By on May 10, 2011


Robert™ (yes, really) writes,

Sajeev & Steve:

Even in Seattle, it’s springtime and for the first time in a decade I find myself without either a woman or a convertible in my life. The woman’s best not replaced too quickly, but going a summer without a convertible is a sacrilege I’m unwilling to commit. I’ve gone through my finances, and about $25K – $27K is my price range. I know I’m buying at the wrong time; both because it’s spring and because the supply-side guys are winning, but spending a summer without going topless just feels … dirty.

I’ve had a few convertibles in the past decade and the BMW’s aside I’m not sure I’d repeat any of these: an original Sebring, two differnet body style 325i’s, a first year SLK, an ’05 Mustang, a brief affair with an early 90’s Celica and finally a Z3.

With my budget, and my preferences I’m looking at the last gen Z4, or the C5, or possibly an ’05 targa C6) Corvette. While the C5 interrior is every reason I’ve never bought a GM car is the difference between the C5 and early C6 that significant on the road? The ’05’s interior is much better…even though it still has the “headless gnome” steering wheel. I’d also consider an ’05 Jaguar or a 280 SLK, where reliability is improved over earlier models. The obvious choice is to go back to the BMW well, and track down a non-trashed M3, should they exist. But that’s so obvious and the only thing more prevalent than 3-series where I live are Subaru’s.

I considered the Porsche, but I’m unwilling to play the boxster engine-failure lottery. The most current MX-5’s looks just leave me cold, but I’d be open to a Mazdaspeed. The TT roadster similarly doesn’t appeal on looks and on account of me not being a hair-stylist.

Everything else on the market seems too much like a boulevard cruiser or with little driving joy or doesn’t like to go around a corner. Have I missed something? Given that I’ll actually be financing the car, it will be one that I’ll hold onto for a while. I’m not overly concerned about maintenance costs as much as I am reliability. Nor am I terribly concerned with it being all that practical. I’ll be buying within the next few days, so your thoughts and feedback are really appreciated.

Steve Answers:

I take it this is the Sybil version of choosing a convertible.

You pretty much ran the gamut on this one Robert. All of these vehicles are worth your consideration. The best? Well it depends on what kind of drive you want for the long-term. Each of them are the kings of one niche or another.

Jaguar XK: I absolutely love these models. The design is gorgeous. The powertrain is almost as bulletproof as a C6 if you opt for a 2005 or later. Plus you get all the luxury of a British cruiser with a far better level of durability than most German marques. These cars do have their issues over the course of time. The XKR in particular has frightening repair and maintenance costs. But if you want the best interior and a design that endures, I would put a low-mileage 2005/2006 XK on your list.

Chevrolet Corvette: The interior can easily be primped up if you want. The Vette’ trades in the luxury of a Jaguar for the fun of a super car. There is an ample supply of low-mileage C6’s in the used car market. To be blunt, the Corvette would be an outstanding value in this price range.

But what would be the best?

The BMW 645i. But it has I-drive which was an absolute abomination of annoyance. Plus it’s expensive to keep and… I like to have my cars over-engineered and devoid of doo-dad’s. My pick? My only choice as a ‘keeper’ convertible would be a Mazdaspeed version of the MX-5.

The 2004 versions came in red and silver. The 2005’s in orange or black. Stick with a 2004. Upgrade everything you wish because your list will be a very short one. I guarantee you will never want to sell it. But first you’ll need to find one because Mazda only made 4000 of these models over a two year period. Good luck!

Sajeev Answers:

Test drives are free in this country. We should take advantage of that, especially in cases like this. I feel like an English teacher that just told you to re-write your book report with more insight than what’s in Cliff’s Notes or Wikipedia. You need to form a stronger personal connection to each of the cars listed, good or bad. These are passionate vehicles!

So my advice? Terribly shocking: LSX-FTW even if you want a sports car with all the luxury and style of a touring vehicle. Maybe that’s the Jag, but I’d much rather have a Magnaride-equipped Corvette with not factory, non-run-flat tires, even if making such a Chevy takes extra effort. To answer your question, I don’t see much of a difference between C5s and C6s, if you’re more of a luxury-touring type. The C6 has more motor, more wheelbase, more height, more front suspension travel and a “smarter” Magnaride processor, but the differences aren’t terribly obvious unless you drive them back-to-back. I’d buy whatever Magnaride vette you can find in your price range, C5 or C6. I’d personally trade all the benefits of the C6
for the C5’s pop up headlamps, but that’s the Farago-like Brand Loyalist in me.

Now start test driving and let your gut make a decision.

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47 Comments on “New or Used: Spring Fling, or Calculated Partnership?...”


  • avatar
    BlueEr03

    Find a Miata that you like the style of (Pre-2008 I believe) and buy it. Proceed to do an LSX swap. Enjoy.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    2007+ MX5. Get one with retractable hardtop – Grand Touring. You’ll love it. I have a 2007 ragtop Sport and it’s great, too – just the basics, but has A/C. If that doesn’t float your boat, go for the Corvette. Very reliable and easy to maintain.

  • avatar
    Boff

    A left-field suggestion would be a Porsche 968 cabriolet. Reasonably low-mileage examples can be found, and they are comparatively reliable.

  • avatar

    Insurance scared me off, but a Honda S2000 should probably be on the list.

    I continue to prefer the Z3 to the Z4. An M Roadster would be in your price range and insurance was surprisingly reasonable when I last checked.

    Corvettes all feel too big to me.

    The pre-2007 XK simply feels old, and like a small roadster trapped in a big body. I don’t care for the low windshield header in either these or the pre-2006 Miata.

    Given the amount of rain in Seattle, the hard top Miata wouldn’t be a good option? You say these leave you cold, but have you driven one?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Come on it never rains in Seattle, unless of course it’s raining. Despite the amount of rain in most years I usually find there are at least 1 or 2 days a month to drop the top, even in the middle of winter/the rainy season. (Last couple of years withstanding)

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    You are kind of all over the board here and you are the one that needs to decide whether you want more of a luxo cruiser (Jag or Merc), boulevard bruiser (Vette) or something in-between (Mx5 or BMW). As Sajeev noted it’s time to get out there and take some test drives and see which one you can live with on a daily basis assuming this will be your daily driver and not just a nice weather/weekend toy. If it is just an occasional cruiser and you want performance then Vette all the way.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I personally tend toward cars that have depreciated fully. in that vein, used Corvettes seem like super-bargains.

    I also kick myself for selling my 1984 Porsche 911 Cabriolet. Classic styling with bulletproof mechanicals and the build quality of a panzer tank. $25k will buy you a fantastic low-mileage ’87-89 911 Cabrio with the improved transmission and upgraded (slightly) A/C over the earlier models. I found mine inexpensive to maintain and they aren’t going to depreciate. They feel relatively ancient compared to the newer cars you’re talking about and 205 hp doesn’t seem like a lot today, but they were light and simple vehicles. As an occiasional driver/keeper, you could do much worse!

  • avatar
    ajla

    Elise.

  • avatar

    I will give a second vote for the S2000. You can get a great one and still keep a few grand in your pocket. Fun, reliable, the top drops in mere seconds. When my ‘Vette sells, (too big) it’s probably going to be back to another S2000 for me.

  • avatar
    carnick

    If you’ve never driven a Honda S2000, try it – it will be a religious revelation. I sold a Porsche Boxster S and bought a S2000 because I found it to simply be more fun (as well as avoided the outrageous Boxster IMS engine failure Sword of Damacles).

    There’s nothing that can top the S2000 for the feeling of the road being hard-wired into your central nervous system. It’s taut, telepathically responsive, has the best shifter in the world, and has that elusive go-kart like agility that many cars aspire to (or claim) but few actually achieve. It’s the closest thing to a race car you can drive on the street without getting excessively beaten up (though the ride is still stiff enough, and the cabin sufficiently cramped, that you probably won’t want to take any cross-country drives in it).

    I’ve had a couple of Miatas (Miatae?), and they are certainly tremendously fun cars. But, I think the S2000 much more closely captures Mazda’s goal of ‘jinba ittai’, ‘horse and rider as one’. In your price range, you should be able to get a late-model, low-mileage S2000 which will give you years of absolutely reliable, trouble-free, deeply passionate motoring that will put a huge smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    2008 Mercedes CLK-Class.
    A car made when Mercedes had class.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Two very different cars, but I’ll make the suggestion anyway, because I loved ’em when I owned ’em.

    Lexus LSC 430? Nissan 370Z Roadster?

    The LSC was silky smooth, and despite its rep as a chick car (it was my wife’s choice), it handled reasonably well and the v-8 purrs. The Nissan is the 4-wheeled equivalent of a crotch rocket….it rocks the road….

    If you like the Vette, you should put the Z on your list.

    Never driven one, but for sheer ‘w-t-f was that?’ impact, what about the Caddilac version of the ‘Vette…the XLR or whatever is was?

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Ah yes – the XLR – my wife and I would like to own one of them, but all we could afford was the MX5. What a beautiful car!

      • 0 avatar
        Robert

        I have driven a lady friends Lexus. It was as nimble and communicative as I imagine an oil tanker to be. Unlike many I don’t hate the looks, and the interior is very plush, but it just isn’t fun to drive. At all.

        Another friend has a 350z convertible. It sounds awful on the freeway, way too loud…and not in a pleasant way. Rolling along at 70 and 1700 RPM in the C6 is much more pleasant. On the plus side for both the Japanese models, wind buffeting with the top down is far less than in the Chevrolet.

        I would have considered an XLR-V were one available in my price range. While neutered compared to the power of the Corvette, it is far more rare. I surprisingly preferred the interior of the C6 over the XLR. But it is a Very Sexy Car. I wouldn’t fault anyone for choosing one.

  • avatar
    John R

    I’ll second an S2000 as well, but a previous gen low-mile 350Z ‘vert should be in that range. However, it’s styling is at the mercy of your prejudices. I don’t mind it, but it can look like an after thought.

    I wish they still made the targa top. The 300ZX targa is the first car I ever fell in love with…

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    Why not a Nissan 350z ‘vertible? A very nearly new one is mithin your price range.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    Solstice or Sky, if it’s not your only car. I like corvettes a lot too but I don’t see any benefit to a rag over the standard targa top.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      I understand the GSX plus some aftermarket bits make it a pretty fun ride. However living in the Pacific Northwest with a convertible top that requires exiting the vehicle, an awkward multi-step process, and minutes to deploy turned me off. Despite the pretty looks of the Pontiac I didn’t seriously consider either of these purely for the flawed top. Uts a shame these didn’t survive to see a second generation. They could have been serious contenders.

      As a result I did not test drive either one. In a different environment or in different conditions they are probably very worthy of consideration.

  • avatar

    Sweet typography.

    Let’s see Ray Wert come in and criticize the kerning, leading, tracking, etc. on that!!!

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    While the previous gen Jag XJ appeals because it has very classic looks and massive depreciation over very modern bones, the old XK’s bones are VERY old – 1975 XJ-S if I remember correctly. Behind the wheel, it feels like it was designed in ’75. The driving position is terrible, the handling is awful, and it has all of the road feel and steering precision of a Toyota Corolla.

    While the top is electric, the tonneau cover is a strictly DIY affair, and if it’s not on, the top just sits behind the rear seats in a big lump. If you want a car that drives like a convertible Lexus LS, buy a Lexus SC. It’s not pretty like the XK, but Lexus copied the Jag’s interior, and it will likely never break on you. Just get rid of the run flats, and those pie pan wheels if you buy an older one.

    If you want some luxury and some real fun, an ’05 or ’06 Audi S4 Cabrio is in your price range. Definitely better to drive than the first gen TT, it’s not a Golf, and that V8 will sound sweet with the top down.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    A key question needs to be answered. Will this be your only car, or do you have another? That makes a big difference. OK your age might matter too.

    If you have another, I would strongly suggest you look at the MX-5 and see if you can like it. After all when you’re driving it you’re not looking at the exterior. It’s smack in the middle of your price range, reliable as a hammer, and fun to drive. But unless you are young and/or drive very few miles a day normally, you wouldn’t want one for your only car.

    I have a Miata I’ve owned for 15 years since I bought it new. I love it but it could never be my only car. It’s unbeatable on top-down days and with the top up it’s fun for occasional short non-highway trips but I could never drive it as my only car for any length of time. Of course when I bought it I was 15 years younger and did use it as my primary car for a few years but as I’ve moved from my early thirties to my mid forties I can’t drive it all the time so my primary driver is now a 1998 LS400. Another factor could be that the new ones are more refined and roomy than my 96, but I haven’t seen any evidence of that.

    Long story short: as a fun weekend and good weather car, look seriously at an MX-5. Not as your only car.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      This is a second car purchase. The BMW X5 has been my daily driver since last fall. It’s a great ride for what it is…but it’s never ever a tossable toy.

      I’ve had an LS400 briefly…that’s a great sleeper car.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    You guys already covered my best recommendations… either S2000 or Porsche 911 (1987-1989 only!).

    The Porsche is my dream car, and I see beautiful ones in that price range, but of course getting financing might be a problem. BTW, I think they are 240hp in that generation, and I am fairly sure there is a lot of tuning left in that engine if you want more.

    The S2000 should be easy to find, just obviously stay away from hooned examples. My dad loves his, he is up to about 120k miles and has never had one problem with it, only replaces tires.

    Both of those cars are direct, pure sports cars. If you want more of a cruiser, how about a 370Z convertible?? You might be able to find one in your price range, or maybe lease a new one since you wont be driving much. The 350Z would work too if prices on the 370 is too high.

  • avatar
    mzs

    I know this is sort of out there considering the list of other vesicles, but since Robert never really connected with any of the convertibles he ever had before he might not know yet that what he really wants is a Jeep Wrangler. I’ve some god memories in those.

    • 0 avatar
      mzs

      vesicles? HA!

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      oh yea, now THATS a good idea! I can’t believe I didnt think of that one, I love Wranglers. You are right, he seemed to not connect too well with anything, and it would be a perfect vehicle for that area of the country. I would choose a base model Unlimited and then upgrade as budget permits, but he can easily get almost any version he prefers used within the budget.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert

        I think it’s less about connection than it is fear of committment. :-) I’ve horse-traded cars since I started driving. I realized the other day that I’ve had 40 cars in my lifetime, almost all of them horse-trades of some sort or another with a little cash trading hands one way or the other.

        I finally stopped myself last year when I ended up with an ’07 BMW X5 4.8i. But this spring that twitch has struck, and I realize that I’m torn between starting over with a bunch of very low-rent convertibles (original Miata’s, Fiat’s, etc) or having a car payment for the first time ever.

        I ended up with the car payment, and a 2006 C6 blade-silver convertible. I picked it up on Sunday and oh how she flies!

    • 0 avatar
      multicam

      +2 to that.

      There’s a completely different driving experience to be had with a Wrangler- the off-road experience. It can be a hell of a lot of fun. The joy I’ve gotten from flying through the woods on trails with the top down and doors off… I think I was born to rally. Maybe my next car should be an STi.

      I’d go for a 2006 Rubicon or Rubicon Unlimited, although the 07-11 model years, the JKs, have more refinement and are probably easier to live with. The 2010s and 2011s are probably the most reliable.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        While I appreciate the more pure earlier models, I really love the newer 4-door models. They can still do everything a Jeep should do but are infinitely more practical. And as much as I laugh at power windows in a Jeep, I have to admit the brand new ones with the better interior are so much nicer. And the new engine is icing on the cake. A great everyday car…

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        +1 on the 2006 Rubicon Unlimited. I have one and it’s glorious. The most fun I’ve ever had doing the speed limit or less.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        Dude, you don’t need to give up that wind-in-hair feeling if you buy an STi. Just run down to Manchester Subaru and pick up one of these beauties!

        https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-put-that-top-back-on-edition/

  • avatar
    jkross22

    MR2

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      As much as I love our MR2 Spyder, I dont think I could recommend it to the OP for what he is describing. Its MUCH cheaper than his target range, and really just isnt as good as other cars you can buy for more money. I like it because its cheap and fun and easy to keep running. I admire its mission as a pure sports car, a bargain Elise.. But if I had $25k to play with, I would get a real Elise instead.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    A car that everyone forgets about is the Volvo C70 convertible. A friend has an 01 with a high-pressure turbo (they also offered a lower-output low-pressure turbo) and a 5 speed. They made this series for several years. It is fairly good sized, but with the turbo, it will really scoot. My friend bought the car at about 18 mo old, and had to really scour the market to find his 5 speed. If the automatic is to your taste, these are more plentiful. This was a good looking car. You ought to be able to find a very nice one in your price range.

  • avatar
    Robert

    Thank you Sajeev and Steve for your comments. I appreciate you and the rest of the best & brightest to give some feedback.

    It’s true that I’ve been all over the map in my vehicle choices. My method has always been to find a car, enjoy its benefits and then move on to the next adventure. Committment issues? You bet.

    I test drove most of the suggestions people have made (Volvo and older Porsche excluded) and enjoyed them all. The miata and S2000 were fun but I disliked the lower power of the miata, and the engine bay noise out of the S2000 just didn’t make me happy.

    The Jaguar was incredibly tempting, but at the end of the day I went with the mid-life crises stereotype and bought a 2006 Corvette C6. I blame the influence of a non-midlife crises Corvette owning coworker, and the ongoing overwhelming advice from previous posts whenever sports-cars or convertibles are mentioned to just buy a Corvette, ignore the stereotype and live the dream.

    So in 40 cars I now own my first ever GM product. Next stop is the local strip-mall for some gold chains, a black leather jacket, and Rogain.

    Thanks again to all for the thoughts and advice. After a whopping 48 hours with the car…I’m thrilled with the choice!

    -Robert™ (yes really)

    • 0 avatar
      sastexan

      You “followed” the advice here (before you actually received it) and drove everything you were interested and went with what you thought you would be happiest with. You win. Sajeev converts another to be a fan of the LSX. He wins. Steve’s advice is Vette for “best value” – he wins too.

      Please fill us in – what’s up with the “Robert™ (yes really)”?

      • 0 avatar
        Robert

        I sent in the advice request about two weeks ago. Sajeev’s clearly a busy and popular guy.

        In reading past “New or Used” postings from Sajeev and Steve, whenever a sportscar request was on the table, the Corvette was consistently brought up as a great option. While many cars were on deck, the real root of my question was the C5 versus C6 and whether or not the Corvette could really run with the big dogs who do so well at delivering great driving experiences.

        They’ve also repeatedly mentioned that seat time is the best way to make a choice. They’re spot on. Playing with the Miata, Z4, and SLK55 I realized that (for me) the Corvette was as much visceral fun as the Z4 but with ridiculous power behind it. It may not be as nimble as the Miata or as responsively tossable as the Z4, but while Baruth’esque exploits make great reading and sound like fun I don’t know whether a track day is something I’d seriously consider. Even then I doubt I’m going to truly push it past 7/10ths. Not since I’m going to be making payments for the first time in a decade anyway.

        On the alternative car front and Sajeev and Steve’s alternative recommendations, I didn’t find a last gen MX5 mazdaspeed in condition worth considering, and I already have a BMW X5 that sees the dealer frequently enough, so while the 645 is a great and unexpected recommendation, it wasn’t one I am terribly interested in. I’ve had several BMW’s and enjoyed them all, but where I work at least…the Corvette is far less frequently seen than BMW’s and Porsche’s. It’s also more an “alternative” sportscar than the three Elise in the parking garage at the office.

        Of course, the C6 being the closest thing Clarkson’s ever come to endorsing anything from the colonies didn’t hurt. But then he’s a self-admitted balding, middle aged man-child. I think the most difficult part of the decision was getting over the emotional hurdle of buying a car that is so intimately connected with “midlife crisis”. There were more than a few people who told me that the last thing I should get is a “vette”, purely from their own conceptions of the stereotypical owner. It took only a little soul searching before I realized I just didn’t give a damn…the car is ridiculous fun.

        The ™ after my name was a discovery sometime in the early-nineties of the joy of ALT+SHIFT+ Numberic Keypad. It also demarks me from the other “Bob”, “Rob”, “Bobby”, “Robby”, and “Robert”‘s that I work with and are also in my family. A wholly unoriginal lot, I assure you. The (yes really) was editorial from Sajeev.

        Oh…and oddly today (2 days after bringing home the C6) the X5 threw a tantrum and called the dealer notifying them it wanted a service. I am convinced it’s simply jealous that it had to move to the secondary spot in the garage at home.

    • 0 avatar
      mzs

      I liked reading your follow-ups, good choice, have a fun!

  • avatar
    william442

    My daughter’s 2007 S 2000 with about 18,000 miles is for sale. It is white with the red and black interior, and perfect. It won’t be cheap.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Mazdaspeed Miata FTW!

    Another idea: one of my buddies had an old M roadster like the new guy’s (sorry Ed) badass shooting brake only convertible and more common. Easily the funnest car I’ve ever driven despite the “Ace and Gary” hoodline.

  • avatar
    meefer

    SLK55? That might be a stretch budget-wise. Been looking at those forever personally.

    How about a NSX-T?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert

      There was an SLK55 for $28K in my area that I took for a spin. 88K miles though when considering the Mercedes maintenance costs.

      That said, it was an absolute joy to drive and I’d probably have been very happy with one.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Beemers, Porsches, sheesh. How lemming-like.
    March to the beat of a different drummer.
    Buy a new Chrysler 200 convertible now.

  • avatar
    Robert

    For me, the C6 is a different drummer. :-)

    First GM car I’ve ever owned, and I’ve owned a LOT of cars.

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