There may be no broader range choice of car in price, performance, and style than the convertible. Many are prominent sports cars, built for speed and handling prowess. Others are flashy luxury models, built for entertainment and style. And there are others still, built for economical buyers who wish to let the wind blow their hair back from time to time. No matter which you’re in the market for, there are some things you’ll want to know about this particular line of automobile before going out and making your selection.

Size

Obviously you’re not going to find anything in the range of a convertible SUV, but there are a couple of sizes to choose from in a topless car. Most convertibles are luxury-brand models, and are equipped as two-seat coupes and roadsters with all the trimmings. However, there are also four-seaters with the retractable roofs as well. Those are really the only two types available.

Hardtop vs. Soft-top

The convertible has progressed to the point that many now feature a fully-powered retractable top that breaks into two or three pieces before being handily stored in the trunk area. Not only does this provide better protection for the top itself, it is also more aesthetically pleasing and gives the driver slightly better rear visibility. Hardtops are still available, but they are bulkier, take up more storage space, and add more weight to the vehicle. Not to mention soft-tops are now designed with additional layers to increasingly keep out noise and the elements. Soft-tops will most likely need to be replaces after time, but the hardtop is much costlier to repair should it ever break down.

Powertrain

Convertibles can range in all shapes and sizes; the same can be said for their powertrains. Most economy or midsize models will come equipped with a four-cylinder or V6 engine. Transmission choices are usually split between manual and automatic fairly evenly. Higher-end luxury and sports models will tend to drift into the realm of larger, more powerful engines, such as V6 and V8s. Most of these models will drop your fuel efficiency well below 20 mpg. They’re built for fun and the people who can afford it.

Many of the convertible models come standard with two-wheel (most commonly front-wheel) drive. All-wheel drive is the most popular option for convertibles that disperse power to all four wheels, and it is common to find it as standard equipment on the higher-priced models.

Top Operation

Not all of the retractable roofs do the work for you. While it’s true that most are automatic and feature retraction at the push of a button (after releasing the hold-down latches, of course), there are still many manual tops. These require the user to remove snap and latches and manually retract and store the top. These are only on soft-tops as all hardtops are power-operated.

Safety

Obviously driving at highway speeds in a vehicle that leaves you exposed to the outside world isn’t the safest thing one could do with one’s day. However, most convertibles today do come with some type of pop-up roll bar to protect passengers in the event of a rollover. There are also side-curtain airbags which extend up around the head to protect in the event of a side-impact collision. With the top up, there is a significantly larger blind spot in the rear of the vehicle as well. On some models, this is remedied with blind-spot warning systems and driving cameras.

Interior/Luxury

Even in the larger of the four-seat models, getting into the back seat can be a tricky event. If you’re looking to constantly haul more than two people around, look for a model that provides convenience features for backseat riders, such as front seats which slide forward and automatically return to their previous positions and seatbelts that can move out of the way and safely return for the driver.

Luxury amenities and options are on par with what you’d find in their coupe and sedan siblings. Higher-end items like navigation systems, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, remote entry, keyless startup, and heated seats, can all be found in models which aren’t priced quite so high.

Price

The range of price for convertibles is overly dramatic. They can start around $17K and range all the way up to…hold your breath…$2 million. There are plenty of affordable luxury brands like the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Series, Audi TT, and BMW 1 Series. These are generally in the range of $35K to $50K. If you wanted to go to six-figure performance, you could opt for a Maserati GranTurismo, Ferrari California, or Cadillac XLR-V. Only the truly elite car connoisseurs (and the insanely rich) are going to be able to jump up to the seven-figure monsters like the Maybach Landaulet and the Bugatti Veyron 16.4. Still, there are plenty of fun-to-drive economy choices out there starting around $17-20K; they include the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the Ford Mustang, and the Volkswagen Beetle.

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