Cheapest Convertibles of 2015

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Fifteen least-expensive convertibles of 2015

Photo © Aaron Gold

Convertibles aren't exactly cheap, but there are some good deals to be found if you know where to look. In this slideshow, we'll look at the ten least expensive convertible cars of 2015 and sort out which ones are the best buys -- and which are best avoided.

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Smart Fortwo Cabriolet

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet
Smart Fortwo Cabriolet. Photo © Aaron Gold

Price: $18,680

Good buy? Yes

This is the last year for the Smart Fortwo Cabrio as we know it. Production of the convertible wraps up this summer, and once dealer stocks dry up, we'll have to wait until the new version of the Smart convertible comes out sometime in mid-2016. Meanwhile, the two-seat Smart Fortwo Cabriolet remains the convertible bargain to beat: It comes with a power top, air conditioning, and an automatic transmission, all for the price of a Honda Civic. The Smart has a pair of roof rails that must be removed to get the true convertible experience, but if you leave them in place, you can open and close the top at any speed, which is a very handy feature. That said, the Smart isn't exactly my favorite car to drive; the busy ride, herky-jerky acceleration, and susceptibility to crosswinds make it better suited to local drives than long trips, but it's cute and cheeky, it parks anywhere, and best of all it costs thousands of dollars less than most convertibles. (Incidentally, Smart also makes the least-expensive electric convertible, priced at $21,250 after Federal tax incentives.)

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Fiat 500C

Fiat 500C
Fiat 500C. Photo © Aaron Gold

Price: $21,045

Good buy? Meh

Whether the Fiat 500C can claim to be a true convertible is up for debate. It's power-operated fabric roof slides all the way back to the top of the trunk lid (blocking most of the view out of the rear window in the process), so it's more like a giant sunroof than a true drop-top. The roof side rails can't be removed as they can in the Smart ForTwo Cabriolet, so you don't get the complete open-top experience. Still, the Fiat 500C does let the sun shine on your head, and with the windows up it keeps the wind out of your hair. Besides, there's a lot more that makes the Fiat 500c appealing: I like its cute styling, cheeky demeanor, great gas mileage, and especially its price tag, which is about $3,700 lower than the next convertible on this list.

Read the Fiat 500C review.

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Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda MX-5 Miata. Photo © Mazda

Price: $24,765

Good buy? Yes, one of my faves

2015 is the last year for the current iteration of the MX-5 Miata; Mazda has a new version of this two-seater waiting in the wings,  and while we're sure it will be inexpensive, we don't know if it'll be this inexpensive. For now, you can still get a 2015 Miata for less than $25k -- and what a lucky person you'll be, as this is one of our favorite cars on the list. Light on its feet and huge fun to drive, the entry-level Miata Sport gives includes air conditioning and power windows, and while the soft top is manually operated, it's so light that opening it is simply a matter of releasing the latch and giving the top an upward shove. Two cautions: The rear-wheel-drive Miata isn't very good in the snow, and an automatic transmission adds a whopping $2,260 to the price -- it includes a "convenience package" with cruise control, power locks, keyless entry, and a few other bits and bobs. Even so, the Miata is still one of the best convertible bargains on the market.

Read the Mazda MX-5 Miata review.

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Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet
Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet. Photo © Aaron Gold

Price: $26,195

Good buy? Definitely

The Volkswagen Beetle convertible is one of my favorite budget-priced drop-tops, thanks to a giant top that opens wide to let in lots of suns. It's also a good value; priced just over $26k, the base model comes with snazzy alloy wheels, an automatic transmission, and a power-operated top that can be opened and closed while the car is moving -- very handy if the rain suddenly starts (or stops). New this year is a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine that replaces last year's five-cylinder; it's quicker, more refined, and more fuel efficient, and much more likable. If you spend a bit more money, you get access to VW's TDI turbodiesel engine, which delivers incredible fuel economy, especially on the highway.

Read the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet review.

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MINI Cooper

MINI Cooper S Roadster
MINI Cooper S Roadster. Photo © Aaron Gold

Price: $25,945

Good buy? Yes, if you take it easy on the options

MINI actually offers two inexpensive convertibles -- the four-seat (sort of) MINI Cooper Convertible for $26,550 and the two-seat MINI Cooper Roadster (shown in the photo above) for $400 more. Both versions are good fun to drive and the entry-level version with the non-turbocharged engine is very fuel-efficient. But beware of expensive options: MINI offers a plethora of extras which can bring the cost up to roundabout $40,000 -- and that's just the base model, with the racier Cooper S and John Cooper Works versions priced even higher. Skip the extras, though, and both MINIs deliver a lot of smiles for the money.

Read the MINI Cooper Roadster review.

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Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio

Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio
Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio. Photo © Chrysler

Price: $26,895

Good buy? Yes

Technically, the Fiat Abarth Cabrio is the performance version of the 500C listed earlier, but this car really does have its own unique character. The Abarth gets a turbocharged version of the 500’s 1.4 liter engine, and while acceleration isn't exactly outstanding, the muffler-free exhaust sounds brilliant (all the more so with the top open) and the well-balanced chassis is a lot of fun to toss around in the curves, though not quite as good as the MINI Cooper. As of 2015, the Abarth is available with an automatic transmission, and it’s a good ‘un; the auto Abarth is nearly as much fun to drive as the stick-shift. The Abarth Cabrio suffers from the same issue as the 500C: It's technically not a full convertible, just a car with a huge sunroof. The upside is that there's no loss of body rigidity, so the Abarth feels more solid than most convertibles.

Read the Fiat 500 Abarth review.

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Ford Mustang Convertible

Ford Mustang Convertible
Ford Mustang Convertible. Photo © Ford

Price: $28,335

Good buy? Yes

Ford has introduced an all-new Mustang for 2015, and we’re pleased to see that they’ve kept it affordable. So what’ changed? Quite a lot: The Mustang gets a more modern suspension setup with an independent rear axle (only took fifty years!) and the base engine is a 3.7 liter V6 that puts out an even 300 horsepower. (Ford also offers a 310 horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and a classic 5.0 liter V8, but they cost $5,000 (!) and $12,000 (!!) more, respectively). Though I haven’t yet driven the convertible, I’m in love with the way the hardtop goes down the road, and even if the convertible suffers from the old car’s foibles (small trunk and somebody shake over bumps), I’ll still call it a winner -- a true American classic that delivers real American value.

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Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
Chevrolet Camaro Convertible. Photo © Aaron Gold

Price: $32,300

Good buy? Good, but not great

One reason convertibles cost so much is that it takes a lot of engineering know-how to remove the roof without ruining the ride and handling. The Camaro is an ode to the convertible-makers art: Chevy engineers were able to perfectly preserve the look and feel (and even the back-seat space) of the hardtop Camaro, with almost none of the shimmying and shaking common to many convertibles. Top operation is fussy, but the Camaro gives you an honest 323 horsepower for 32 grand -- not bad considering how much work went into this car, though it's still not as good a deal as the Ford Mustang.

Read the Chevrolet Camaro Convertible review.

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Audi A3 Cabriolet

Audi A3 Cabriolet
Audi A3 Cabriolet. Photo © Aaron Gold

Price: $36,525 

Good buy? Yes!

When I heard Audi was coming out with a new convertible, I never expected it to be on my Least Expensive Convertibles list -- it's an Audi, for crying out loud! And yet here it is, an Audi convertible priced under $37 grand. And lest you think you’re not getting much for your money, check out the standard equipment list: Leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and a fuss-free, easy-to-operate convertible top. Yes, there are options, and yes, they are expensive -- but even with all the optional goodies, the A3 Cabriolet is still about the same price as an entry-level BMW 428i drop-top. But I’m not just a fan because of the price: The A3 is big fun to drive (exactly what I expect from this German brand) and the back seat, while cramped, is better than the half-hearted offerings in other small convertibles. Bottom line: The A3 Cabriolet is a great convertible and a great deal.

Read the Audi A3 Cabriolet review.

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Volkswagen Eos

Volkswagen Eos
Volkswagen Eos. Photo © Volkswagen

Price: $36,660

Good buy? Yes, for a hard-top

2015 is the last year for the Eos, and I'm going to miss it. What sets the Eos apart from other cars on this list is its retractable hard top. Hardtop convertibles seal up as tight and quiet as a steel roof car, with no worries about thieves knifing through the top to swipe the stereo; disadvantages are reduced trunk space and a complicated top mechanism. (Technically, the Eos isn’t the least-expensive hardtop convertible you can buy; Mazda sells a hardtop Miata for $29,460.) The Volkswagen Eos hasn't changed much since its 2007 introduction, but it's an excellent car nonetheless -- comfortable, quick, and fun-to-drive. Stick with the lower-cost Komfort model for best value; it comes standard with heated seats, an automatic transmission and a sprightly 200 horsepower turbocharged engine.

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BMW 228i

BMW 2-Series Convertible
BMW 2-Series Convertible. Photo © BMW

Price: $38,850

Good buy? Only if you really want a BMW

The 228i is BMW’s all-new entry-level convertible, and when they say entry level, they mean it: The $39k 228i is pretty Spartan by luxury-car standards, with fake leather upholstery, a basic stereo,  and choice of black or white paint (other colors cost extra). Most luxury nice-to-haves cost extra, and it’s possible to option a 228i well over $55,000. So why would you buy one? Because it’s a BMW, and there’s nothing quite like it. I haven’t driven the 228i convertible, but I’m well familiar with its 240 horsepower engine, which I consider to be one of the best-turbocharged four-cylinders in the business. And I know from experience that the 2-series convertible is brilliant -- a bit on the heavy side, perhaps, but brilliant. If you’re looking for a good deal on a convertible, this isn’t your best choice. But if you have your heart set on a BMW convertible, I think you’ll find this one very, very satisfying.

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Nissan 370Z Roadster

Nissan 370Z Roadster
Nissan 370Z Roadster. Photo © Aaron Gold

Price: $42,645

Good value: No

Nothing enhances a sports car like a convertible top, and the 370Z is proof of why: It's fast, it's loud, it's very agile, and letting the wind blow through your hair as you hammer through the curves enhances the Z driving experience to no end. But the Z convertible is way too expensive for what you get -- soft top, small trunk, no back seat, and not even the Sports package that shows the 370Z in its best light. If the Mazda Miata didn't exist, I might rate the 370Z higher, but I prefer the Mazda’s more sublime driving experience (not to mention its lower price). I really do like the 370Z... but not enough to spend forty-two large on one.

Read the Nissan 370Z Roadster review.

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Lexus IS C

Lexus IS 250C
Lexus IS 250C. Photo © Aaron Gold

13. Lexus IS 250C: $43,885

Good buy? Yes, especially low-end models

Here we have one of the more pleasant surprises on this list. I was never a fan of the old-shape Lexus IS sedan (they introduced a new version in 2014, but the convertible is based on the old platform), but the convertible is wonderful. It has a folding metal roof, so it seals up as tight as a coupe, but even with the top down it's quiet and serene, especially with the optional wind blocker installed. And unlike some of the German cars on this list, you don't have to spend a gajillion dollars on options to get a nice one -- the base-model IS 250C, with its 204 horsepower engine and leather-trimmed interior, is all the convertible you need.

Read the Lexus IS 250C review.

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Audi TT Roadster

Audi TT Roadster
Audi TT Roadster. Photo © Aaron Gold

Price: $44,295

Good buy? Sadly, no

It's been a while since I've driven a TT; fortunately, they haven't changed it much, and in fact, Audi has slimmed the two-seat TT Roadster down to a single model with a snappy 211 horsepower turbo engine and Audi's famous Quattro all-wheel-drive. The TT is huge fun to drive on a curvy road; of all the cars here, it rivals the Miata for the most thrills-per-mile. But like the Miata, it's not very practical; the ride is stiff, the trunk is tiny, the cloth roof is prone to knife blades and cabin is prone to turbulence and wind noise. With such a high price, it’s not the most sensible choice on this list -- although it is one of the most enjoyable.

Read the Audi TT Roadster review.

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Mercedes-Benz SLK 250

Mercedes-Benz SLK
Mercedes-Benz SLK. Photo © Mercedes-Benz

Price: $44,875

Good buy? Yes, if you can find a base model... which you probably can't

On paper, the two-seat SLK250 roadster is a smokin' deal: A retractable hard-top and Mercedes-Benz cachet for under $45k! In reality, finding one that cheaply is nearly impossible: The $44,450 SLK250 has non-metallic paint, fake-leather upholstery, and a manual transmission, and most of the cars on Mercedes' dealer lots will be optioned well past $50k. That said, the SLK is still a lovely car, not as sporty as the Audi TT but still an enjoyable way to soak up the sun on your drive to wherever. It may not be a great cheap convertible, but it is a great convertible.