Spring has sprung, and with it comes the promise of warmer weather — and convertibles. Surprisingly, most drop tops cost little more than a plebeian family sedan or bland crossover SUV. Better yet, most affordable convertibles are iconic nameplates, offering looks that are sure to resonate with you. Here are test drives I did on drop tops at or below $31,000 — about the average price of a new car.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro: Yes, you can get a Camaro with a V-8 and as much as 580 horsepower, but that will double the price and requires pricey premium fuel. Given our congested arteries, most drivers will find the V-6 a perfect solution. With 323 horsepower, there's plenty of power without extreme thirst: the EPA rates it at 29 mpg on the highway. Its handling and style will impress you, even on rainy days. Visibility, however, is impaired with the roof up. Base price: $30,660.
2013 Chrysler 200: The 200 is a rarity: a true midsize convertible that comfortably seats four adults and can hold as much as 13 cubic feet of luggage. There are two power tops offered: a body-color steel hardtop or a cloth soft top. Either can be retracted remotely via a key fob. Power comes from a 283-horsepower V-6 or a 173-hp four-cylinder engine. For 2013, Chrysler revised the suspension for improved handling. Base price: $27,100.
2013 Fiat 500C: If you're a single guy who wants to catch a woman's eye, opt for the Fiat 500. Seriously. This little mouse attracts the attention of women by the bucketful. That said, it's best for women to note that it doesn't attract guys — it's as cuddly as a basket of puppies. There's plenty of front seat room, while the interior's clever design hides the inexpensive nature of the materials. And its roof can be partially opened like a sunroof. Base price: $19,500.
2013 Ford Mustang: The Mustang's classic styling, buffed to a modern sheen, speeds you back in time. Go ahead, turn the key and listen to what Dearborn muscle sounds like. Next, put the car in gear. Then, step on the accelerator and hold on. That's when quibbles fade. Yes, its interior is every bit as retro as its exterior, resulting in an ergonomic nightmare. Who cares? You want sensible? Buy a Fiesta. Base price for 2014 model year: $27,200.
2013 Jeep Wrangler: Sure, any convertible will get you to the beach. But how many will allow you to drive across it? There's only one: the iconic Jeep Wrangler with a 285-horsepower V-6 and a choice of a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. For 2013, it gets new seats, interior LED lighting, dual windshield washer nozzles and an optional Alpine audio system. A new soft top with three layers helps reduce noise. Yes, it's still unrefined — but it is a Jeep. Base price: $22,195.
2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Miata has become as legendary as the classic British sports cars it emulates. But unlike them, the Miata is reliable while being as much fun to fling about. This car is so perfectly realized that little has changed. Its 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine produces 167 horsepower and has a 7,200-rpm redline. There's room for two, a pair of weekend bags and the desire for the perfect open road. Base price: $23,720.
2013 Mini Cooper: The Cooper still epitomizes the brand in a way newer Minis, such as the Mini Roadster, can't. And the convertible model is, perhaps, the most desirable. After all, top-down motoring is rarely this adorable without being emasculating. Power choices range from mild (121 horsepower) to wild (208 hp). But for most buyers, the performance that matters most is how quickly the top folds. For the record, it's less than 15 seconds. Base price: $25,850.
2013 Volkswagen Beetle: Like the Beetle Coupe, the Beetle Convertible receives a sportier appearance for 2013. With its top raised, the Beetle Convertible has an even lower roofline than the Coupe's. Three engines are offered, including a turbocharged diesel engine that returns 41 mpg in highway driving. Initially, it will be offered in special editions that evoke three decades in American history: the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Base price: $24,995.