Summer rides: Five affordable, fuel-efficient convertibles

Staff reports
Farm Forum

The wind in your hair and a smile on your face: Nothing says summer like a convertible. Here are five top rides for $35,000 or less, in vehicles that also get great fuel economy:

1. MINI: The third-generation convertible since BMW took over the brand in 2002, the 2016 MINI convertible is the first to contain BMW engines. My recent test drive was in a zippy 189-horsepower turbocharged model with the great acceleration and precise handling you would expect from a BMW engine. The new MINI also contains new safety and design features, including back seats that fold down and an innovative trunk with expanding hinges. These features provide not just more cargo space, but easier access to it.

Product planning manager Justin Berkowitz told me that half of all MINI buyers are women. Part of the attraction, for sure, is the amazing range of customization possibilities to make the MINI as individual as the owner. Between 14 colors — including my personal favorite, a summery turquoise Caribbean Blue — 10 upholstery choices, 12 wheel styles, engine choices, and other options, there are several million possible configurations. Just like in my wardrobe closet.

The MINI base price is just under $26,000. It’s rated at 29 miles per gallon city, 39 mpg highway, although I got 31 mpg combined on a 75-mile test drive. Also, although it’s marketed as a 2+2, even 5-foot-nothing little me felt a bit cramped for legroom in the back seat.

2. Buick Cascada: The words “Buick Convertible” are not usually used in the same sentence, so Buick has great hopes this new Cascada convertible will change our perception about the Buick brand. Cascada is big enough to offer comfortable backseat space for two grown-ups, and its 200-hp turbocharged engine makes it feel like a performance sports car. The top lowers in just 17 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph.

Perhaps best of all, it’s priced at $33,990. That’s less than an Audi A3 Cabriolet, and even cheaper by comparison when you consider Cascada is packed with more safety and comfort features as standard equipment. Those include parking assist, innovative heat-reflecting seating, and a heated steering wheel to enjoy drives into the chilly autumn.

3. Mazda MX-5 RF: Better known as the Mazda Miata, the newest version for the 30th anniversary of this popular little roadster is a retractable hardtop (RF is for “retractable fastback”). This fourth-generation RF has a simple switch to close or open the power roof and the retractable back window in seconds. Powertrain choices are a 1.5- or 2.0-liter engine with Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology. Unfortunately, the all-new 2017 Miata won’t be available until fall foliage season, when pricing and EPA mileage ratings also will be released, but both are expected to be close to the 2016 Miata, with a starting price of $24,900.

4. Ford Mustang: A favorite since the day it was introduced in the 1960s, the Mustang convertible now comes with Ford’s award-winning 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine, which improves both power and fuel economy. Its long hood looks even longer when the top is dropped. My recent test drive proved it to be loaded with torque and an absolute head-turner — I just love getting waves and thumbs up when I’m at the wheel of a red sports car. I also loved the perimeter lighting that adds a measure of safety, especially for women alone parking this vroomer somewhere after dark. Starting price is $30,700.

5. Toyota 86 Convertible: This cloth-top roadster is a rebranded Scion FR-S, one of several models Toyota is keeping after killing off the Scion brand earlier this year. The new 86 has a new fiberglass body for lighter weight and better fuel economy. With a starting price of $30,000, it will be strong competition for the new BMW 2 Series convertible, which costs $36,000. Arriving soon as a 2017 model.