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Buying a used sports convertible

Buying A Used Sports Convertible

The Market

Convertible motoring often imposes a whole bunch of compromises, but if you want to have your cake and eat it too a four seater sports convertible offer a modicum of practicality as well as style and wind-in-the-hair motoring. We’re talking here about drop-tops from BMW, Audi, Saab, Volvo and Mercedes: yes, the classy ones you thought you couldn’t afford.

But hold on. If you had a tight budget in mind, you were probably thinking of something else. Sure enough, there are two other mainstream sectors in the drop-top category (Roadsters and Affordable hatchback-based Cabriolets) – but you need to know that both have their drawbacks.

Roadsters like, say the MGF or Mazda’s MX-5, are two seater-only cars with very little luggage space and hard ride set-ups. Best in other words, to buy one as a second or third car for when the sun comes out. Affordable hatchback-based Cabriolets (like, say, open-topped versions of the VW Golf or Renault Megane) in contrast, are a lot more practical but are often poorly built and dire to drive. Though they come with rear seats, these are usually too small for adults for all but the shortest journeys. Boot space also remains quite limited.

As you might imagine, there’s a big difference between basing your convertible or cabriolet design on a small, cheap shopping car and building it down to a price. Or basing it on a platform either purpose-designed for open-topped motoring or built to support a quality sports coupe or a much larger prestige executive car. Models like these are the kind we’ll be examining here.

Though cars of this kind are undeniably costly to buy and run, they do come with many advantages. Their market status demands a far high level of build quality – so you can buy an older, higher mileage example with much more confidence. Choose the right one and you can get yourself a true four-seater too. Plus, the engines on offer mean that you can get much of the performance (if not the handling) you’d find in a Roadster with much of the practicality we all need in an everyday car.

Finally, because vehicles in this sector are so easy to use everyday, most of them will have been constantly driven. This means you won’t have to worry about whether the car you’re considering might have been garaged for nine months of the year, with all the attendant problems inherent in such a sedentary way of life.

Of course, there are cross-over cars from other sectors. You could, at a pinch, have included a Mercedes SLK, a Porsche Boxster or a BMW Z3 in this category – and you may want to: the build quality you can expect certainly won’t disappoint. We haven’t because they’re compact, purpose-designed two seater-only Roadsters. Such nuances may well not matter to you and if so, by all means widen your search.

It’s also worth pointing out that you could consider much older versions of exotic Convertibles like the Porsche 911 or a Mercedes SL as an alternative to cars in the ‘Desirable but Pricey’ section. These are tempting but likely to come with big bills. Your call….

Cheap & Cheerful

If you’re spending this sort of money, you can run to something a little more elegant. A nice, E36 BMW 3 Series Convertible, or, as an alternative, a later Audi Cabriolet are well worth a look. Six cylinder cars are the most desirable options here.

If you want something with a slightly sportier feel, try a Toyota Celica Convertible or, better still, an Alfa Romeo Spider. The Italian car looks and sounds gorgeous, though for most buyers, there will only be the one 2.0-litre Twinspark engine choice. If you’re feeling really adventurous and can cope with the occasional hiccup, you could even chance your arm on an early Maserati Biturbo Spyder.

Affordable Mid-Rangers

Where to start? There’s a lot that’s pretty nice at this level. Those in search of a true four-seater often start with a Mk 3 (E46 series) BMW 3 Series or a Saab 9-3 Convertible. Other options that are well worth a look include the Audi A4 Cabriolet, the Volvo C70 Convertible and the Mercedes CLK Cabriolet. Jaguar’s XK is more of a sports car than the others with restricted interior space but those timeless sleek looks may well appeal. Desirable But Potentially Pricey

If you’re looking for something a bit plusher there are some mouthwatering options. BMW’s 6 Series Convertible is one to look out for, with early 630i models looking particularly good value. The Mercedes SL has long been one of our favourites in this sector and the SL500 is the definitive version. Decent examples aren’t too hard to track down and the 2008 facelift of the SL should see quite a few used cars in the dealer network. The same goes for the latest BMW 3 Series with the folding tintop. The Porsche 911 Cabriolet leaves us rather cold as does the Lexus SC430 but if you really want to push the boat out, nothing has quite the same presence as a Bentley Continental GTC. With a six-litre engine and 552bhp to play with, it’s a very special piece of machinery. Relatively strong value from new, used examples are still rather sought after and with good reason. What To Look For

All the usual Convertible buying rules apply. Insist upon a full service history, try and buy from a dealer or a specialist and get an independent AA or RAC check carried out on the car in question and look out for botched accident repairs. Parts of course on prestige cars like these are astronomically expensive, so anything you find out is going to help you a great deal in the final price negotiation. Little pieces of interior trim are unbelievably pricey to get fixed and, as for electric hood mechanisms, well, you don’t want to know.

Leaky hoods are an obvious issue to consider, something often evidenced by damp carpets: try building a trip to the car wash into your test drive to put the rag top under some serious duress. If the car you’re looking at hasn’t got an alarm, budget for one: you’ll need it. Cars like these are a magnet for the light-fingered. Many cars will have been broken into as well and may have suffered slashed roofs: look carefully for signs of repair corner-cutting. Other issues? Well, you might find rust on hard-used models, along with kerbed wheels and hood tears.

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