Summer is the perfect time to get out on the road and enjoy your car to the full. There’s nothing better than heading to your favourite stretch of Tarmac and going for a blast, whatever you drive, but you can make the fun levels even greater if you’re behind the wheel of one of our best summer cars listed below!
These models are the ones that make the most of warm tarmac and hot weather. Yes, they’re all open-topped machines, so it’ll be a good idea to cover up in Factor 50, or wear a hat, because having the aural thrills to go with your driving only helps increase the fun points.
Some of these cars are simply the best way of lapping up the summer sun in luxury, but the majority are also lots of fun to drive. We’ve picked a handful of four-seaters that allow you to enjoy the sun with your friends, but most are only two-seaters that focus on driving thrills more than anything else. From the spartan Caterham Seven and its laser-like focus on pure exhilaration for the driver, to the raucous and powerful Jaguar F-Type, these are the cars designed for a hot summer’s day and a twisty back road as you take the long way home.
At the other extreme, cars like the Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet and Rolls-Royce Dawn are designed to waft along in refined cruising comfort, taking in the sights and sounds while keeping passengers unruffled by bumps in the road and the breeze from the open top.
Of course, a lot of these cars are at the dreamers end of the new car buying scale. But if a big lottery win came your way, what better way would there be to celebrate than to splash out on a bit of luxury and take a while to savour a hot summer’s day at the wheel of a car that offers plenty of fun in the sun?
Best summer cars 2018
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There’s nothing else like a Caterham for driving thrills, and these are best served in the summer, when you can take the roof and doors off to enjoy the full sensory overload of driving this back-to-basics British sports car.
You sit low to the ground in the car (although if you’re tall we’d recommend going for the larger SV body so you can be comfortable at the wheel) and with the long bonnet, round headlights and upright windscreen in front of you, the view ahead is unlike that in any other car on the road.
The steering reacts instantly to every input, although you’re aware that the wheels are a long way forward in relation to where you’re sitting. And once you’ve experienced the lightning reactions and the sensation of speed as the tarmac rushes past you, inches away from your elbows, no other sports car can match the sensations.
Caterham offers a variety of engine options, but even the most modest version is more than powerful enough to be entertaining. There’s plenty to get used to, including the unassisted steering and cramped pedal box, if you have big feet. But once you’re in tune with how a Seven drives, nothing touches it for driving fun.
Just watch out for summer storms, because the canvas roof and fabric doors take forever to reassemble – it might just be easier to keep the rain off by driving quickly than stopping to erect the scaffolding required to get the top back on.
Ferrari 488 Spider
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With every generation of mid-engined Ferrari, the Italian company raises the bar in terms of performance. And in addition, whenever the convertible or Spider version follows, it delivers a driving experience that’s ever-closer to the coupe in focus, resulting in an open-topped supercar that is a match for the hard top for driving thrills.
The latest 488 Spider has extra appeal, as you can lower the roof to help you hear the screaming twin-turbo V8 behind the cockpit. It’s not that the standard hard-top isn’t a thrilling place to spend time, it’s just that the twin turbochargers have stifled the rev-hungry V8’s bark a tad, so getting rid of the roof on the Spider makes up for the slightly muted engine sounds.
Ferrari has used its Formula One expertise to make the 488 Spider handle as sharply as the coupe, and special strengthening means the Spider has the same chassis stiffness as the hard-top version. Lightweight technology is used for what Ferrari calls the RHT, or Retractable Hard Top as it’s known by everyone else. This takes 14 seconds to operate, and the two-part roof stows on top of the engine cover to allow occupants to drink in the sounds of the free-revving twin-turbo V8.
That 670bhp V8 gives the 488 Spider a 0-62mph time of three seconds flat, although you’ll have to keep the roof up and find a closed course if you want to try and sample its 202mph top speed. That’s not really what the 488 is about, though, the mid-engined chassis delivers super-sharp responses that allow it to carve up twisting back roads with ease.
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Small drop tops fall into two categories – full convertibles and those that don’t offer much more than enlarged sunroof with a bit of canvas screwed into place. The latter works well for car manufacturer profit margins, but the former is the real deal for buyers wanting summer open-top motoring. And the MINI Convertible is pretty much in a field of its own as the only drop-top supermini on sale – if you want anything similar for the same price, your only other choices are the VW Beetle Cabrio or a two-seat roadster like the Mazda MX-5 or Fiat 124 Spider.
The MINI combines fun front-wheel-drive handling with its open-top appeal, and that roof can be opened in stages, so you can have a full convertible or a sunroof-style opening if the sun is getting a bit too overpowering.
As it’s a MINI, you can expect a few novelties, too. The last facelift added those controversial Union Flag tail-lights, while a similar design can be applied to the canvas roof, too. Inside, MINI offers the option of an ‘Openometer’ a timer that records how long you have the top down when you’re driving. Basically, if you’re not driving with the top down when it’s not raining this summer, then you need to head back to your MINI dealer and trade your Convertible for a hatch.
While the soft top does introduce some twist to the MINI’s chassis, it’s still a fun car to drive, with sharp steering and a lively rear end that’s willing to break loose if the desire overcomes you.
McLaren 570S Spider
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Few cars deliver the driving experience of a McLaren. With performance in spades, a level of user-friendliness that even some city cars fail to match and head-turning looks, the Surrey firm’s cars really make a statement. In reality, the 570 offers all the driving enjoyment you could ever need, and going for the 570S Spider only adds to the pleasure with its folding roof.
Power comes from the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 as the rest of the range, with 562bhp on tap giving it a 0-62mph time of 3.2 seconds. It’s not quite as vocal as some rival power units, but there’s no arguing with the way it delivers its power in a linear and user-friendly manner. Like the Ferrari 488 Spider, the McLaren has a two-part roof that stows on top of the engine cover, and it manages the conversion in 15 seconds, so if you’re caught out by a summer shower, you should be quickly sheltered from the elements.
Thanks to McLaren’s carbon fibre MonoCell II chassis, the Spider is just as rigid as the 570S coupe, and it only adds an extra 47kg of weight over its fixed-roof counterpart. The result is sharp handling that’s just as engaging as the coupe, while the steering remains uncorrupted and alive with feedback.
Mercedes E-Class Convertiblle
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When it’s warm, sometimes you just want to take things easy, and the Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet is the drop-top motoring equivalent of a relaxing stroll on the sea front. It’s a car that encourages you to let the world pass you by, with a range of unstressed petrol and diesel engines, plenty of luxury and technology in the cabin, and one of the plushest fabric roofs of any convertible on sale.
Of course, the E-Class is the open-top alternative to the E-Class Coupe, which in turn is based on the excellent E-Class saloon. That means the Cabrio features first-rate build quality, while the four-seater cabin is comfortable enough that a long-distance trip could easily be considered.
Once you’ve reached your sunny destination, you can cruise in comfort with the roof up or down, the latter helped no end by Merc’s clever Aircap windscreen header rail. It looks pretty ugly, but when it’s in place Aircap diverts air flow over the cabin leaving occupants as unruffled by air turbulence as they would be if the roof was up. Add in diesel engines that are far quieter than their predecessors, and the E-Class Cabrio is a relaxing and refined summer cruiser.
Even better is that the large fabric roof can be folded at speeds of up to 30mph, and when it’s up, it’s as quiet and refined as being at the wheel of the E-Class Coupe thanks to its multiple layers of acoustic-absorbing fabric.
Audi TT RS Roadster
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If you want a rally car soundtrack to complement your summer driving, then the Audi TT RS Roadster will happily oblige. Sure, it’s not the most focused or engaging drop-top in our top 10, but when that turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is making noises reminiscent of an Audi Quattro Group B rally car, you kinda forgive it.
That familiar five-cylinder warble is accompanied by all sorts of pops and bangs from the exhaust, especially when you’re accelerating through the gears and laying into full-throttle upshifts with the twin-clutch gearbox, and there’s a substantial 395bhp for the quattro four-wheel-drive system to get to the tarmac.
That gives the TT RS Roadster a 0-62mph time of 3.7 seconds – identical to the Coupe and not far off the V10-powered R8 Spyder, another car that thrills owners with an addictive soundtrack.
We say that the TT RS isn’t as engaging as some rivals, but it’s still a lot of fun to drive, and the two seater cabin is a lesson in minimalist design and upmarket detailing. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is standard, and it’s heavily cowled so that the display is still easy to see when the roof is down and the sun is blazing.
Abarth 124 Spider
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When Fiat wanted to build a sports car flagship to lead its range, it turned to Mazda and the MX-5 as a starting point for its new model. While that may seem strange, the MX-5 is a modern take on the front-engine, rear-wheel drive formula – one that Fiat followed back in the 1970s with the original 124 Spider.
The modern 124 Spider offers different looks and motive power than the MX-5, with Fiat’s own 1.4 MultiAir turbo petrol unit appearing under the bonnet. One big difference between new and old 124 Spiders is that the modern version is offered in fire-breathing Abarth spec. This version has 170bhp on tap, and it’s accompanied by a suitably raucous soundtrack courtesy of the freer-breathing sports exhaust.
This extra power makes the most of the Spider’s rear-drive chassis, and combined with the sharp steering and snickety six-speed gearbox, results in an involving drive that will put a smile on any driver’s face.
The Abarth’s looks won’t be to all tastes if you go for the version with matt-black detailing, but the manual roof is a piece of cake to raise and lower – you could even manage it single-handed if you’re dexterous enough – although you can still enjoy the soundtrack with the roof up thanks to the thin fabric top.
Porsche 718 Boxster
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The entry point to Porsche ownership is in no way the poor man’s choice, especially as prices start from £45k for the most basic version these days. The switch to four-cylinder turbocharged power in 2016 was greeted with raised eyebrows, but Porsche also took the opportunity to enhance the Boxster to make it the best-handling model yet.
There are 2.0 and 2.5-litre engines to choose from in Boxster and Boxster S/GTS models, and while these flat-fours don’t have the same engaging engine note as the old flat-six models, there’s still some sporty character on show. On the road, the Boxster delivers user-friendly performance, and has a level of ability that will make even the most ham-fisted driver feel like a star at the wheel.
The folding fabric roof opens and closes in around 10 seconds and at speeds of up to 20mph, and when it’s closed, there’s plenty of insulation to keep the cabin snug. But it’s best when the top is down, so you can make the most of the Boxster’s sporty character and revel in its fantastic handling.
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BMW has all bases covered when it comes to convertibles, although it has a lot of help from its British sub-brands. While MINI scoops up sales in the supermini sector, at the pinnacle of the new car market, the Rolls-Royce Dawn is the last word in open-top luxury.
The Dawn is a throwback to a time when luxury was hand-crafted and meant the very best materials and engineering were used to deliver a driving experience that was a cut above the norm. With a multi-layered roof and a wide variety of personalisation on offer for buyers, speccing up a Rolls-Royce Dawn is an experience in itself, well before you’ve got behind the wheel.
And when you do get there, you’re rewarded with a unique driving experience that is like no other. The big-capacity V12 under the bonnet helps you to waft along in near-silence, yet it has enough performance for this huge four-seater to lift its skirts and bolt for the horizon at unbelievable speeds.
The handling is leisurely rather than razor sharp, but that means you can take time to drink in all the fabulous detailing. From the matching wood veneers and soft leather to the art deco dashboard design, there really isn’t anything like a Rolls-Royce Dawn to deliver top-down motoring.
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The successor to the E-Type was a long time coming, but the F-Type delivered the sporty handling and engaging driving experience to do its legendary ancestor justice. Engineers developed the F-Type as a convertible from the beginning, so the roadster version is as sharp to drive as the coupe, but also allows you to revel in the Jag’s exhaust note.
Somebody in Jaguar’s engineering department is clearly having a laugh, because no other sports car this side of a TVR delivers the kind of noises an F-Type does. There’s an aggressive roar when you rev it, pops and bangs on the overrun, and even a special button on the dashboard to make everything even more vocal.
It doesn’t matter whether you go for supercharged V6 or V8 power, it’s the same story, and even the Ingenium four-cylinder has a decent go at increasing the grin factor when you floor the throttle.
Even better is the fact the sharp chassis delivers engaging handling that balances with relatively good comfort. Even the top-spec four-wheel drive models have the ability to thrill, making the F-Type the quitessental open-top sports car for driving on a twisting country road on a hot summer’s day.
Looking for something to take to the track this summer? Then take a read of our best track day cars page.