gender roles are an archaic concept. But some of the masculine staffers shied away from the decidedly effeminate persona of the Opel. Only the self-assured need apply.
Fiat 500C: From: R241 990
When Fiat launched the 500C back in 2009, it seemed to be the ultimate accessory for the hip urbanite. And this cool factor has not waned a bit, testament perhaps to the enduring style and inherent chicness of the Cinquecento. Like the Adam, it is one of the most accessible ways to tan on the move, with prices starting at a reasonable R241 990.
But on test here is the meaner Abarth 595C Turismo Cabriolet, which rings in at R414900. In this guise, it seems much tougher to justify as a sensible purchase. Although if you do decide to fork out for it, the Abarth is armed with an arsenal of endearing traits that could soothe the conscience. That includes a joyous, terrier-like driving character. Its boosted 1.4-litre engine (118kW and 230Nm) thrusts the tiny Italian around as if it had been spat out of a pea-shooter. And it sounds appropriately good too: fierce, but in a growling Jack Russell sort of way. Given the high outlay and the knowledge that it will probably depreciate as swiftly as it accelerates, you would want to fully exploit all its charms.
Mini Convertible: From: R389 000
BMW managed a spectacular re-invention of Mini, expanding the marque into a player across a number of segments. Fair enough, products like the Countryman and Clubman render the Mini title a misnomer — much to the ire of long-standing enthusiasts. But offerings such as the Mini Convertible are perhaps truest to the hallmarks of the original. It is (relatively) compact and an absolute hoot to pilot. Especially in Cooper S guise, packing a two-litre engine (141kW and 280Nm) facilitating acceleration rapid enough to quickly ruin a hairdo.
Remarkably, despite the rigidity loss that comes with chopping the top, the Mini still feels assuredly taut. As you would expect, everything is sprinkled with Teutonic solidity. But it also features a price that reflects its status as a premium car. If you go mental with the options list, you could very well find yourself on the other side of the half-a-million bucks mark.
Mazda MX-5: From: R437 300
Can the Mazda MX-5 set a foot wrong? It seems rather unlikely, with motoring scribes and the public earnestly gushing with superlatives whenever the model is mentioned. And frankly, our sentiment is no different: in these parts the Japanese roadster is highly regarded. Not without reason, of course. Its plugged-in, intuitive driving character, intelligent packaging and all-round lovable nature makes it easy to recommend. Since it weighs not much more than the original, its 2.0-litre engine (118kW and 200Nm) is more than up to the task. It boasts one of the finest manual transmissions out there — with rifle-action changes, to use the hackneyed but appropriate description. The simplicity of the Mazda is something to appreciate. That roof, for example, is shed in one quick movement after undoing a single clip. When you consider that there is nothing else of this type on the market, the impressive value it represents becomes quite apparent.
Mercedes-Benz SLC: From: R680 600
The Mercedes-Benz SLC has the upscale roadster market all to itself. Audi refuses to bring the open-air TT to South Africa and the BMW Z4 will fade away soon.
This is a good thing perhaps, because if the SLC had any real competition, buyers would realise just what an underwhelming product it actually is. For the record, this is the new SLK. As part of the manufacturer’s new naming structure, it underwent a moniker change. Apart from a few styling tweaks and the addition of new engine derivatives, it remains largely the same as the previous car. And it certainly feels its age.
On the plus side, the baby 200 version (135kW and 300Nm) feels peppy enough and also brings a surprisingly good sound to the mix. And from the front, it does look a lot like the magnificent SL. Sadly though, the SLC is tough to recommend and eyebrows are raised further when the cost is considered.
BMW 4-Series Convertible: From: R667 600
Decent value is something one would never really mention when shopping around in the Teutonic car mall. But pricing of the BMW 4-Series Convertible (when it comes to the lower rungs of the model range anyway) looks pretty reasonable. Of course, you will inevitably have to spare some money for optional extras, because nobody wants a bog-standard vehicle at this end of the market. The 440i (240kW and 450Nm) we drove left a positive impression, with its agreeable, tourer-like personality. This is one of those vehicles that proffers a pleasant, leisurely cruising experience.
But planting the power pedal down reveals an adeptness in hurried progress too. Retracting the metal folding roof, with its intricate routine, never fails to seize the attention of passers-by. And it has to be said that the 4-Series looks pretty elegant whether the top is up or down. Testament to the skill of the boffins at BMW, the dynamic differences between this and the hardtop coupé version are negligible.
Ford Mustang Convertible: From: R795 900
Before we begin we must acknowledge this: when evaluated objectively, the Ford Mustang is not particularly outstanding. There is certainly room for improvement in the areas of quality, refinement and on-road dynamics. But none of this really matters when one takes cognisance of the cultural significance boasted by the iconic muscle car. And it is truly overwhelming just how much reverence and attention the car gets. People wave, smile and salute with thumbs up. And with the roof down, piloting the Mustang feels even more special.
The 2.3-litre derivative (233kW and 432Nm) delivers plenty kick and that tail is partial to shimmying at even slight provocation. But really, in a car like this, you simply need the soundtrack that only an eight-cylinder engine can provide. The Ford Mustang: nothing special by current standards, but quite possibly the most desirable car on sale in South Africa today.
Jaguar F-Type Convertible: From: R1 080 100
E-Type-inspired nostalgia ran high when Jaguar took the wraps off its first roadster in decades. The F-Type had everyone gushing sycophantically — and when it was launched in 2013 — it stood as a much-needed halo car for the manufacturer. A few years later, its appeal has hardly diminished. Nobody will deny that it is the unequivocal winner in this company when it comes to looks. Those proportions are nigh-on perfect and it even manages to pull-off a garish orange paint job well. The V6 S (250kW and 450Nm) makes a glorious assortment of sounds, from snaps, crackles and pops to a spine-tingling howl when you press on. It drives as good as it looks, with the same engagement, precision and poise we have come to expect from all products with the growling cat emblem. A tiny boot and dated digital interface are the biggest trade-offs however.
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: From: R1 340 900
In terms of practicality, the 4C Spider makes the FTypeseem like a versatile hatchback. Storage space?What storage space? Leave your satchels at home andrevel in what the 4C Spider is: an unashamed, out-andouttrack car that happens to be road legal.“This car feels incredible, but dangerous,” quippedone of our staffers, who also happens to be a talentedracing driver. His beaming smile evidenced the unadulteratedglee that this car provides, despite its deficienciesin the real world.The 4C Spider brings a fearsome soundtrack. Andfearsome performance from a turbocharged four-cylinderunit (177kW and 350Nm); shoving the exoticmissile towards the horizon with scary urgency. Thoseinnocuous looks are quite deceiving: beneath thatexterior lurks a little devil that will humble an overzealousdriver.But all these traits culminate into a package that isimmensely endearing — as most offerings from themarque tend to be.
– Words: Brenwin Naidu, Bruce Fraser, Ziphorah Masethe, Francisco Nwamba, John Whittle, Ashish Narrandes and Mandla Mdakane. Pictures: Waldo Swiegers