For under $25K, these 7 cool convertibles bring fair-weather fun


It’s December now, and for much of the country that means we’re driving with the heater on. Many of us have also put our fun cars away for the winter or are starting to tackle winter projects. It’s never too early to start daydreaming about sunshine and top-down cruising, however, and the two-seater drop-tops below are affordable ways to do it once spring arrives. All are worth under $25,000 in #2 (“Excellent”) condition in the Hagerty Price Guide, but driver-quality examples of each can be found for even less. Which would you pick, or imagine yourself behind the wheel of, when the weather turns warm?

2000-05 Toyota Mr2 Spyder: $20,500

2006 Toyota MR2 UK Spec UK Bull Market
Hagerty Media

Since Miatas aren’t allowed (we featured them in a recent run-down of popular Japanese collector cars, and everyone knows they’re a viable contestant in this list), why don’t we start with something similar, but then again very different?

In some ways the third (and final) generation Toyota MR2 lives in the shadow of its more interesting, more ambitious predecessors. Taken on its own, though, it offers similar vibe, performance and reliability of the NB (1999-2005) Miata it once competed against. Its 1.8-liter 140-hp four-cylinder has nearly the exact same displacement and power rating as the Mazda, and the two Japanese budget warriors can be had for a similar price.

Then again, the Toyota also comes in a more exotic-feeling mid-engine layout, and because the Mister Two never really caught on (yearly North American sales averaged about one-third of the Mazda MX-5) it’s a relatively rare sight on the road. With its mid-engine mojo and distinctive buggy-eyed face, it’s sort of like a toned-down, more affordable Lotus Elise.

1989-95 Lotus Elan M100: $23,500

Lotus Elan S2 Type100

Speaking of Lotus (and Miatas), both Mazda and the then-GM-owned British carmaker went into the 1990s with the same idea—basic, affordable English roadsters were long dead, but people would buy one if only somebody would build it. Looking to fill this obvious hole in the enthusiast market, Mazda looked to classics like the MGB and, ironically, Lotus’s own Elan from the 1960s as inspiration. Then they distilled the concept, added Japanese reliability, and drove off into the sunset with what became the world’s best-selling two-seater.

Lotus, however, took a different approach. The new Elan, aka the M100, used a Japanese drivetrain, which was reassuring. With 165 hp from the turbocharged 1.6-liter Isuzu four and a curb weight of less than 2500 pounds, so was performance. But there were two strikes against this new Elan. First was the fact that the Isuzu four spun the front wheels. The Elan M100 has plenty of defenders who will happily tell you how wonderfully it handles, but purists considered a front-drive Lotus just plain blasphemy. Second was the price, which came in at over twice the price of the Miata that launched at the same time. The Elan was significantly faster and came with a much better interior, but it wasn’t enough to justify the cost. Only a few hundred American buyers stepped up for one, so at today’s values they make for a very rare car with a famous premium badge for not a ton of cash.

1986-96 Chevrolet Corvette: $24,600


The C4 Corvette isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and its values have generally reflected that. But you can’t deny it’s a ton of car for the money compared to the other ’80s and ’90s performance cars that have skyrocketed over the past five years or so.

Technically a C4 coupe is quicker and cheaper than a convertible, and it still offers wind-in-your hair motoring thanks to its removable targa roof panel. Sometimes, though, there’s no substitute for a true drop-top, and C4 convertibles are still remarkably affordable. Aside from the last few model years and special edition models like the Grand Sport or 1995 Indy Pace Car, most L98 (1986-91) and LT1 (1992-96) convertibles can be had for under $25K in #2 condition. If you’re willing to live with some bumps, scratches and miles, however, it gets even better. The #3 (“good”) value for most C4 convertibles doesn’t even push into the teens.

1980-81 Triumph TR8: $23,900


Thinking of a small lightweight English roadster with American-derived V-8 oomph usually brings up the Shelby/AC Cobra or the Sunbeam Tiger. Both of those cars are badass but also downright expensive. There’s another choice, however. One that’s way cheaper and way…wedgier.

In 1975, Triumph started to phase out its old-school TR6 with its body-on-frame construction and wood dash. In its place came the TR7, which was supposed to carry the struggling company into the future. Wedge-shaped cars were all the rage in the mid-1970s, but designer Harris Mann arguably missed the mark with the TR7, which was roundly criticized when new and doesn’t look that great today, either. Early TR7s also had serious reliability issues, and the sub-90-hp 2.0-liter four left them all underpowered. To fix that last bit, Triumph dropped in the all-aluminum 3.5-liter Rover V8 (which traced its roots back to Buick in the 1960s) and christened the new model, naturally, TR8. It was the same basic car, but the much more powerful engine and better build quality were very welcome.

This “English Corvette,” as some called it, was a consistent winner in both SCCA and IMSA racing, while Car and Driver called it “nothing less than the reinvention of the sports car.” But it couldn’t reinvent Triumph. A victim of British Leyland’s collapse in the 1970s and 1980s, the company was defunct by 1984, making the TR8 the last of the traditional British roadsters. Association with the unloved and visually identical TR7 along with the plastic-and-plaid interior kept TR8s cheap for years, and although #2 values are up 52 percent since 2019, these cars still provide good value for the money.

1991-95 Alfa Romeo Spider S4 (base model): $23,400

Alfa Romeo

The original Alfa Spider kept its Italian builders busy for decades, and its 1966-94 production run makes it one of the longest-lasting sports cars ever. It’s also one of a precious few made-in-Italy two-seaters that average enthusiasts can realistically dream of parking in their garage.

The last of the series debuted in 1990 (1991 in the US), and on balance it’s arguably the best of the breed. The looks, chassis, and engine trace their roots straight back to the ’60s, but also featured plenty of upgrades and improvements. In fact, this final generation is sort of like a ’60s classic infused with ’90s comfort and convenience, although some of the older cars’ more interesting quirks were gone. North American buyers could choose from a base Spider or a “Veloce,” featuring luxury add-ons like leather seats, air conditioning, and a cloth top as well as alloy wheels. While Veloce models command a big premium with #2 values stretching past 30 grand, base models come in at a much more tolerable $23,400.

2006-10 Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky: $20,700 / $18,600

“Solstice and Sky” sounds like a lady rap duo, but they’re two of the last true American sports cars that don’t read “Corvette” on their tails.

Meant to be home-grown alternatives to the affordable roadsters from Japan, the short-lived Solstice/Sky pair were casualties of GM’s Great Recession bankruptcy. Still, they sold reasonably well when they were around and remain cheap entries into modern roadster fun.

The Pontiac Solstice first arrived for 2006 with 177hp and 166 lb-ft of torque. To bring up the Miata yet again, the Solstice had it beat on grunt, but at 2888 pounds the Pontiac was also several hundred pounds beefier. The interior was also clad in standard early 2000s GM plastic, but the body looked like nothing else on the road, and that’s still the case today. On track it won the SCCA Showroom Stock B and Touring 2 championships, and then in 2007 a hotter Solstice GXP model arrived with 260 turbocharged horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque as well as a limited-slip diff.

The reskinned Saturn version, called the Sky, arrived for the 2007 model year and its turbocharged variant was called the Redline. All versions of these cars are affordable, but while the Saturn is more conventionally pretty, a Pontiac badge has more cachet than a Saturn one (not a hard thing to do) and is generally worth more. Base Solstices run $16,600 to $19,400 in #2 condition, while a GXP only stretches into the low-20s. The Sky, meanwhile, ranges from $16,400 for a base model to $24,300 for the most expensive Redline.

1997-2004 Porsche Boxster: $22,000

2004 Porsche Boxster S

Alas, the “cheap” Porsche is mostly a thing of the past. The 914s, 944s and 996-generation 911s that people used to turn their noses up at have long since gotten respect, and higher price tags as a result. Mercifully, though, the first-gen (986) Boxster, which started at over 40 grand when it was new, has stayed somewhat inexpensive. Sure, it’s not the best-looking P-car, and it has been the butt of many a joke. But you could say the same thing about the 914, and that car’s now twice as expensive as a Boxster.

The 986 is a well-balanced, comfortable, tossable little car. And with one trunk up front and another behind the mid-mounted flat-six, it’s more practical than it looks. In addition to the jellybean styling, the infamous IMS bearing issue tarnished the 986’s reputation a bit, but after two decades many cars have had that issue fixed by now or are unlikely to suffer from it. There are plenty of examples around, and the average #2 condition is $20,800. Stretch the budget a little bit and a Boxster S, which came with a larger engine and over 30 more hp than the base car, sits at just $27K.




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    I paid $22K for my C5 Corvette with 31K miles. I would not trade it for any of these listed here. The MR2 is under powered and disappointing.

    The Lotus is FWD and and money pit.

    The Alfa is cool but unreliable and expensive to fix.

    The Sky and Solstice can be had for less and can make a good deal. Reliable and affordable to repair.

    The Porsche is good as long as it does not need work.

    The C4 is ok but the price listed her is too high No one pays $24k plus for one. No one.

    The Tr was a novelty but rust and electrical issues are always a problem.

    The C5 is the way to go. LS power drop top and rock solid reliability and simplicity that you can fix most things in your garage.

    I’ve got a C6 coupe but I think the C6 is the best looking recent Vette. Probably couldn’t get a convertible for $25K though. I have a ’69 Mustang convertible too, but it’s worth more than that too.

    Ken, it’s a tough choice between C5 & C6 looks. They’re my 2 favorites. I own a 50th Anniversary C5 convertible, but I prefer the C6 front end as I’ve never been a fan of hidden headlights. Also slightly prefer the C6 side view for the convertible.

    I think you mean “might not be”. 🙂
    I hear they are great cars a very good value.
    But C5s break the cardinal rule of sports cars…boring to look at…at least from the front.

    I agree the C5 is a great care, I have a C6 bought new, but I also have a C4 bought new both were bought for their style performance and affordability, neither one has disappointed and they have 70k and 165k miles respective.

    I nicknamed my C5, “Pull Key, Wait 10 Seconds” because I saw that displayed so often. I’ve owned 7 Corvettes and my C5 was the worst. I’m glad I got the extended warranty because if I read something on the Forum that happened to a C5, I knew it was a matter of time before it happened to mine. I never warmed up to the look of the C5. To me it looks like they took a nice Corvette shape and blew it up like a balloon. It just looks fat to me. I finally traded mine for a trouble-free C6. Since then, I’ve had a third C4 (95 Indy Pace car), a C7 manual and now a C8. I’ve loved all of my Corvettes except that Magnetic Red Mistake.

    Jake, I hear ya. I have a 2003 50th Anniversary convertible. Have had several electronic glitches like that. I’ve been able to fix most myself with the help of great videos on Corvette Forum. But mine is a 3rd car — my toy. If it had been my go-to-work car, it would have been frustrating!

    Totally agree! Our first Corvette was a 98 C5 roadster for $16k, with 85k kms. Car was clean, and very reliable. Was a solid #2 condition, and eventually sold it for much more.

    Turned out to be the “gateway” Vette that led to many more, and now enjoying our 69 Tri Power roadster, and C8 HTC.

    Excellent choices although I personally would be afraid of a used Alfa even though it’s got the unique “everybody doesn’t have one” quality.
    The article could easily include more than 7 choices! My pick would have to be a Nissan Z roadster.

    Lets not forget the Bmw Z3…I have had three, all sticks and great little converts, the one I have now is 2001 3.0i with 17000 miles and paid 20000….

    I bought a black on black base coupe C6 (2006) for $25000 Canadian!
    I think that’s only about $17500 American. All it needed (preventative) was
    a new harmonic balancer.

    There are so many other cars that could be in this list. Fiat 124s, new and okdy, Miatas, TR-6 and on and on.

    I bought an 81 Fiat 124 Turbo for $6.5k. Runs and passes smog!

    I bought a ’70 124 Sport Coupe (looked kinda like an Alfa Julietta coupe) brand new. What a great performing hunk of material junk! Got rid of it quickly. Fun to drive but everything on the car broke or faded or wore out. I replaced it with a ’72 240Z and never regretted it.

    How could you have overlooked the lovely BMW M Roadsters? Reliable, repairable and prettier curves than anything on the list above.

    +1 on this. My 2001 M Roadster with <60k miles is worth about $25k and completely fits in with the spirit of this article. The Z4 roadster in all of its forms is also a good choice, and could be had for less for a non-M.

    I never see mention of the Lexus SC 430 hard top convertible. I own a 2002 and it’s one of the nicest cars I have owned. True luxury, dependable and fun to drive. You can find these cars in very good condition for 17K.

    My thoughts exactly. I bought an ’04 recently with 80k miles, and in fantastic overall condition with good ownership history for just under that amount, and it’s been a great decision. Smooth, powerful, and everything works like it should, and will continue to do so.

    What IS missing from this list is anything resembling a “classic” classic. I just sold an absolutely fabulous ’68 Chrysler Newport convertible that was show quality in every way, had working AC, cruise, and a new power top, for right around this article’s price limit and it is far and away more interesting (if not more thrilling) than anything listed here. Too bad, so many other less common and less boring choices could’ve gone into this list.

    Though it doesn’t seem to be mentioned, I noticed that this article is focusing on two-seat convertibles. The SC430 is a great car with a V8/RWD configuration, but has a useless back seat. Does that disqualify it for this discussion ?
    I was shopping for one, and stumbled across the Toyota Solara convertible, which I enjoy in Florida during the winter. With the V6 and leather, it’s a great driving, comfortable cruiser that can be serviced at JiffyLube. I liked it enough that I bought a second one to have up north for summer enjoyment.

    My wife loves her 08 Solara also. Pearl white and tan leather and top, so gets lots of looks and plenty of top down time in So. Cal. Notice styling almost identical to SC430. Toyota dealer said Solara was meant to be a Lexus, change to Toyota at last minute. Definitely Lexus quality.

    Oh, please! The Solara does Not resemble the SC430. The SC430 is just an “inflated” version of a ghastly, laughable Suzuki CX90!
    We had an ’07 Solara convertible for a few years and it was excellent for us in every way! And it made an SC430 look like a … er… well, a CX90!

    Yes what about the most popular convertible Mazda Miata it outsells any of your listed cars, and is a real fun sports car to drive. As for the British Sports Cars just trouble, electrical, and rust along with the Fiat Spider.

    I always heard it as Prince Of Darkness. I had a Triumph Stag in my younger years and the electrical system was a constant pain.

    I have owned 4 MGs so far from a ’49 TC to a ’70 MGB + a Jaguar XJR and NONE of them ever had any electrical problems. As for rust, I would suggest not living/driving in the rust belt; never had a problem with rust in the Southwest.

    Right. My gal has a pristine ’01 Miata. Quality, dependability, runs like a wee locomotive.

    I sold Fiats in the late ’70s. We laughed when people came in asking to see a “Spider convertible.” But those 124 roadsters drove beautifully, as did the 131 sedans. Yet two months later, our customers would be back in the service dept. bemoaning separated seat stitching.

    Later had an ’80 MGB demo w/ overdrive. Had a solid, chunky feel, five main bearings instead of the MGA’s three. A realtor using her MGB to show clients properties in the Berkeley/Piedmont hills had 250,000 trouble-free miles on the blighter.

    However, jumped in mine the first morning i had it a mile from the dealership with seven miles on the odometer. “Click. Click.” The service manager drover over, “Mike, pop the hood.” He whacked something with his loafer. “Try it now.” “Rr-rr-Vroooom!”

    Re: earlier XK Jag ue weres. Many of them suffered from deferred maintenance, owned by those on the cheap used to Chevies requiring only a once in a blue moon oil change. Their cooling systems happier in the Sceptered Isle and New England, but easy fixes for that.

    Always thought five-speed Celicas circa 1979-80 qualified as genuine sports cars. Bulletproof.

    But right y’are. No doubt ’bout Miatas.

    I’d take my 2005 speed yellow Boxster over any of these. Paid about $21k three years ago (9,900 miles!). It’s a fantastic, handles like a dream and has 240hp. It’s great looking and it’s a Porsche.

    Speed Yellow is the most head turning color on a Porsche. I bought a speed yellow Base 911 in 2018 with less than 20K miles on it and the third generation IMS bearing, which has a less than 1% failure rate. Bose sound system, sport shifter and color keyed yellow interior and seat belts. It is a dream to drive, slow or fast, just like a great horse! I taught my 15 year old grandson how to drive a manual (6 speed) transmission
    car because I knew that it was the easiest, and smoothest of my 3 manual transmission cars to learn on. I now have over 40K miles on it and no troubles at all with it being regularly serviced and oil analyses.

    True but 05 is a much better car.
    I just bought a limited edition 08 Lava Orange 987 for $26k. I owner 40k miles. Awesome!

    Dave, you stole it. That’s a $45-60k car all day long. Wish I had your wheels.. (I’ve been lusting after the black/silver Fuchs look wheels that came standard on the special edition Pumpkin..)

    I haven’t driven all these cars, but some. I can say without fear of contradiction that my $17K (CAD) Boxster S is by far the most exciting to drive. I had the opportunity recently to drive a Sky turbo, thinking it would be a good investment. It was such a disappointing driving experience I decided the upside wasn’t worth the insult to my driver’s sensibilities.

    My son fell in love with the Pontiac Solstice when it was first introduced. He and I were at the local Pontiac/GMC dealer with our company van and he got into a Solstice that was on the showroom floor. My son is 6’4″. His head was above the windshield.

    Criminally underestimated car, one of the best Mercedes-Benz models ever. Don’t be frightened by exaggerated horror stories of convertible top hydraulics and biodegradable wiring harnesses.

    I love my 2011 335i hardtop convertible six speed manual. Even with all of the standard BMW repairs, it is still under the 25K limit.

    The boxster is by far the best bang for the buck right now in the convertible sportscar world. Handles like a go kart with some decent power. Makes a great track car and you can still find them for under $10,000

    Yeah right I wouldn’t touch one. It is English or Italian course. The Allante would’ve been a great car and probably pretty cheap too

    Most car for the money in this class – Mercedes SL55 AMG. It’s hard to believe, but a good one can be had for $25K or even less.

    Absolutely…500 hp supercharged McLaren, hydraulically controlled suspension, droptop hardtop with all the luxury you could want. The only downside are the repair bills….couldn’t be any worse than a TR8 though….and, as an owner of one, it’s discouraging what they are valued at. Me, I’m just going to ignore that and enjoy the ride.

    I really don’t know why the R230 and the SL55 AMG in particular doesn’t get any respect. They are amazing cars, combining performance with the luxury of an S-class Mercedes

    Any Mercedes 107 Chassis 450 SL and then into 380 SL models can be had for fat less than $25k and are rock solid and fun to cruise in

    2001-2006 Jaguar XKR or XK8. Great performance and great bang for the buck and they depreciate fast. I’ve owned 2 and they are solid as long as you do maintenance. You can pickup one in good shape for about $10K. Just get 2001 or newer to avoid the lined cylinders and chain tensioner issue flaws.

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