24 Nov 2012

£5,000 convertibles - buy one whilst they're cheap

The used prices of convertibles, roadsters, soft tops, call them what you will, are lowest at this time of year.  We recommend the best for under £5,000.

Our recent report, Used 4x4 prices are rising demonstrates how prices for certain sectors of the used car market rise and fall with the seasons.  For that reason used prices of convertibles are at their lowest at this time of year.

Think about it, summer is over (and it was a pretty rubbish summer), autumn has passed and now we're into winter.  Christmas will soon be upon us and no-one in their right mind is thinking of buying a convertible.  Well, apart from us.

The UK website Autotrader currently lists 22,276 used convertibles.  We're going to be looking at soft tops under £5,000, and there are still 6,819 for sale on Autotrader.  We pick out the best convertibles for under £5,000 which you can hang on to over the winter and have some fun when spring finally comes round again.

Before you buy any used car check out our guide to buying a second hand car.

Porsche Boxster 2.7 - 2000

Used Boxsters can be had for unbelievable money.  With £5k you can afford a 2000, 2.7 litre rather than the rather slow 2.5 which was found in earlier models.  By 2000 Porsche had sorted many of the quality issues to be found on '98 and '99 cars.  With an identical front end to the 996 the Boxster was arguably the better handling car.  Walk away from any car with bodywork rust, make sure it has a full service history and check the consumables aren't all at the end of their life - tyres, brakes and clutch - or else you'll end up spending a fortune when they need to be replaced.  The Boxster is the standard by which all other small roadsters are judged on because it's the best.

BMW Z4 2.2 - 2004

Not the prettiest looking, and not as dynamically involving as a Porsche but a Z4 represents a safer bet and you'll get a slightly newer one than you would a Boxster.  The Z4 has a decent sized boot, because the engine's at the front, and the interior is typically BMW - straightforward, dark and functional.  The 2.2 engine has 170bhp and the car weighs 1500kg so it's not the fastest of our selection but then again it's less likely to have been thrashed than some others on this list.  More reliable than a Porsche and less likely to suffer catastrophic engine failure.  The BMW would suit someone less interested in intense driving than they are posing or just enjoying a summers day with the top down.

Audi TT 1.8T Quattro 225 - 2002

Two golden rules when buying a TT.  Go for the 225 rather than the 150 or 180bhp and go Quattro.  It might be a Haldex system but the four wheel drive is infinitely better than front wheel drive.  The TT is a broadly similar proposition to the Z4 in that what you get is a top notch interior, poseability, a smooth ride, good reliability, cheap running costs but not an involving drive.  Taken in isolation the TT is a great car but once you've driven a Boxster or MX5 its' failings become apparent.  Notwithstanding that it is great value and will look good on your drive.  As with all these cars check the service history is up to date and that the consumables all have some life.

Mazda MX-5 1.8i - 2007

Small, light and one of the highest rated roadsters on the road today.  The MX5 is not fast in a straight line (0-60mph in 9.4 seconds) but it makes up for that by being one of the best round corners.  Read our review of the latest generation MX5 and how it compares to the previous iterations here.  Prices vary enormously.  For £5k you'll find models for sale from 2007 back to 2002.  Buy as new as possible.  As long as it has service history, no obvious signs of mistreatment and no rust (it shouldn't have) you can't go wrong.  Cheap to run, to insure and drivable all year round the MX5 is the purists choice.  Small roadster perfection in a 1200kg package.  This is the one to buy if you don't need the speed of the Porsche or the refinement of the Audi or BMW - or the expense of any of them.  The MX5 will be the cheapest to run by a long shot.

Honda S2000 2.0i - 2002

Powerful (240bhp) and fast (0-62mph in 6.2 seconds) the S2000 is the closest alignment with the Boxster of all these cars.  You'll get a 2002 model for £5k.  The 2 litre VTi engine is astonishingly good - it revs to 9000rpm but has low torque so you'll need to use the 6 speed manual transmission to get the best out of it.  Only one S2000 has been known to suffer from engine failure.  These Japanese beauties are bulletproof.  The downsides are that the handling isn't as good as a Boxster or MX5 and the image isn't all that.  The man or woman in the street won't know or care what it is.  Despite it's reliability make sure it has been serviced regularly.

Mercedes-Benz SLK 320 - 2002

The SLK falls firmly into TT and Z4 territory.  Safe, reliable, decent engine but suffers from fairly neutral handling and a poorer reliability record.  Mercedes-Benz was only just coming out of its quality slump in 2002 so make sure components are all working and there is no rust.  This is the only car here with a folding hard top which makes it a better bet for the winter months.  However the folding roof mechanism can fail and will be expensive to rectify.

Alfa Romeo Spider 2.0 TS 16v - 2003

If you really have to buy Italian with all it's inherent problems then the Spider is the one to go for.  150bhp, front wheel drive and scuttle shake doesn't make for a great drive and build quality is abysmal.  Common problems include hood mechanism failure, timing belt failure, head gasket failure, suspension bushes wear early and mass airflow sensors fail.  But somehow, despite all it's faults, the Spider is still a popular car because it has what the German and Japanese cars lack - flair and finesse.  Our advice is not to go anywhere near an Alfa Romeo Spider unless you are a committed Alfista.

TVR 350i V8 - 1987

Hairy chested macho motoring.  The 350i is perhaps the rawest of all these cars. Fast, loud and brutal - this isn't for the faint hearted both in terms of handling and how much money you'll need to spend to keep it on the road.  Interiors are boxy but surprisingly plush (although don't expect everything to work) and the exterior styling is iconic.  Don't spend £5k expecting not to spend more just to keep it going.  If you really have to buy a TVR 350i then buy one from an enthusiast.  Bonkers but fun.