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Performance convertible bargains

By Daniel DeGasperi, 28 Jan 2018 News

bmw z4 3.0

Driver’s cars affected by the resale curse on drop-tops

Folklore reads that convertibles aren’t good at being sports cars, but in many instances that simply isn’t true.

Unfortunately, however, perceptions can affect resale even with top driver’s cars. On the upside, it means that those in the know can seize an opportunity.

Forget the stereotypes with these wind-in-your-hair two- and four-seaters, because seeing these options as somehow lesser to coupe (or hatchback) counterparts is a load of hot air. Instead, these five will delight and excite all of the senses all for under $40,000…

1. Mazda MX-5 – under $12,000

Mazda MX-5
The obvious choice, but for very good reason.

Coming from an owner of a 1989 Peugeot 205 GTI whose housemate owned – until recently – a 1989 NA MX-5 with identical kilometres, you can safely say that the Japanese roadster is screwed together much better than the French tin-top.

Prices have bottomed out, parts are cheap and issues rare. Choose a 1989-1996 NA 1.6-litre with 85kW and ‘daisy’ alloy wheels for $5000 with 150-200,000km (although the odometer really doesn’t matter here), or a 1998-2004 NB 1.8-litre with 106kW for a few thousand dollars more.

Or, splurge with the rare 2004 NB SE 1.8-litre turbo and enjoy 121kW/206Nm in a 1093kg rear-driver with a delightful six-speed manual transmission, for around $12K.

2. BMW Z4 3.0 – $12,000-$17,000

BMW Z4 3.0
Welcome to the Bangle era of BMW design.

Whether you think the flame-surfaced styling was hot or should simply be burnt, there’s no arguing with proportions that plonk the driver’s bum on the back axle and push the front wheels so far ahead of the dashboard line.

Let’s not forget this was a near-$100,000 roadster 15 years ago, and a creamy 170kW/300Nm 3.0-litre straight six-cylinder is good enough to push the 1365kg two-seater from standstill to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds.

Stirred via a six-speed manual, the only dud notes concern the (then-new) electro-mechanical steering and lack of a limited-slip differential. Factor in about $2500 for the latter.

3. BMW 135i – $17,000-$25,000 

BmW i35

Okay, we’re doubling down on our Munich maulers here, but a decade-old 135i coupe will still set you back around $5000 more than its convertible counterpart, which still boasted excellent body rigidity.

This four-seater has aged well, and the 225kW/400Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder is strong enough to deliver a 5.6-second 0-100km/h.

Being a Bimmer, there are plenty of six-speed manual examples around as well, all of which for under $20,000 will beat the equivalent Z4 or first-generation – and a decade-older again – Porsche Boxster to triple-digit speed. Steering, damping and dynamics were all good, tin-top or fabric.

4. Mini Cabrio John Cooper Works – $17,000-$25,000

Mini Cooper
This is one example where ‘cabrio’ arguably works better than ‘hatchback’.

This joyous 155kW/260Nm 1.6-litre turbo is matched with one of the fartiest exhaust notes and dartiest steering around, making the Mini feel more like a quick slot-car than a dainty play-thing.

There’s no great depth to its ride comfort or cabin materials, but who cares when this front-driver stands on its nose at every corner, cocks a wheel and blurts from standstill to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds?

For under $20,000 we’d rather a circa-2010 one of these than a new Toyota Yaris.

5. Porsche Boxster 987 – $25,000-plus

POrsche boxster
With the first, 996-generation now leaving its teenage years and entering two decades’ service, the focus simply must shift to the 987-gen that followed.

Circa-2006 examples of the Boxster are now trending below $30,000 – they’ve certainly held up better than a Z4, with the 180kW/273Nm 2.7-litre flat six-cylinder even claiming a slower 6.1-second 0-100km/h sprint.

But this Porsche has never been about numbers, but rather mid-engined harmony and sweetness. We’d try to stretch to $35,000 for a Boxster S and its 206kW/320Nm 3.2-litre flat six and 5.5sec 0-100km/h, though.

Note that it was good enough in its day to rival an E92 BMW M3 coupe – all of which remain above $40,000 – and this is a Stuttgart-born bargain.