Top Down: Top 10 Convertibles

There is no finer way to enjoy the great outdoors than from behind the wheel of a convertible. Here are 10 of the latest and most exciting open-top beauties. Just add sunshine.


Star Quality | Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet

It’s been 45 long years since Mercedes-Benz had a flagship convertible in its lineup. That car was the iconic 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet, and I still get trembly knees every time I see one on the road.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet - Top 10 Convertibles - Automotive Review with Howard Walker

   Thankfully, Mercedes has ended that big-bodied convertible drought with the unveiling of its imposing S-Class Cabriolet, which arrives in the United States this spring as a 2017 model.

   Naturally, it’s based on the big S-Class Coupe, sharing 60 percent of the body structure with the hardtop. In place of the metal lid, the Cabriolet features a three-layer canvas roof that can be raised or lowered in a mere 20 seconds and at speeds as fast as 37 mph. Take your pick from four roof colors: black, dark blue, beige, and dark red.

   Full credit to Mercedes engineers for making this new S Cabrio a four-seasons convertible. They’ve developed the company’s innovative AirScarf neck-level heating system and added heated armrests.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet - Top 10 Convertibles - Automotive Review with Howard Walker

   Two Cabriolet models will be offered stateside: an S550, powered by Merc’s 4.7-liter bi-turbo 449-horsepower V-8, and an S63 AMG 4Matic, with its thundering 577-horsepower 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8.

   No word on pricing yet, but we’re thinking around $140,000 for the S550 and $190,000 for the S63. Which is what you’d pay for a restored 1971 280SE 3.5 Cab these days.


Blast from the Past | Porsche 911 Targa 4 GTS

Not all convertibles have to have cloth tops and challenging rear visibility. Porsche’s solution with its glorious 911 Targa is a roof panel that majestically folds backward to let in the sunshine.

   It’s not exactly a new idea—there have been targa-topped 911s since 1965. The name comes from the famous Targa Florio road race around Sicily.

Porsche 911 Targa 4 GTS - Top 10 Convertibles with Howard Walker

   The targa design allows for a removable center roof section that leaves the huge wraparound glass rear window in place for better visibility and shelter from the wind. It’s a great halfway house between coupe and cab.

   Watching the roof mechanism in action for the first time can be pretty scary. That giant glass rear window soars skywards on spindly looking metal supports before coming to rest.

   Initially, this new 911 Targa came as a wide-body Targa 4 model with all-wheel drive and either a 350-horsepower 3.4-liter flat-6 or a 4S with 400 horsepower.

Porsche 911 Targa 4 GTS - Top 10 Convertibles with Howard Walker

   But new for 2016 is the even sportier 911 Targa 4 GTS, packing a more powerful 430-horse flat-6 engine, a standard Sport Chrono package, active suspension management, cool center-lock 20-inch alloys, and a sports exhaust. It’s yours for $132,800.

   Of course, drivers can get all variety of new 911s with a regular folding cloth roof. But the Targa might just be the best solution for feeling the sun on your face.


The Ultimate Bella Macchina | Ferrari 488 Spider

Fourteen seconds. That’s how long it takes to go from top up to top down in Ferrari’s magical new 660-horsepower 488 Spider.

   Yet when you have a car that can scythe from standstill to 60 mph in fewer than three seconds, 14 probably seems like a lifetime.

Ferrari 488 Spider - Supercar Convertibles - Howard Walker's Top 10 Convertibles of 2016

   But there’s complexity at work here. At the press of a button, the metal roof panel unlatches and splits in two, a rear panel hinges backward, and then the top powers back to rest just above the engine. Nureyev wasn’t this nimble.

   Ferrari claims this new 488 Spider is the most aerodynamically efficient open car the company has ever built. Witness the gorgeous new buttresses behind each seat that not only look stunning but also are designed to funnel cooling air into the engine intakes.

   Interestingly, Ferrari has toned down the scream of that twin-turbo 3.9-liter V-8 for this new Spider by modifying the exhaust so driver and passenger don’t completely lose their hearing with the top down. Don’t worry, it’s still loud.

Ferrari 488 Spider - Supercar Convertibles - Howard Walker's Top 10 Convertibles of 2016

   And to help lessen the inevitable gale-force wind whipping back into the cabin at 200 mph, there’s a tiny electric screen that rises between those buttresses.

   Word is stateside deliveries of this 488 Spider will kick off this summer with a sticker somewhere around the $275,000 mark.

    Which all begs the question: Why would anyone buy a 488GTB Coupe when you can have the best of both worlds with the Spider?


A Villainous Cat | Jaguar F-Type R AWD Convertible

In its recent advertising, Jaguar pointed out the best villains in movies always seem to be played by Brits.

   Case in point: Sir Anthony Hopkins playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. “I must confess,” he says, “I’m giving very serious thought … to eating your wife.”    

Jaguar F-Type R AWD Convertible - Howard Walker's Best Convertibles for 2016

   It may not yet be a Hollywood star, but there is indeed something truly villainous about Jaguar’s newest sports car, the $109,450 2016 F-Type R AWD convertible.

   Just see it in the metal, riding on those humongous 20-inch alloys, and it has all the muscular tension and hunkered-down pugilist stance of The Transporter star Jason Statham, another truly villainous Brit.

   While the F Convertible has been around for a couple of years now, Jaguar recently upped its appeal by squeezing its highest horsepower engine under that curvaceous hood.

   For 2016, it gets an uprated 550-horsepower 5-liter supercharged V-8 coupled to a fast-shifting ZF 8-speed automatic.
Channeling all those horses to the rear wheels might have turned this new F-Type R into the ultimate sideways-sliding “drift” car, which is why it’s wisely equipped with standard all-wheel drive.

Jaguar F-Type R AWD Convertible - Howard Walker's Best Convertibles for 2016

   So drop the top—it takes a mere 12 seconds—punch the start button, listen to the whooomph from the exhaust, and get on the road. It’s a magical experience.

   The F-Type convertible is one part old-school American V-8 muscle car, one part thrillingly fast supercar, one part high-luxury two-seater—and three-parts British villain. Enjoy.


British Beefcake | Bentley Continental GTC Speed

What we have here is simply the fastest four-seat convertible on the planet. It can spear toward the horizon at a rock-steady 206 mph, courtesy of its 626-horsepower 6-liter 12-cylinder nuclear reactor under that mile-long hood.

   With the top down at 206 mph, Bentley’s latest Continental GTC Speed has the capability to blast off every last follicle on a driver’s head. Arguably more thrilling is the car’s ability to catapult from zero to 60 mph in just 4 seconds.

Bentley Continental GTC Speed - Luxury Convertibles - Top 10 Supercar Convertibles for 2016

   For 2016, the folks at Bentley have given this leather-lined rocket ship a mild body nip-tuck by resculpting the front and rear spoilers, reshaping the front fenders, adding shiny chrome Flying B fender vents, and coloring the mesh grilles in a dark-tint chrome finish.

   To drive this new GTC Speed is to adore it. That huge cloth top is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, fitting pinch-tight while raised and keeping out every bit of wind, rain, and cold.

Bentley Continental GTC Speed - Luxury Convertibles - Top 10 Supercar Convertibles for 2016

   But on a sunny day or warm night, drop the top and instantly feel at one with the elements, serenaded by an exhaust that sounds like Thor’s thunder.

   You’ll pay around $265,000 for the joy of GTC Speed ownership. Think of it as $1,286 for each of those 206 miles per hour.


For more top convertibles, including selections from Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati, head to page two.

Going, Going … | Aston Martin DB9 GT Volante

It’s hard to believe Aston Martin’s achingly gorgeous DB9 Volante convertible is 13 years old. In the auto business, that’s an eternity.

   Aston thinks so, too. Come springtime, the silk comes off the DB9’s long-awaited replacement, the 2016 DB11.

Aston Martin DB9 GT Volante - Unbelievable Supercar Convertibles for 2016

   But even with 13 years under the DB9’s belt, there’s no reason to accelerate its departure. The car still looks as fresh, graceful, and elegant as it did in 2003.

   Aston Martin is heightening the appeal of these last cars by offering a sort of final-edition model, the DB9 GT Volante—the most powerful production DB9 ever offered.

   Under that mile-long hood, the car’s 6-liter V-12 gets an additional 30 horses, taking the corral up to an impressive 540 horsepower. Standstill to 60 mph now takes roughly 4.5 seconds, with top speed rising to more than 180 mph.

Aston Martin DB9 GT Volante - Unbelievable Supercar Convertibles for 2016

   The GT also gets Aston’s smoother-shifting Touchtronic 2 6-speed transmission and is distinguished by a black front air splitter and rear diffuser; new 10-spoke, 20-inch alloys; plus a GT logo engraved on the aluminum fuel cap.

   Power back the tight-fitting canvas top, fire up the big V-12, and revel in the joy of being behind the wheel of such a masterpiece of style and class.

   A new DB9 GT Volante will set you back a nontrivial $217,775, but price should be no object when contemplating such beauty.


Elegance on Wheels | Rolls-Royce Dawn

Feast your peepers on the sensuous curves of those fenders, the imposing depth of the body sides, the majestic rake of the windshield.

   This 2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn just might be the sexiest, most seductive Rolls convertible ever—despite having a name that might conjure up images of dishwashing liquid.

Rolls-Royce Dawn - 2016's Best Supercar Convertibles

   Unfortunate name or not, here is a car that oozes with the glamour of the Côte d’Azur; of a

   Hermès-scarfed Grace Kelly wafting top down along the Grande Corniche above Monaco.

   The Dawn is essentially a convertible version of Rolls’ sleek Wraith fixed-roof coupe, sharing those trademark rear-hinged suicide doors and a rear bumper. As with the Wraith, power comes from a 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 delivering a mighty and majestic 563 horsepower. That’s enough to launch the Dawn from standstill to 60 mph in fewer than five seconds.

Rolls-Royce Dawn - 2016's Best Supercar Convertibles

   The roof is a masterpiece of design, making the car look as graceful with the top up as it does top down. And this is a full four-seater, with stretch-out legroom in the back for adults and a trunk cavernous enough to stow their Louis Vuittons.

   The company has already opened its order books, with the first cars set to be delivered in the spring. While there’s no firm word on pricing, expect somewhere in the region of $360,000. And worth every penny.


Unleash the Storm | Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4 Spyder

In buying a Lamborghini, part of the appeal is being seen in it. Generally, owners of these Italian toros are not particularly shy.

   This is why a convertible Lamborghini has to have the most see-and-be-seen appeal.

Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4 Spyder - Supercar Convertible - Howard Walker's Top Convertibles for 2016

   The new $262,350 Huracán Spyder has big shoes to fill, being the replacement for the most popular convertible Lambo ever, the Gallardo Spyder.

   Lamborghini engineers have certainly done a fine job of improving on the old Gallardo soft-top, especially with regards to structural rigidity. The body of the new Huracán Spyder is 40-percent stiffer, causing even sharper, more precise handling.

   It takes just 18 seconds to power-drop the Huracán’s cloth top—available in black, brown, or red—and it can raise or lower while the car is traveling as fast as 31 mph.

Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4 Spyder - Supercar Convertible - Howard Walker's Top Convertibles for 2016

   Under the hood, the V-10 is unchanged from the Huracán coupe. Its mid-mounted 5.2-liter punches out 610 horsepower through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission to all four wheels.

   Click the stopwatch and see the car sprint to 60 mph in roughly 3.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 201 mph.

   This hurricane on wheels blows into dealerships in the spring. Please form an orderly line.


Italian Beauty | Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport

If ever there was an automotive beauty queen, it’s Maserati’s divinely proportioned GranTurismo convertible. No other car on the market has such curvy hips, such a pert nose, such a feline stance. You don’t need to drive this car—just stand and gaze at its sublime proportions.

Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport - Sexy Convertibles for 2016

   Thankfully, it drives as beautifully as it looks. Abundant power comes from a thoroughbred 4.7-liter V-8 codeveloped with Ferrari that’s eager to deliver all 454 horsepower through a fast-shifting 6-speed automatic.

   There’s a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dual character about the way this car delivers its thundering performance. In normal driving mode, it’s quiet, relaxed, refined, and muscular.     

   But hit the “sport” button, and all hell breaks loose. Valves in the exhaust open, essentially bypassing anything that might get in the way of muffling the roar.

   To enjoy this unique aural feature to the fullest, drop the GT’s triple-layer cloth top—a 24-second piece of mechanical ballet—and find a city-center canyon of office buildings to let the sound waves bounce off.

Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport - Howard Walker's top 10 convertibles for 2016

   And you can sit and enjoy it all from one of the most luxuriously crafted cabins around. The quality of the leatherwork, the beauty of the woodwork, the precision of the stitching is just breathtaking.

   GranTurismo convertibles kick off at around $150,000 and rise to more than $180,000 for the recently released Centennial model. As they say in Italy, bellissimo.


Along Came a (New) Spider | Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Who didn’t tumble head-over-heels in lust with the fire-truck red Alfa Romeo Spider convertible in the 1967 movie classic The Graduate?

   The vision of the oh-so-pretty Spider Duetto roadster, a fresh-faced Dustin Hoffman behind the wheel, and a magical Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack did wonders for Alfa Romeo’s stateside image and sales.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider - Supercar Convertibles for 2016

   But after a decades-long absence from the United States, Alfa is back—and spending $7 billion to introduce eight new models by 2018.

   Last year, the party kicked off with the reveal of the cute Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe, a pint-sized bottle-rocket of fun and feistiness. This year, the open-top 4C Spider will attract the attention of American Alfa fans.

   This new 4C drop-top is very much an acquired taste. It’s raw and basic, loud and turbulent. And at nearly $64 grand, it’s pretty pricy.

   The convertible top is not much more than a rectangle of canvas that is rolled up and thrown in the teeny trunk.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider - Supercar Convertibles for 2016

   And while its 237-horse 1.7-liter four-banger may not sound too thrilling, remember this carbon-fiber projectile weighs roughly the same as a Tupperware container. Zero to 60 is covered in a rapid 4.1 seconds.

   As a driver’s car, maybe a weekend thrill ride, the 4C Spider is a joy on four wheels, with the open roof adding to the purist experience.

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