The best five convertibles for under £5,000

Lexus SC430: Behind some strange styling lies a folding hardtop roof, making this car fun all year round

They are scarce this time of year, but if you keep an eye out they are there. Seduced by blue skies, sunshine and the first mild temperatures, convertibles with roofs have once again been spotted on our roads.

‘Poseurs’, you might think. But let’s be honest: that’s just jealousy. After all, who doesn’t fancy driving outside on a glorious spring day in the British countryside?

With a lack of cash, such a hedonistic car is certainly a treat. But not everything. Because even if used car prices are as high as they are now, it is still possible to buy a cheap convertible that will scratch your sunroof itch.

We’re not talking about bargain basement bangers either. For £5,000 it’s eminently possible to get your hands on a usable, reliable – and above all, fun – convertible that will make you feel good in any weather.

Mazda MX-5 Mk2 (1998-2005)

Mazda MX5 Mk2.5 SVT SportMazda MX5 Mk2.5 SVT Sport

Mazda MX5: Find a good one and you’ll reap the rewards – Dave Clarke Photography / Alamy

Let’s start with the obvious solution. If you’re just looking for open-top fun – and no other requirements – then a second-generation Mazda MX-5 is pretty hard to beat for the price.

This budget will buy you one of the best available, although you should still check carefully for rust, which these nimble cars are notoriously prone to.

But find a good one and you will reap the rewards. The MX-5 is small, underpowered and plasticky, but it’s also light, nimble and beautifully balanced, making it a car you can have loads of fun in without jeopardizing your driving licence.

Price to pay: from £1,500

We found: 2005 MX-5 1.8 Euphonic, 70,000km, full service history, £4,790

Beware of: rust everywhere, but especially around the sills and wheel arches, curb contact and camber of the rear wheels, damp/moldy interiors, worn roofs

Lexus SC430 (2001-2009)

2009 Lexus SC-SC4302009 Lexus SC-SC430

Lexus SC430: more boring than offensive – Drive Images / Alamy

If someone told you that for less than £5,000 you could buy a large four-seater convertible with a leather-lined interior, a premium sound system and a V8 engine – and that it would be reliable – you’d think they’d lost it.

But that’s exactly what the Lexus SC430 is and these days £5,000 – just about – can buy you a decent example with reasonable mileage and a full history.

It’s true that the SC430 isn’t the prettiest car of its kind, but time has made its strange, tapered lines more boring than offensive. Plus, the odd styling hides a folding hardtop roof, making the SC430 a year-round pleasure and keeping the worst of winter weather at bay. All this makes the SC430 a hidden gem.

Price to pay: from £4,500

We found: 2001 SC430, 88,000 miles, full service history, £4,950

Beware of: leaking lower radiators, rough early cars, corrosion around the rear subframe and axle, leaking hardtop seals, damp carpets

Volkswagen Golf Convertible Mk6 (2011-2016)

Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabriolet 2013Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabriolet 2013

Volkswagen Golf Convertible: somehow looks more expensive, roof up or down – Wing Lun Leung / Alamy

These days, Volkswagen would rather sell you an open-top T-Roc pseudo-SUV, but a Golf Cabriolet, with its faint hint of late-eighties Sloane Ranger, somehow looks classier, with the roof up or down .

This sixth-generation version (we’re now on the Mk8) was the last Golf to be offered in convertible form. It’s not a major shock in terms of handling, but it does give the four occupants a decent amount of space in stylish surroundings – and access to the sun, of course – at a very reasonable price.

Diesel versions help keep costs even lower, although they do expose you to the rattling engine noise, meaning the best versions of the Golf Cabriolet are those with the punchy 1.4-litre petrol engine.

Price to pay: from £4,000

We found: 2012 1.4 TSI GT, 97,000 miles, full service history, £4,995

Beware of: defective automatic DSG gearboxes, rattling timing chains on petrol engines

MGTF (2002–2011)

MGTF160VVC from 2002MGTF160VVC from 2002

MG TF: Prices are clearly reasonable – Motoring Picture Library / Alamy

No, we have not said goodbye to our senses. The MG TF (and especially its predecessor, the MG F) may have once been much maligned for its propensity for head gasket failure, but by now most examples have undergone remedial work in the form of a stronger gasket (and if they haven’t (a preventive change is not too expensive).

That gives you the freedom to enjoy the TF’s neat mid-engine handling and sharp styling without fear. Many journalists suggest that the TF was the car of the previous F, with which it has a lot in common and always should have been – especially in top-spec 160 form, which offers quite a thrilling driving experience and speed. -5 that I can only dream of.

Yes, the interior is a bit boring, and yes, you’ll look a bit strange if you buy a yellow one – but there are plenty of other colors available. Moreover, given the reputation of the TF, the prices are clearly reasonable.

Price to pay: from £1,500

We found: 2003 1.8 Sprint 160, 48,000 miles, full service history, £3,995

Beware of: defective head gasket (try to buy with Klinger-type head gasket fitted), rusty subframes and front arches, leaking door mirror seals, worn roofs, split plastic rear windows

BMW 3-Series Convertible E93 (2007-2012)

2010 AC Schnitzer E90 (E93) BMW 3 Series convertible2010 AC Schnitzer E90 (E93) BMW 3 Series convertible

BMW 3-Series: Stick to the six-cylinder models – Matthew Richardson / Alamy

A list of fun convertibles on a budget wouldn’t be complete without some sort of 3 Series; in this price range it is the fifth-generation E93 version that predominates.

There’s a caveat, though: It’s best to avoid the four-cylinder engines of the 318i and 320i versions; Not only are they a bit underpowered (this is a pretty heavy car, partly because of the folding hardtop roof), they also have a bad reputation for reliability.

Instead, stick with the six-cylinder models if you can – there are plenty of examples achievable within this budget. They provide the wonderful gravelly engine sound that is characteristic of a BMW six-cylinder, but also a neatly balanced ride, a smart interior and very respectable performance. But be careful not to buy a copy that has been smashed and destroyed; a car like that could be more trouble than it’s worth.

Price to pay: from £3,500

We found: 2007 325i SE, 96,000 miles, full service history, £4,990

Beware of: defective diesel particulate filter (DPF), creaking alloy wheels, rattling interior trim, poor roof alignment, timing chain problems on four-cylinder models


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