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Coupé-cabriolets tested

Ferrari’s sensational California leads our challenge to find the best coupé-cabriolet

Coupé-cabriolets tested

When you spot someone driving an open-top car on a sunny day, it’s easy to see the attraction. However, the idea of living under canvas all year round doesn’t appeal to everyone – which is why car manufacturers came up with the idea of the folding hard-top.

Amazingly, it’s 13 years since Mercedes’ original SLK sparked this best-of-both-worlds craze. Today coupé-cabriolets come in all shapes and sizes, although they still work best on roadsters and 2+2s, because less metal is required to cover their cosy cabins. Here we bring together some of the finest that money can buy.

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Leading the way is the stunning Ferrari California. With its combination of pace, style and exclusivity, it’s a dream car for coupé-cabrio converts. At the other end of the scale, the Mazda MX-5 is the epitome of the affordable roadster, and the RC model mixes the simplicity of the original MX-5 with a fast-operating hard-top. The BMW Z4 has lost none of its appeal since the latest generation switched from a fabric hood to a metal one last year, and the new 35is provides the performance to go with its racy looks.

The final car in our line-up is arguably the most famous coupé-cabriolet of them all. Mercedes’ classy SL has been around in its current form since 2001, and in that time has established itself as one of the most desirable folding hard-tops money can buy.

Verdict

ALL the cars in this test offer the best of both worlds. Their metal roofs provide the security and refinement of hard-top motoring, and the style of a coupé. Yet put their lids down, and they are great roadsters. With such a diverse selection of vehicles, we’re not picking an overall winner, but rating each in isolation. The California proves how exotic a cabriolet can be. Its engine delivers storming pace and an intoxicating sound – which makes driving the car an experience to remember. At the other end of the scale, the MX-5 RC retains the simple charm of the soft-top, and has one of the neatest roof designs we’ve seen. The Z4 is another strong choice. It’s a great sports car with a grown-up feel and neat roof. The SL is a classically stylish buy with a premium image, and it works just as well as a coupé or a roadster.

Ferrari California ***** FEW cars can match the magic of a Ferrari. As with any prancing horse model, the engine lies at the heart of its appeal, but the California blends the mighty V8’s amazing performance with real everyday usability and refinement. For those lucky enough to be able to afford this amazing machine, it’s arguably the ultimate folding hard-top.

BMW Z4 **** BUYERS in the market for a desirable roadster need look no further than the Z4. A superb-quality cabin, eye-catching exterior and well engineered roof are all highlights. In 35is trim, it’s a superb performer, too, and the double-clutch gearbox delivers slick changes. Lesser models are more affordable to buy and run.

Mazda MX-5 RC ***** THE Japanese giant is the only manufacturer to offer a choice between metal and fabric roofs on the same car.And it’s done an amazing job of engineering a folding hard-top into the MX-5. The record-breaking roadster has lost none of its fun factor or handling purity. But we’d opt for the slicker and more engaging manual box.

Mercedes SL350 **** ALTHOUGH the cabin is beginning to show its age, the classy Mercedes still has plenty going for it. Our SL 350 has a super-smooth engine, and the 7G-Tronic automatic transmission makes for wonderfully relaxed progress. The SL is great as a roadster or coupé, and while the handling is composed rather than engaging, refinement is superb.

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