Seven Fun-in-the-Sun Convertibles on The Cheap

By Features Bankrate.com

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For most of the country, there is no better time to enjoy a drop-top than the fall. In that spirit, Bankrate presents a list of seven low-price convertibles to put some wind in your hair.

Low price was the only real filter in composing our list. To qualify, a convertible must have a manufacturer's suggested retail price, or MSRP, of less than $30,000 before delivery charges.

Some of our choices seat two, others four. We didn't insist on high fuel efficiency, but each gets at least 22 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Some get much better. All fuel economy numbers, prices and specifications are for models with automatic transmissions.

Fuel economy figures, as estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency, are presented as city mpg/highway mpg/combined mpg. Fall is the cusp of new model-year change, so some prices as noted are 2011 and others 2012.

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2011 Chrysler 200 Touring Convertible

Price: $26,445

Gas mileage: 18 mpg/29 mpg/22 mpg

Replacing Sebring in Chrysler's lineup, the front-wheel-drive 200 Touring Convertible still represents solid value. It's not a giant leap forward from Sebring, but the 200 does have a more refined interior and improved suspension over the car it replaces.

The entry-level Touring Convertible uses a combination of a 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission for its get-up-and-go. It seats up to four and has a power-operated cloth top.

Rear legroom is 33.5 inches with a 13.1 cubic-foot trunk -- both of these measurements top our list of competitors.

Standard features include full power accessories, heated outboard mirrors, four air bags, cruise control, climate control, trip computer, six-way power-operated front seats, leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant audio controls, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input jack.

2012 Fiat 500c Pop

Price: $20,500

Gas mileage: 27 mpg/32 mpg/29 mpg

Fiat claims there are 500,000 ways to personalize its little convertible. It's offered in 14 exterior colors, three top colors, two interior environments, and 12 seat and material combinations.

It seats four with 31.7 inches of rear-seat legroom. Cargo space is a tidy 5.4 cubic feet.

Pop is the entry-level 500c -- "c" stands for cabrio -- and when equipped with its standard five-speed manual transmission, costs just $19,500. Our 500c pick, though, has the optional six-speed driver-shiftable transmission ushering output from its 101-horsepower, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine to the front wheels.

The power-operated top is actually a double-layered cloth section that folds back on itself, leaving the side-roof structure intact. It can be lowered or raised at speeds of up to 60 mph.

Among its standard features are full power accessories, seven air bags, air conditioning, heated outboard mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with redundant audio controls, trip computer, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player, auxiliary input jack, iPod integration and USB port.

2012 Ford Mustang V-6 Convertible

Price: $29,050

Gas mileage: 19 mpg/30 mpg/23 mpg

An American icon, the Mustang is still highly sought after.

When you upgrade the V-6 Convertible to the six-speed automatic transmission reflected here, it barely sneaks under our $30,000 ceiling. Generating the oomph to turn the rear wheels is a 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6.

That it delivers the most horsepower among our seven convertibles is somewhat offset by its curb weight -- also the highest -- that puts some drag on that extra engine power.

Furnished for four, the Mustang provides 29.8 inches of rear-seat legroom with a cargo capacity of 9.6 cubic feet. The insulated power-top moves up or down in 30 seconds.

Among the standard features are full power accessories, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel with speed controls, four air bags, trip computer, and a four-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input jack.

2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata Touring

Price: $26,550

Gas mileage: 21 mpg/28 mpg/23 mpg

Dollar for dollar and pound for pound, the Miata remains about the most fun you can have behind the wheel. Engineered to be tossed around curves, handling rather than horsepower is the aspect that cranks up Miata's fun-to-drive quotient.

Mazda calls Miata's driving experience "the oneness of horse and rider."

The quoted price reflects the $1,100 premium charged to replace Miata's standard six-speed manual transmission with a six-speed driver-shiftable automatic that funnels output from a 158-horsepower, 2-liter four-cylinder engine to the rear wheels.

Miata seats two and provides 5.3 cubic feet of trunk space.

Standard equipment includes full power accessories, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering wheel with redundant audio controls, four air bags, trip computer, and a six-speaker audio system with in-dash six-disc CD player and auxiliary input jack.

2011 Mini Cooper Convertible

Price: $26,800

Gas mileage: 27 mpg/36 mpg/30 mpg

With any Mini, what you essentially get is BMW's handling mojo in a compact package.

Included in the posted price is the extra charge for the six-speed driver-shiftable, automatic transmission, replacing the standard six-speed manual. A 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine develops 121 horsepower. For some extra coin, turbocharged versions of the same engine are available that can boost the pony count to as much as 208 horsepower.

Seating four, the Cooper offers 28.1 inches of rear-seat legroom and a trunk that accommodates 6 cubic feet of cargo.

On its standard equipment list are full power accessories, remote keyless entry, cruise control, air conditioning, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, four air bags, power convertible top with sunroof, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input jack.

2012 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GS Sport

Price: $27,999

Gas mileage: 20 mpg/27 mpg/23 mpg

A bit long in the tooth, the Eclipse Spyder primarily made this list because of its dynamic exterior styling and sub-$30,000 price when dressed in GS-Sport trim.

On a list of drop-tops with five- and six-speed automatic transmissions, the four-speed driver-shiftable automatic found in the Eclipse Spyder seems outdated. A manual isn't available. A 162 horsepower 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine turns the front wheels.

At 27.7 inches, the Eclipse Spyder has the least amount of rear-seat legroom of the four-seaters on this list. Its 5.2 cubic-foot trunk is the smallest as well.

Standard equipment includes full power accessories, remote keyless entry, four air bags, air conditioning, cruise control, a 19-second power-operated convertible top, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with redundant audio controls, and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD player and auxiliary input jack.

2011 Smart Fortwo Passion Cabriolet

Price: $17,690

Gas mileage: 33 mpg/41 mpg/36 mpg

Distinguishing it on this list, the fortwo convertible boasts the best fuel economy and lowest price.

The front-wheel-drive fortwo is a two-seater with a 7.8 cubic-foot luggage capacity.

Acceleration is leisurely despite the fact that the 70-horsepower, 1-liter three-cylinder engine has only 1,852 pounds (excluding the driver's weight) to motivate. No manual transmission is offered, but standard is a five-speed driver-shiftable automatic.

The low price comes at a cost of some standard features found in others on this list such as cruise control and rear audio speakers. Here's what fortwo's base price does get you: full power accessories, heated outboard mirrors, four air bags, keyless remote entry, three-spoke leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, and a two-speaker audio system with auxiliary input jack and USB port.

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