It’s that time of year again — at least, it’s supposed to be that time of year, when there’s a warm breeze in the cool air, things are beginning to show signs of green, the birds are flitting about in preparation for summer … except that it’s still frigid in places, and some parts of the country are still blanketed with an icy, muddy layer of snow, as winter appears to be overstaying its welcome. We can dream though, can’t we?
Regardless, true spring weather will be here before long (at least we hope), followed by summer, when there’s no better joy for auto enthusiasts than to be able to put the roof back and bask in the sun, accompanied by the glorious whine of a small-displacement, high-revving engine as you navigate through crests and dips in a lightweight roadster, often characterized by a front-mounted engine, rear-wheel drive, a cockpit that rides toward the rear, and a low-slung, long hood.
But if you don’t have one, never fear. There are several great options on the market, and right now, dealers are probably looking to pick up their sales rates after a brutal cold season that did a number on auto sales for the first few months of the year.
Here are seven entry-level options for a variety of financial thresholds, ranging from about $24,000 to more than $70,000.
1. Mazda MX-5
Without a doubt, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has become the modern definition of the term “roadster.” It checks every box: lightweight, low-displacement, perfectly weighted, low-slung, and, of course, the soft retractable top. At a shade under $24,000, it’s one of the most affordable, as well, but don’t think its lesser MSRP means less fun — the Miata is hailed as one of the most fun driver’s cars in its class, and it is the proud recipient of nearly 200 awards. Furthermore, it’s been around since the late 1980s, so Mazda’s engineers have had time to perfect its design.
2. BMW Z4
If you like the concept of the Miata but would also like something a little more upscale, the BMW Z4 might be the way to go. It features a similar build and layout but with all the refinement you’d expect from a Bimmer, plus more power — 240 horses, from BMW’s relatively new (to the U.S., at least) 2.0 liter inline turbo-four. The Z4 comes from a line of excellent cars such as the Z8 (of James Bond glory), the Z3 (also of James Bond glory), and the spunky little Z1 from the late ’80s and early ’90s (perhaps most well known for its dropping-door contribution).
3. Porsche Boxster
For lovers of the 911, who can’t afford to drop almost $100,000 on a sports car, the Porsche (POAHF.PK) Boxster is an adequate fill-in that’s far easier on the wallet (though it will still set you back more than $50 grand to start). With its 265 horsepower, it out-powers the BMW. It also benefits from a mid-mounted engine design, helping improve its weight profile. If that sounds good but isn’t quite enough, Porsche also offers the Boxster S, which bumps power to 315 horses and the price to $62,000.
4. Nissan 370Z
It’s Porsche performance, but at a fraction of what you’d pay for the Boxster S: The Nissan (NSANY.PK) 370Z, though unassuming, actually beats out the Boxster S for power with 332 horsepower, but costs just more than $41,000 to start. Essentially, if brand is lower on the priority list than power, the Nissan 370Z might be the best bet. It won’t deliver the same prestige as a Porsche or BMW, but if you think Nissan’s engineers don’t know how to put that power to good use, remember it was they who built the 545 horsepower GT-R.
5. Audi TT Roadster
Audi’s (VLKAY.PK) amicable little TT has enjoyed years of popularity, not because it’s the most powerful or efficient, but because it does everything really well. It’s fun to drive, comes standard with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system, doesn’t have an overly cumbersome physique, and offers a comfortable, well-appointed interior to round it all off.
6. Mini JCW Roadster
A Mini might not be the first car one would think of when open-road, top-down driving comes to mind, but the Mini John Cooper Works Roadster is certainly up to the task. In addition to the exclusive cosmetic accents like JCW wheels and racing stripes, the JCW Roadster offers more horsepower (now sitting at 208 thanks to a twin-scroll turbocharger), an upgraded transmission, and four-piston Brembo brakes, which make the Mini Roadster a whole different creature on the backroads.
7. Jaguar F-Type Roadster
The newest addition to Jaguar’s (NYSE:TTM) stable, the F-Type is a rebirth of sorts of the legendary E-Type roadsters from the ’50s and ’60s. It starts at a stout $69,000, making it among the more expensive, but it’s also the most powerful, with a 340 horsepower 3.0 liter supercharged V6. As good as it looks, though, the best part of the Jaguar is putting the roof down and listening to that divine V6 howl — in a tunnel, preferably.