Opinion: The indulgent joy of driving a top-down convertible

Dan explains why driving with the top down is like going fishing with hand grenades

Why everyone should drive a convertible with the top down

If you ever have the incredible privilege of meeting me, one of the first things you’ll notice is that I am the colour of toasted caramel. It might be a tan or simply an all-over melanoma but either way, it came from the lovely Australian sun, and that’s partly because I absolutely adore convertibles.

There’s just something so innocently indulgent about moving around in what would be a perfectly normal car only minus its roof. It’s the automotive equivalent of skinny dipping, or wearing no pants at your work desk.

Doesn’t everyone do that or at least want to? Imagine how thrilled you would be if you could mow the lawn with a flame thrower or go fishing with a fistful of hand grenades. That’s what convertibles do. They take what many see as an unavoidable or pedestrian part of life and make it awesome, and the magic works whether you’re sitting in traffic or blasting your favourite B-road.

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet vs BMW M3 Cabriolet comparison review

My first car was a convertible and, unless it was literally raining cats, dogs and horses, I would always, always, always have the roof down. Now, that might not sound like such a badge of honour in Australia where we are blessed with a decent climate, but I was raised in the southwest of England where the curious glowing orb in the sky was somewhat of a mystery and an infrequent visitor even in the height of ‘summer’.

Light rain was not a problem as I would just keep pressing the accelerator through a rusty floorpan until the necessary speed was achieved to simply blow the falling water over the top before it had a chance to spoil my Hugh Grant do. Even if I did put the roof up, it was so full of holes that the exercise was largely ceremonial and the same massive gaps would let more cold in than the feeble heater could pump out. I actually drove home one night sitting in a sleeping bag with the toe unzipped so I could get to the pedals.

So you can probably imagine how annoyed I am when people get convertibles wrong. We’ve all seen them. It’s a perfect 27-degree, clear-blue-sky day and the roof of their Audi TT cabriolet is snapped shut with the air-conditioning blasting. The police should pull these owners over and impound the car.

Ford Mustang GT Convertible
2018 Mustang GT Convertible

I’ll let you in on a secret though, the very best time to let the sky into your car is on a balmy summer night. When the sting of the Southern Hemisphere UV has sunk into the sea, the pulse of traffic has eased, and the evening air still holds the warmth and smell of baked Australia, that is when top-down motoring is simply unbeatable.

But perhaps, as a MOTOR reader, you feel you aren’t allowed to drive or express any fond feelings for the fun of topless motoring. After all, doesn’t removing the roof instantly render a coupe a flaccid automotive antichrist devoid of any decent dynamics?

Mazda MX-5 side

Well I’ve been spending a lot of time in cabriolets lately and it’s reminded me that this theory is largely a load of bollocks. Do a few laps of Broadford in an MX-5 Roadster and the resounding impression is ‘Wow, the MX-5 is a sensation’ not ‘Hmmm the RF would have been better’, because it’s not. The retractable hard top is still a hoot but it’s heavier and offers negligible torsional stiffness. The soft top is simply better. And any closet cabriolet fan who argues that they genuinely care about the dynamic difference between the Porsche Cayman and Boxster or tenths of a second on the circuit is the sort of person that turns up to track days already wearing their driving shoes and gloves.

Cars as recent as the previous-generation Audi A5 were hugely compromised when their tops were chopped off and an embarrassing shadow of the coupe’s manners.

But things are different now and if you really do enjoy the sensation of wind in the hair, there is nothing shameful about lusting after a sexy cabriolet. When it comes to outright performance, coupes will probably always wear the trousers, but you can still be a proud driving enthusiast with your top off.


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