There are certain cast-iron truths of the used-car market. If a car looks too good to be true, it will probably bankrupt you. Every old banger becomes a classic if you wait long enough. And buying a convertible in the depths of winter is a great idea.
Convertibles are cheapest at this time of year, and there are some tempting bargains to be had. We’ve picked 20 of the best available on Auto Trader right now. But you’d better be quick…
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Mazda MX-5 (Mk2)
Where else to start but with the venerable MX-5? The world’s best-selling sports car is fun, plentiful and cheap to buy. Early Mk1 versions (1989-1997) are becoming scarce and the Mk3 (2005-2015) isn’t as enjoyable to drive, so we’ve opted for the Mk2 (1998-2005), otherwise known as the NB.
There are more than 1,200 MX-5s for sale on Auto Trader at the time of writing, so you can afford to be picky. While this 2004 car isn’t the cheapest, we find the “ultra low mileage”, 1.8-litre engine and near one-owner status rather appealing. It also helps that it looks incredibly tidy.
The Vauxhall VX220: a two-seat sports car, based on the S2 Elise and built at the Lotus factory in Hethel. A cut-price Elise, then? Launched in 2000 with the 2.2-litre Ecotec engine found in Vauxhall’s more mundane motors, the VX220 was later treated a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, giving it genuine supercar-taming credentials.
Again, it’s possible to buy cheaper, but this looks like one of the best naturally aspirated VX220s on sale. If the mileage stacks up and a history check doesn’t reveal any previous damage, this could be a wise investment. Looks great in Rabiata Red, too.
Mercedes-Benz SL (R129)
Few cars of the 1990s have aged as well as the Mercedes-Benz SL, internal name R129. While its predecessors might be well beyond ‘bargain’ territory, the R129 remains affordable, while offering genuine everyday usability. Performance from the six-cylinder is adequate, while the V12 is best described as ‘excessive’. Our pick would be a V8.
With this Mercedes-Benz SL500 we’re really spoiling you. The dealer claims that it comes with a full service history, while the 107,000 miles is nothing for a car of this quality and engine size. We believe R129 prices are only going to go one way, making the £6,450 asking price seem like a bargain.
BMW 3 Series Convertible (E46)
At the turn of the millennium, this was the convertible to be seen in. The 3 Series Convertible offered a supreme combination of image, build quality and, crucially, driving dynamics that were almost on a par with the hardtop version of the E46 3 Series. Opt for the 320i if you’re in search of the best all-rounder.
There are so many 3 Series Convertibles for sale on Auto Trader, but this out certainly stands out. The engine and specification are desirable, and it has covered a mere 40,000 miles in a little over a decade.
Audi A4 Cabriolet
If one four-seat convertible could challenge the 3 Series of the day it was the Audi A4 Cabriolet. Unveiled at the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show, the A4 Cabriolet was the long overdue replacement for the ageing 80-based Audi Cabriolet, and was launched just as Audi’s brand image headed into orbit.
You’ll either love or hate the colour, but you’ll certainly stand out from the crowd. And because it’s not silver or black, there’ll be fewer people chasing this particular model. A potential bargain at just £2,150.
Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet
Looks like a Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet Mk4, right? Peel away the covers and you might be disappointed, because it’s actually a Mk3 Golf, dressed up to look like a Mk4. A kind of Mk3.5, if you like. If you can put up with a Mk3 chassis and interior, the Golf Cabriolet is hard to ignore.
Would it be fair to say this looks as good as any other topless VWs of recent years? Why buy a new Golf Cabriolet or used Eos, when a 1998 car looks this good? Being a 2.0-litre Avantgarde model simply adds to the appeal.
You can buy an original Porsche Boxster (986) for stupidly low money, but we don’t want to give you that. Instead, we recommend opting for the much-improved second generation 987, launched in 2005. The standard 2.7-litre engine is a great choice if you intend to drive your Boxster everyday, but the S – initially a 3.2, but later a 3.4 – is the car to covet.
As a 3.4-litre car, this Boxster S benefits from 295hp, up from 280hp in the 3.2-litre version, while the relatively high mileage means that it could be yours for the same price as a much earlier example. If it has been well maintained using the right parts, this might be worth a look.
A future classic, if ever there was one. If you’re after a lazy performance car, the Honda S2000 isn’t for you. But if you fancy a sports car that needs to be taken by the scruff of the neck, the S2000 is almost without peer. The magic happens above 6,000rpm, at which point the VTEC delivers the fireworks.
The final S2000 rolled off the production line in 2009, so finding one for sale at a Honda dealer is becoming increasingly difficult. This 2006 has covered 69,735 miles and is up for sale at a Honda dealer in the South East. Silverstone Metallic and red leather is a nice combination.
Toyota MR2 (Mk3)
Thanks to the shadow created by the Mazda MX-5, the Toyota MR2 is so often overlooked, but dismiss this bundle of joy and you’ll be missing out. This mid-engined two-seater is a roadster in the truest sense, with a lightweight feel and a free-revving engine. Just don’t expect to pack much more than your toothbrush.
Third generation MR2 prices vary considerably, ranging from £1,500 to around £5,000. At £2,295, this 2002 example is sensibly priced, and with just 77,000 miles on the clock, there’s still plenty of life in the 1.8-litre VVTi engine.
Audi TT Roadster
There’s no doubt the original TT lost some of its purity when Audi removed the roof, but in just about every other respect, the TT Roadster is as good as the Coupe. You still get the gorgeous interior, while the familiar 1.8-litre turbocharged engine is cheap to run and widely available.
OK, we’ll admit it: we’ve been seduced by the red paint. But scroll through the photos and you’ll see why we’ve selected this 2005 TT from the countless others on sale. The spec and condition are – on the evidence of the description and images – hard to beat.