Affordable Convertibles Put to the Test

By Stephen Markley  on July 8, 2009

Some highly anticipated new luxury convertibles will hit the market this summer in the Lexus IS and Infiniti G37, but what about droptops for the masses? Isn’t everyone entitled to some wind in their hair?

With the sun shining and the breeze cool, we took three popular, affordable convertibles out for a spin to see how they’d fare as a chariot for a weekend getaway. The cars tested were the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata, 2010 Ford Mustang and 2009 Volkswagen Beetle convertible. We considered cargo space, comfort and cool factor. Check out the video above to see how they fared in those categories, and read on to see how we felt about these topless wonders as driving machines.

In the end, our five staffers arrived at a split decision, but not before some heavily spirited debate. What follows is the conversation that ensued after a day of driving the three vehicles over a large chunk of northern Illinois:

MX-5 Miata (manual)

Amanda Wegrzyn, Advice editor: I’ve heard so much about how fun the Miata is to drive. Unfortunately, I was unable to test that out considering I can’t drive stick shift — reprehensible, I know — so my opinion on that car is solely as a passenger. Although it looked amazing, it was loud and cramped, and the sportiness of the driving doesn’t really translate to the passenger seat.

Kelsey Mays, reviewer: The MX-5 Miata was my clear favorite. Elbow room is overrated, guys; the Miata is a precious little bundle of joy. And not the sort you’ll be stuck with for 18 years. Oh, and automatic only? Reprehensible, indeed. Don’t worry; we’ll make fun of that as often as possible, and the same goes for Sarah.

Sarah Gersh, multimedia coordinator: No, I can’t drive a stick shift, so like Amanda my experience in the Miata was limited. Despite its small quarters, I had more legroom than I initially thought I would, but my limited time in it was enough to know an hour-long trip was about all I could handle.

Stephen Markley, assistant editor : Going into the drive, I was fairly sure the Miata would be my favorite of the three convertibles, but then I got out on the highway in it. The noise and wind were almost overwhelming, and it was just too small. After an hour, the fun of the six-speed manual had worn off.

Patrick Olsen, editor in chief: I found the Miata to be my favorite of the three. Now, to be fair, I intentionally picked the leg where we weren’t on the interstate and where we drove on some very winding roads.

Beetle (automatic)

Wegrzyn: I couldn’t get past how much the convertible top blocked my rear view when it was down.

Mays: The Beetle’s visibility issues are a deal-breaker, as is its sloppy highway steering.

Gersh: Overall, I would have to say the Beetle won me over. Despite the blocked rear view with the top down, the Beetle was comfortable and fun to drive.

Mustang (automatic)

Markley: By default, my winner was the Mustang, which had a solid feel to the ride, a lot of room and didn’t emasculate me the way the Beetle convertible managed to.

Wegrzyn: [The Mustang] was comfortable, but it still had the “Notice me!” factor you look for in a convertible.

Olsen: I thought the V-6 Mustang a little frumpy, bumpy and sad on the open interstate.

Mays: Patrick is right — highway bumps send the Mustang shimmying like Kevin Bacon in ”Footloose.”

The final tally? Two votes for the Mustang, two for the Miata and one for the Beetle. Looks like the editorial staff will just have to agree to disagree on this one.

Convertibles by the Numbers

2010 Ford Mustang
V6 Premium two-door: $28,995
18/26 mpg city/highway

2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Grand Touring retractable hardtop: $28,190
21/28 mpg city/highway

2009 Volkswagen New Beetle
2.5L two-door: $25,990
20/28 mpg city/highway

Volkswagen Mazda Ford Mustang Ford Volkswagen Beetle