College Times

Larry Printz: Go top-down for under $40,000

By Larry Printz, The Virginian-Pilot

Published: Friday, June 22, 2012

Updated: Friday, June 22, 2012


With the arrival of summer, a question arises: Is your automotive attire appropriate?

The experience of enjoying the sun and feeling the wind in your in hair far predates the automobile. And while they were once common, most of today's droptops start at more than $40,000, putting them out of reach for many buyers.

Still, there is more choice than you might expect if you're looking to go topless for less than $40,000.

Let's put the top down and take a ride.

• EPA rating 18 city/29 hwy
• Base price $30,180
Modern muscle cars have V-6 engines that provide more power than V-8 engines did a decade ago. Consider the 2012 Camaro's 3.6-liter double-overhead-cam V-6. It produces 323 hp, 13 ponies more than the 2002 Camaro Z28 with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine. But that muscle doesn't come at the expense of fuel economy. And its looks? Seductively retro.

• EPA rating 18 city/29 hwy
• Base price $26,955
The Chrysler 200 is a true mid-sized convertible with room for four corn-fed Americans and the choice of a power soft- or hardtop. The base model comes with a 173-hp four-cylinder engine, which is best at relaxed cruising. If you can, spring for the 283-hp DOHC V6 model. It costs $4,995 more, but improves performance and fuel economy.

FIAT 500:
• EPA rating 27 city/32 hwy
• Base price $19,500
The least expensive convertible sold in America seems to have missed the call for y chromosomes; it's as cuddly as a basket of puppies. The 500's stylish interior hides its inexpensive nature, and there's more room than you'd expect. The 500 also has a comfortable ride, tons of style and enough power to move this iconic Italian with brio. Bravo!

• EPA rating 19 city/31 hwy
• Base price $27,200
Unlike its competitors, this classic American stallion has stayed in production for nearly 50 years, which speaks to the allure of the pony car. Constant updates have maintained the Mustang's youth, with a fuel-efficient 305-hp, DOHC 3.7-liter V6, six-speed transmission and classic looks standard. And its affordable base price makes it perfect for any corral.

• EPA rating 22 city/28 hwy
• Base price $23,470
For almost a quarter century, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has played the part of an affordable two-seat roadster, filling the niche once occupied by British sports cars. Unlike the Brits, the Miata is a paragon of refinement and reliability. It's small, fun to drive, economical to own and has a trunk large enough for a last-minute weekend getaway.

• EPA rating 27 city/35 hwy
• Base price $25,650
The Mini Cooper is maxi when it comes to driving thrills. It handles like a go-cart, with quick, precise steering, little body lean and strong braking. It's a lot of fun for a front-wheel-drive car, whether you opt for the base Cooper, with its 118-hp, or the turbocharged Cooper S, with 172 hp. Its rich retro details ensure that this is more than a car, it's a fashion statement.

• EPA rating 22 city/30 hwy
• Base price $34,350
VW's hardtop convertible coupe, named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, still has the interior ambience of an Audi, and boasts a power top that folds in 25 seconds. Uniquely, if you want to minimize the fresh air and sunshine, you can partially open the top to a sunroof position. Although the Eos uses Audi TT's turbo four, rated at 200 hp, the Eos is more a cruiser than the TT.



Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at



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