Top 10: Used convertibles for £3000 or less
If you fancy a bit of affordable, drop-top fun this summer, now is the time to hit the classifieds in search of a bargain convertible. With a budget of just £3000, you might be surprised at how many soft-tops are on the market...
The Mazda MX-5 is the default choice for bargain-hunting convertible buyers. And for good reason. As the UK’s best-selling sports car, the market is overloaded with MX-5s, meaning you can be picky.
£3000 buys a good example of the original model with its pop-up lights and retro feel, but they’re old cars and need to be maintained as a classic. We’d hunt out a well-loved (if, at this price, well-used) third-generation model. They’re pretty bulletproof, but we’d want evidence of regular servicing, and do look closely at bodywork. MX-5s love to rust.
The Toyota MR2 offers the same Japanese reliability as the Mazda MX-5, but they’re much rarer and offer a slightly different driving experience due to their mid-engined layout. Unlike the MX-5, they’re not exactly a docile introduction to rear-wheel-drive, although later (post 2003) examples aren’t as snappy as early models.
A budget of £3000 should get you one of said facelifted models, which brings with it tougher mechanicals (earlier examples were known for their pre-cats disintegrating and being sucked into the engine), a six-speed gearbox and various minor cosmetic tweaks. Although the MR2’s not as common as the MX-5, there are still plenty around, so don’t buy the first one you look at.
Introduced in 2004, the MINI Convertible still looks modern and stylish today - and it’s practical enough for most of us to use all year round.
We’d opt for a desirable Cooper model, ideally with the Chili Pack (bringing with it extra leather, sports seats and sports suspension). There are a few Cooper S models around within our £3000 budget, but these are likely to have been driven harder, and the supercharged engine won’t cope with high mileages or a lack of servicing as well as the naturally-aspirated unit.
If style’s what you’re after, do second-hand cars get any more stylish than an original TT? The coupe might be a better looker in our eyes, but it’s easy to see the appeal of the Roadster.
Not only has the TT aged well in terms of appearance, Audi build quality means early examples stand wear well, making them an excellent used buy. Check that the cambelt’s been changed every five years or 80,000 miles and listen out for knocks and squeaks from the suspension. Uneven tyre wear can also be an indication of suspension trouble.
BMW 3 Series
A four-seater that looks great, drives well, has a stow-away roof and all for less than £3,000? The BMW 3 Series Convertible is arguably the best all-rounder you can buy on a limited budget.
There’s an engine to suit all requirements, too - although we’d shy away from the diesels at this budget as there’s too much potential for them to go expensively wrong. A 325Ci in facelifted E46 flavour (2003 on) would be our choice. Hoods are costly to replace so inspect them carefully, and buy on the condition and service history rather than the mileage or specification.
When you think of stylish soft-tops, a Volvo may not spring to mind. But the second-generation C70, launched in 2006, is a very sensible way of spending £3000. Its three-piece folding hard-top was ahead of its time, offering more refinement than a conventional soft-top yet able to lower in less than 30 seconds.
Our £3000 budget gets you an early example. The 220PS (rising to 230PS in 2007) T5 petrol engine is the most desirable, but hard to find for less than £3000. The 2.4-litre petrol engine is fine, producing 170PS. Buy on condition and, like all secondhand car purchases, a thorough service history is desirable.
While some people would prefer a Volkswagen Beetle Cabrio, our money would go on the Golf-based Eos. Like the Volvo C70, the Eos featured a clever folding hard-top when it was launched in 2006. This meant it was more refined that soft-top rivals, and the retractable roof has earned itself a reputation for being reliable.
There are plenty around within our budget. Buy one with the 200PS 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the Golf GTI and you’ll be surprised by its pace, while the 2.0-litre turbodiesel is a known entity in Volkswagen Group cars.
We make no apologies for featuring two BMWs here. The fact that the Z4 is dropping below £3000 makes it a soft-top bargain, in our eyes. Although it’s only a two-seater, there’s more space than a Toyota MR2, while its rear-wheel-drive layout and 50/50 weight distribution means the Z4’s great to drive.
You may have to trawl through a few rough examples before you find a good one, but be patient as there are lots of Z4s on the market and prices are still going down. Our preference is for the bigger engined models, although all engines are fine. And we’d favour smaller wheels - not only are tyres expensive for the bigger alloys, the Z4 doesn’t offer the smoothest ride quality and has a tendency to tramline.
Oh, how exciting the Renault Wind was when it was revealed at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show. A stylish two-seater with a trick rotating metal roof that didn’t impede on boot space even when it was dropped, the Wind offered quirky looks and excellent value for money.
Buyers weren’t impressed. But, silly name aside, the Wind was a good car. It lasted less than 18 months on sale in the UK, and depreciation hit buyers hard. That’s good news for used car bargain hunters - early examples powered by the turbocharged 1.2-litre engine are now dropping below £3000. They’re pretty reliable, but ask for a good test drive and do make sure that fancy folding roof works as it should...
Can you buy a Boxster for £3000? Probably, if you haggle a bit. Should you buy a Boxster for £3000? Probably not.
We’re including the Boxster here as a bit of a wild card. At the time of writing, there is one Boxster advertised in the classifieds for £2995 - and a few others teetering on the edge of dropping below £3000. The early 2.5-litre Boxsters were underpowered for a sports car, but have 'future classic' written all over them. A clutch replacement can cost four figures, while engine issues (from cracked cylinder bores to intermediate shaft bearing failure) aren’t unknown. Do your research before buying a cheap Boxster.