Convertibles--and We're Not Talking Stock

The best of this year's ragtops.

If the word "convertible" only brings to mind conversion ratios and the like, you've been working too hard. Way too hard. But fret not. We have just the diversion for you: real convertibles, of the muss-your-hair, make-you-believe-in-freedom variety.

MotorTrend.com, the Web site of Rep.'s sister publication, has compiled a list of the best ragtops in this year's crop. In price, they range from the $22,000 Mazda Miata to the if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it Porsche 911 Targa. In style, they run from the rock-climbing Jeep Wrangler Rubicon to the throwback Ford Thunderbird.

What they have in common is the ability to carry the cares of the workday away on a cool breeze (assuming you're not caught in traffic).

2003 BMW Z4

Say farewell to the Z3, but don't mourn, as the slightly larger, more refined Z4 roadster takes BMW and the small roadster segment to a whole new level. Standard power choices are either a 2.5-liter/184-hp engine with a five-speed manual transmission or a 3.0-liter/225-hp six-cylinder engine with a six-speed shifter. For the clutch-challenged, BMW also offers a dual mode transmission, called Steptronic, which operates as an automatic and semi-manual. Run-flat tires are standard, as are dynamic stability control and dynamic traction control. Like its predecessor, the Z4 offers manual and optional power tops on both models. Pricing for the Z4 begins at $33,795, including destination charges, for the 2.5-liter. The Z4 3.0i starts at $40,945.

2004 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

The 2004 Sebring Convertible offers a new look with a restyled front fascia, grille and wheels. Chrysler's popular four-place family tourer is powered by either a 2.4-liter engine without anti-lock brakes or a 2.7-liter engine with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. The Sebring also features 16-inch painted aluminum wheels on the LX and LXi models. The Sebring LX carries a manufacturers suggested retail price of $24,400, including destination charge.

2003 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra

As the Camaro and Firebird twins fade into the annals of muscle-car history, Ford has released the highest-performance variant of the SN95 Mustang ever. Under the hood, this powerful droptop sports a supercharged 4.6-liter V-8 with a belt-driven roots-type blower that boosts horsepower to 390 ponies — more than even the formidable Cobra R. Likewise, the chassis has been upgraded with Bilstein shocks, higher-rate springs, stiffer anti-roll bars and a more aggressive brake pad material. A tested coupe ran the quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds at 113 mph, which indicates the convertible should sprint 0-60 in just under five seconds. The six-speed Mustang Cobra is priced at $38,995.

2003 Ford Thunderbird

Wherever it goes, fawning followers are drawn to the new Thunderbird's dramatic retro looks. Likewise, Motor Trend editors felt the T-Bird's allure, honoring it with the 2002 Car of the Year award. With a generous 28 horsepower boost from last year's model, this modern interpretation of the 1950's classic boasts a 3.9-liter, 280-horsepower V-8. The rear-wheel-drive roadster's power top motors down in less than 10 seconds. Even with the attractive (optional) hard top, the Thunderbird can be purchased fully loaded for just over $40K.

2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Those with a serious penchant for the great outdoors will especially appreciate Jeep's ultimate off-road soft-top, the Wrangler Rubicon. The Rubicon has been engineered to take on the most demanding trails, thanks to a transfer case that gives it the lowest crawl ratio of any vehicle currently on the market and a 4.0-liter, 190-horsepower PowerTech 6-inline mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Pricing for the rugged convertible begins around $25,000.

2003 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda's popular roadster roars in to 2003 with a limited-edition performance package designed for owners who want to race their cars. The standard roadster boasts a 1.8-liter/142-horsepower four-cylinder engine, front and rear independent double-wishbone suspension and power-assisted four-wheel ventilated disc brakes. Weekend autocross racers should scramble for the specially developed Club Miatas, production of which is limited to just 25 soft-tops and 25 hard-tops. These cars feature further suspension fine-tuning and are lightened by removing the power steering, audio system, power antenna, and air conditioning. Miata pricing starts around $22,000. Cough up an additional $19K for the Club sport package.

2003 Mercedes-Benz SL600

Making its debut in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mercedes-Benz's new 12-cylinder SL 600 roadster crowns the SL-Class range with its sophisticated looks, twin turbochargers and armloads of bleeding-edge technology. Systems like active body control, electrohydraulic sensotronic brake control and an automatic climate control system enhance both safety and driving pleasure. The two-seat SL is powered by a 500-horsepower V-12 which spanks the 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. This behemoth among roadsters is electronically governed to top out at 155 mph. Pricing has yet to be announced.

2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder

Mitsubishi has revamped its popular Eclipse Spyder with revised front and tail designs, including new halogen headlights. Base power comes from a 2.4-liter, 147-horsepower inline four-cylinder SOHC linked to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Upscale models offer a variable induction 3.0-liter, 210-hp V-6 powerplant. Interior upgrades include a sportier gauge cluster and two new interior color packages with cloth or leather trim. The Spyder starts at $23,817.

2003 Porsche 911 Targa

The 911 Targa, technically speaking, isn't a convertible. But its sliding glass roof makes it close enough to qualify. It offers all the safety, security and noise isolation of a coupe, and most of the hair tousling pleasure of a convertible. Bonus points go the glass top, which is an engineering marvel. When closed, the tinted roof panel offers a clear view of the sky through more than 16 square feet of glass. Press a button, and the panel slides under the rear hatch to reveal a five square foot opening. The Targa is powered by a 3.6-liter, 320-horsepower six-cylinder boxer that lets it run a 0-60 sprint in 5.2 seconds and a top out at 177 mph. Suggested retail price begins at $76,000.

2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible

Volkswagen completes the New Beetle family with the launch of an iconic convertible that recalls the classic drop-top Bugs, complete with thick, folded-top bustle and huggable personality. The scrappy 2.0-liter, 115-horsepower 4-inline will propel the more-than-flower-powered convertible 0-60 mph in 11.4 seconds. Pricing starts at $20,450 for the base GL model, with turbocharged GLS expected to be $24,100.

Writer's BIO:
Brandy A. Schaffels

is project manager at MotorTrend.com, where she handles a variety of duties, including story development, reporting and photography. She is a convertible lover at heart but currently shuttles her recently expanded family around in a Honda Odyssey.

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