Today, when a majority of Americans opt for an SUV or other light truck, driving a convertible makes a stronger statement than ever. What does that drop-top say? That even as the auto industry obsesses over cars that will drive themselves, the owner of a convertible still drives—passionately.
Aston Martin DB11 Volante
Whether standing still or traveling at 187 mph, Aston’s all-new convertible is reliably gorgeous. Compared to its aging predecessor, the DB9, the DB11 also represents a decisive leap in crisp-handling performance and technology. An impeccably fitted, eight-layer soft-top folds into a tidy stack, so there’s no high-bustled back to spoil the visual lines when the top is stowed. Yet the trunk space has grown by 20 percent. Mercedes, through its corporate stake in Aston Martin, bequeaths needed tech in the form of a modern infotainment system, along with a seriously hot motor: the 503-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 from its AMG GT sports car, but retuned by Aston engineers for a throatier, decidedly British sound. The upshot is a 4.1-second sprint to 60 mph. The interior remains Grand Touring–lavish, despite a few jarring plastic bits. Hand-tooled Scottish leather is inspired by the finest men’s brogues, while lush wool carpet may tempt occupants to go barefoot. The Volante extends its noblesse oblige to fellow motorists or passersby: Like mobile Eames loungers, front seatbacks are encased in a selection of lovely wood veneers (or carbon fiber), and visible from outside the car. Top down, of course.
Base price: $219,580, global.astonmartin.com
A convertible isn’t doing much good if it’s mostly sitting in a garage. The Portofino aims to change that: With two-plus-two seating, surprising practicality and a supple magnetic suspension, the Portofino is being driven daily by about 85 percent of buyers, according to Ferrari, versus barely 30 percent for its more hard-core sports cars. Yet there’s nothing watered-down about the performance or the arresting styling that drew endless selfie-snappers on my test drive in, well, Portofino and Cinque Terre on Italy’s Ligurian coast. A technical powerhouse of an engine—a 3.9-liter, twin-turbo V-8—provides a 591-horsepower soundtrack that’s worthy of La Scala. The 0-to-60 gallop is dispatched in 3.4 seconds. When shotgun riders aren’t holding on for dear life, they can amuse themselves with a clever secondary touchscreen on the passenger side to manage a range of functions. The Ferrari’s trump card—typically in red—is cargo space. Rear seats are strictly child-sized, but they’re perfect for luggage or Gucci bags, and the roomy trunk is a great excuse for road trips.
Base price: $214,533, portofino.ferrari.com
Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet
The S-Class Cabriolet is an open-air temple of Dionysian luxury, where the only thing missing is the grapes—but Mercedes may be working on that. Every other sensory whim is addressed, including mood-enhancing programming that wafts fragrance into the cabin, massages occupants, chooses music and triggers ambient light shows. The cabin’s sheer sumptuousness and digital wizardry reliably elicits awe, or even outright giggles, from people who climb aboard for the first time. Mercedes’ “Sensor fusion” wraps the Benz in a 360-degree safety cocoon, including 3D cameras that trigger all manner of evasive maneuvers and safety systems, even protecting riders’ eardrums from collision-noise damage via a “pink noise” interference signal. Cameras scan the road ahead for bumps and adjust the suspension accordingly. Oh, and this Benz drives beautifully, whether in “basic” S560 guise, or over-the-top editions such as the S63 AMG, whose 603-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 hurtles it to 60 mph in an improbable 3.4 seconds. But don’t worry: You’ll barely feel it.
Base price: $135,395 to $251,895, mbusa.com
Mazda MX-5 Miata Club RF
Before you dismiss the Miata as “Been there, driven that,” direct your attention to the RF version: With its power-retractable hardtop, the RF looks sensational; it’s as much a sexy European coupe as a familiar Miata.That Porsche Targa–style roof adds just 113 pounds of weight—significant, but not so much as to dilute the joyful essence of this Japanese convertible. The thickly insulated hardtop sharply reduces cabin noise, though its flying-buttress design does create an annoying vortex of air at highway speeds when it’s lowered. Still, few cars can match the fun and purity of the Miata’s man-machine connection, especially with the optional six-speed manual transmission. For 2019, the Miata also gains welcome “oomph” from a new engine, a 2.0-liter, 181-horsepower four-cylinder that revs to a zingy 7,500-rpm peak. And between outstanding affordability and fuel economy, well above 30 mpg in real-world driving, the Mazda makes for a guilt-free addition to the family garage.
Base price: $33,240, mazdausa.com
McLaren 720S Spider
There are two things you always know about a McLaren: It’s going to be light, and it’s going to be fast. The new 720S Spider doesn’t disappoint, because it eliminates most traditional compromises of a convertible. One secret is the carbon-fiber structure, called Monocage II-S, from the company that pioneered the material in Formula One racing and street cars. The light yet ultra-rigid chassis allowed McLaren to slice off the 720S coupe’s roof without having to add structural bracing. The Spider’s carbon-fiber roof folds in a mere 11 seconds and adds just 108 pounds to a supercar that weighs fewer than 3,300 pounds. An optional electrochromic roof panel goes from tinted to transparent at the push of a button. About the fast part? McLaren cites a 2.8-second explosion to 60 mph. After that, the Spider storms to 212 mph with its top up, or 202 mph top down. Feel free to holler, because you won’t be heard over the glorious racket of the twin-turbo, 710-horsepower V-8 that’s mounted directly behind the driver and passenger.
Base price: $315,000, cars.mclaren.com