Need help picking an under $30K roadster/convertible.
August 2, 2006 10:13 AM   Subscribe

What's the best new/used convertible roadster under $30K?

Hello. I've been doing a lot of research on this topic but I'm very much looking for advice based on experience. The cars I'm looking at are:

Mercedes SLK230
Chrysler Crossfire
Audi TT

But I'm open to suggestion if people think that there are others in this category that surpass the above cars. I am not interested in the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice, Mazda Miata, or Honda S2000 unless you have a great sales pitch that doesn't involve price.

I'm genuinely torn between the SLK and Z4 (but I keep coming back to the SLK because of the retractable hardtop). They stopped making the Crossfire, so I'm afraid to take the leap, but I think that they're gorgeous and obviously one of a kind. The TT is okay, but uses an ancient body style and I don't want to get stuck driving a car that obviously looks old.

I prefer smooth ride to tight suspension, but just barely. If there is an elegant combination, I would rather take that. I want rear wheel drive, but the TT is cool because it can be AWD. Manual or automatic doesn't matter to me. I prefer an elegant interior, but if one car has a ridiculously awesome engine and minimal interior, I could be swayed. Really, I'm just looking for great stories to help my decision. Thanks.
posted by SeizeTheDay to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My highly biased vote:
Mazda Miata
Fun fun fun. Very affordable. And there is an amazing community of owners at
posted by cccorlew at 10:16 AM on August 2, 2006

My friends TT has been in the shop 6 times in the 9 months he's owned it.

Of the one's you list the only one I'd even consider is the BMW and I'd take the Honda over it. Relatively similar performance without paying the BMW snob tax and a car that's not in the shop on a regular basis.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:23 AM on August 2, 2006

Having driven neither, I'd recommend the Miata or the S2000.
posted by knave at 10:24 AM on August 2, 2006

I'd go Miata just because of the aftermarket. You can build one of them out into the most awesome tricked out thing ever, and they're a hell of a lot of fun to drive.

I'd just drop the TT from your list. They were cool when they and the Z3 were revitalizing the roadster market five years ago, but not anymore.

You said you're not interested in the S2k, but I might add it to your list anyway. It doesn't quite have the bling factor of some of the others, but the engineering and the engine are amazing. I personally really like the handling as well. The body is incredibly stiff for one of these roadsters; where you will get quite a bit of body movement in the Crossfire from what I've heard from a coworker who owns one, the S2k is built around an aluminum center member. I like the S2k a *lot* better than the Z4, on both looks and handling.

The SLK is sweet, though.
posted by SpecialK at 10:27 AM on August 2, 2006

You can get a 350Z convertable for under $30k, and it's a lot more fun to drive than most of the cars on your list (the BMW being the exception, but it's not exactly a great value).
posted by jewzilla at 10:29 AM on August 2, 2006

I have nothing to add about the cars you listed, but will point out that you can pick up an 02/03 Boxster for ~30K. If you're willing to go a bit higher and want to go hardcore, it looks like you can pick up a 2005 Lotus Elise for ~35--40K.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:30 AM on August 2, 2006

You want a roadster priced at under $30k, according to your title, yet none of the cars you are considering hit that price point. You don't seem interested in cars that do.

Ignoring your obvious confusion, I'd have to agree with cccorlew. The point of a roadster to is have a light, minimal car. You want to be low to the ground and have the wind in your face. A true roadster is cheap and simple - that would be the Miata, or possible the Sky/Solstice. They don't have super powerful engines, but they are light and nimble enough that they don't have to.

The BMW Z4 is a joke. You are so isolated from the car, they had to put a resonating chamber in to pipe engine sounds into the passenger compartment. Mercedes makes heavy, pondorus, luxusy cars. If you want to spend lots of money and be wrapped in comfort, get the AMG edition of either the SLK (~$60k, IIRC) or the SL ($120k, IIRC) or the SLR ($400k+, IIRC).

The Audi TT was hip and stylish ten years ago. AWD in a roadster is just silly - half of the point of a roadster is being able to push the tail out on command, without seriously killing yourself. If you want AWD, get a subaru or a full sized audi.

The Crossfire is an SLK with all the good stuff removed, but all the heavy stuff left in.

The Short List for roadsters:
1. Mazda Miata (any generation)
2. Lotus Elise ($40k, expert drivers only)
3. Porsche Boxster (can be upper 20's used, if you look carefully)
4. BMW Z3
5. Any Mercedes SL before the 1990s.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2006

If you are male, you cannot possibly drive an SLK, apart from the SLK55 AMG.
posted by matthewr at 10:33 AM on August 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

The S2000 is worth a second look as well. The engine revs to about 9000 RPM, so it takes some work to drive (as a roadster should), but it is well worth the effort.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:33 AM on August 2, 2006

If you want a true sports car experince the Z4 is the only one on your list I'd consider. Don't go with any of the other 3 as they're mostly all show and no go, unless performance is a secondary consideration. But for the money the Miata is the best cost/fun ratio, and the Honda has been tearing up autocrosses since it's debut and is very reliable. Another car you may be able to get into in that price range or a touch higher is a Porshe Boxster, which is a blast to drive. I'm an Audi guy, but have driven all of the above. The only good thing about the TT is that the design is pretty timeless and the interior is amazing. It's not a true sports car though, but there are plenty of aftermarket parts to add that can bring it into sports car trim and depending where you live the Audi Club community can be pretty active. If you're going to get an automatic then why bother with a sports car at all?
posted by white_devil at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2006

Just thought I'd poke my head in here real quick to thank ya'll for the suggestions so far. I won't be around for a few hours, but I'll definitely check back later this evening. The suggestion for the Lotus made me chuckle because as much as I'd love to get that car, it'll probably be my next roadster, after this one, (if my future wife, whoever she is, will allow it of course).

One major point I should add is that I am tired of paying for car repairs. If you check my posting history, I made mention of a 1995 Mercedes C280 that I currently own. I'm finally at the point now where I'm ready to sell because even though I love the car, I can't deal with the uncertainty of what will break next. So unless the 2002 Boxster is extremely reliable, it's probably not the greatest fit for me at this time.

Regarding the price point, I was looking at cars that are all 2-3 years used with ~20K-36K miles. I'm planning to live in a fairly urban area, so daily driving is not really likely (so I expect maintenance costs to stay low as well).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 10:40 AM on August 2, 2006

I'm surprised there are so many recommendations for the Miata - it's a ladies car. Friendly and polite.

You should really drive the S2000 - it's the raddest roadster I have ever driven. You may not like the engine style, but its worth a drive on the freeway. It's also pretty sparse on the inside.

I would drive a Boxster over anything on your list. Easy to get dates in a Porsche as well.

I drive a BMW coupe, why all the hate? There are many, many people who just by a BMW because its expensive and its and import but the suspension is tight, and the engine is very quick. Its really an amazing car, and some BMW drivers know about the engine, the suspension, and the mechanical details, which for me is why I choose the BMW over a Mercedes or a Dodge Charger.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 11:04 AM on August 2, 2006

I think you should refine your criteria. You said smooth ride edging stiff suspension and that is condusive to your list above (Z4, TT, SLK) but I personally think those cars are kinda meh.

For the best steering feel of any roadster in your possible price range, go for a used 986 Boxster. Beautiful break/steering feel, well balanced, engaging exhaust note. Suspension is a bit stiff, but it's supple and not cheap.

S2000 offers a beautiful package that people don't seem to realize. You kind of have to thrash the car around to really enjoy it, because it's a high strung NA engine. It revs to nearly 10k RPMs! Keeping it up in the high rev-band is key. Also, if you're into the aftermarket, Supercharged S2000s are a vicious breed (usually put 300 to the wheels).

Nevertheless, based upon your general inclination, I think you should look between a Z4 and a used Boxster. The best cheap roadsters are Japanese and you don't seem too interested in those.

Word to the wise: If you are planning on buying a used Boxster and you find a great deal that is almost too good to be true, make sure it hasn't had RMS leak issues. 986 and even some of the 987 Boxsters have had RMS engine issues. If you want more information, I suggest rennteam's section on Boxster's or Rennlist.
posted by stratastar at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2006

Another vote for the Miata. I owned a '99, just sold it last year.. a great car, handled like a dream, perfectly balanced front and rear, and dependable (was never in the shop for anything other than routine oil changes, etc.). Almost as much fun as the MG-A I drove in '66!

The Miata has 15 years of history, some of the newer roadsters have only been around for a few years...
posted by HuronBob at 11:14 AM on August 2, 2006

RMS= Rear main seal?

And to answer your question, please add me to the "buy an S2000" chorus, and echo the 350Z suggestion. Either one gives you better relaibility (This is my prejudice, I have no data) than the cars you list.

I mean, if "fun to drive" isn't important, well, you could pay a shop to chop the top off a Daewoo and save a few bucks.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:19 AM on August 2, 2006

I love my Miata. It drives great, is very reliable and definitely fun, but I have to admit a tinge of envy every time I see an S2000.

If you are tired of paying for repairs, maybe a roadster isn't the way to go. The Miata, with a proven track record of over 15 years, is probably the most reliable of them all.
posted by MegoSteve at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2006

I've been a very satisfied owner of an S2000 for 5 years now. It has been reliable, fun, and affordable. I get about 27-28 mpg with mixed city/highway driving.

I was actually in the same boat as you are about a year ago. I thought I would trade my S2000 in for something different. However, I ended up keeping it because nothing did it for me like the s2. It feels like a stiffer miata in everyday driving, but when you want to, punch the gas and rev it up past 7500 rpm, and it suddenly grows another engine. It really is amazing and not like anything else I have driven. Put simply, it is a great and exciting car to drive slowly. What I mean by that is, normal everyday (slow) driving becomes more exciting just because you are doing it in an S2000. Other cars you have to drive dangerously to feel excited.

On the other hand, Mazda is coming out with a new hardtop convertible version of the Miata this fall and it will be less than 30K. I might just have to replace the S2000 for that one.
posted by jeff_w_welch at 11:24 AM on August 2, 2006

Let me umpteen the recommendation for the S2000. The Merc and the crossfire are pretty much the same under the hood, both go like anemic hamsters, the Audi has reliability issues and is too staid for a roadster.

I've driven both a Z4 and a S2000 and I can tell you the S2000 creams the Z4 on any metric (except looks, but only maybe). The S2000 simply has more more power, better handling, and (although this is subjective) is just a total blast to drive.
posted by 1024x768 at 12:58 PM on August 2, 2006

And let me add, for what it's worth, I'm considering almost exactly this same question (as a refinement of an earlier post: ) and after driving all the cards I'm interested in I found the S2000 to be far and away the best of the bunch; it will be my next car, and is definately worth at least a test-drive for you given your criterion.
posted by 1024x768 at 1:00 PM on August 2, 2006

The TT is up for replacement soon in the US...New TT (German)...neuwagen indeed.
posted by clarkie666 at 1:01 PM on August 2, 2006

or maybe the UK site might be a little easier to follow...
posted by clarkie666 at 1:06 PM on August 2, 2006

One major point I should add is that I am tired of paying for car repairs. If you check my posting history, I made mention of a 1995 Mercedes C280 that I currently own.

'96 C280 here - but it has been very affordable to operate so far.

If you want reliable, you want a Toyota Corolla.

If it must be a roadster, go with the Honda S2000 or Mazda Miata. If you want luxury, go with the Germans, but be prepared to pay for it. Either with cash up front, or with ongoing repairs if you buy used.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:07 PM on August 2, 2006

I drive a BMW coupe, why all the hate?

Because BMWs are all over the map when it comes to sportiness. Many consider the more recent model BMWs to be straying too far from their performance heritage, particularly with regard to size and handling. My suggestion to the OP is to check out a Z3-based (1999-2002) M Roadster, but I agree that the Z4 is a bad idea. They just let it get too big.
posted by trevyn at 2:02 PM on August 2, 2006

Or, if you can live without the droptop, a clean used 6er, which is what I'm driving. *Excellent* specimens can be had for Well Under $30K. (Hell, you could buy *two* at $12K a piece -- M cars, even -- and have a spare for trips into the shop).

But again, no convertible.

A couple have been post-manufacture chopped, but I can't lay hands on a picture at the moment.
posted by baylink at 2:43 PM on August 2, 2006

I drive a BMW coupe, why all the hate?

If you need the BMW logo on your car, you just buy it, you don't ask about it. BMW's popularity has somewhat eclipsed its value, so you can often find something different that better fits your requirements. I went with a used C280 with the AMG suspension because everyone who wants a sports sedan buys a 3-series, driving prices up.

BMW isn't a bad choice, but it is rarely an optimal choice.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:24 PM on August 2, 2006

Thanks everyone for the input. I've narrowed it down to:

Porsche Boxster
BMW Z3/4

One of my buddies has an S2000, which is a main reason why I'm leaning away from that choice. So the really interesting choice, in my mind, is a brand new retractable hardtop Miata (which looks fantastic BTW) and a "name" car. I'm test driving 3 of them tomorrow and will let ya'll know my road experience. I don't have a Porsche dealership near me at the moment, but will definitely drive one in a a couple of weeks. Thanks again for all the input. At least you've helped me get away from the Benz (my family has a huge affinity for them).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 3:36 PM on August 2, 2006

Here's one that, if you are feeling crazy, you might want to consider:

The Mallet Solstice. This car is a beast, albeit a conversion kit car. They take a corvette LS7 V8 and throw it in the Pontiac Solstice. It does insane 1/4 miles, has a sick skidpad (1.02g on non-R compounds) and flat out hauls ass...A real sleeper.

Of course, if you want to come back to reality, you can arrange these badboys in terms of power and handling.

The Boxster offers the best hp/handling performance package. It doesn't have the econobox Japanese car feel, they are manufactured well. You just have to AVOID RMS LEAK ENGINES. You have no idea how bad it would be to buy a lemon like that.

The BMW Z3/4 is like the slightly less competent twin of the Boxster. They really have a problem getting their power to the ground (imo) and they handle like piss in the rain. Something to be aware of if you testdrive it.

The Miata is a great car to thrash around. It pretty much revolutionized lower-end motorsports. Great balance, lots of fun, pretty peppy, but its torque band is light and the 170hp might be a turn off.

The S2000 offers great performance but only if you thrash it around. Don't expect high-gear elasticity (5th gear 80-120kph is abyssmal) due to the high strung NA engine; You wont see power until 6-7k RPMs (where your normal car probably redlines hah). Nevertheless, the engine is miraculous in terms of its hp/L production. Biblical.

I would narrow it down to one car from the three camps:
Boxster from the German, ample and luxurious classy car, the Miata from the weekender toy to thrash around, the S2000 from the Japanese engineered upgrade for the Miata

Best of luck
posted by stratastar at 3:49 PM on August 2, 2006

Ariel Atom.
posted by blag at 6:15 PM on August 2, 2006

Since the miata has been mentioned so many times- what about a Mazaspeed Miata? Faster, more expensive, still that fantastic Miata body and suspension.
posted by wzcx at 2:05 PM on August 3, 2006

One major point I should add is that I am tired of paying for car repairs

Then you should get a bicycle. Seriously. Cars break. Expecting anything else is asking for disappointment.

That said, if you're talking about a 3-year-old vehicle I Nth the Miata suggestion. I've been driving my 91 since about 96 and it's left me by the side of the road once, late last year, when the crank nose broke.... because I'd wrongly assumed that ignoring my mechanic's -over-10-months-prior- warning that the water pump was leaking wouldn't be a problem so long as I kept an eye on the radiator level.

I swear I was going to fix it, I just didn't get around to it...

If you're really okay with 30k and are repair-adverse then the new Miata looks pretty nice. You can get all the luxury fixins and still have an under-30k car with a lot of horsepower - the 2006 bumped the output notably. You never really know with any vehicle and new ones have the same possibility for a defect as older ones but you'll be under warr...
posted by phearlez at 2:36 PM on August 4, 2006

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