A Fiat Barchetta, designed in Turin in Italy Antonio Contreras
Five convertibles to enjoy driving for less than 5,000 euros

Five convertibles to enjoy driving for less than 5,000 euros

This list is focused on vehicles designed to provide an enjoyable driving experience, not to break the clock

Antonio Contreras


Wednesday, 9 August 2023, 23:08

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In the late 1990s and early 2000s, convertibles were all the rage. All the brands wanted a slice of the cake. Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot, Citroën, Seat all had at least one car with a retractable or canvas roof in their show rooms.

Nowadays there are few mainstream brands that still offer a convertible in their range and buying a new cabriolet has become an almost impossible mission. Those under 30,000 euros are a rarity, even more so if they are designed for driving pleasure. Even the famous Mazda MX-5, the best-selling convertible in history, is priced at over 30,000 euros in its most basic version, according to prices on the website's configurator.

It is still possible to find a new cabriolet more suited to the purchasing power of the average resident in Spain, such as the Fiat 500C, but realistically, the options below the 30,000-euro mark are not exactly designed for an enjoyable driving experience.

Fortunately, the used market still exists. In this article you'll find five second-hand options for under 5,000 euros, which, to a greater or lesser extent, will make driving enjoyment their cornerstone, with the added bonus of having your hair blow in the wind (for those who still have it).

  1. Mazda MX-5 NB (1998-2005)

It was impossible not to start with the convertible that influenced - and still influences - a whole range of car makes. The second generation MX-5 is still reasonably priced compared to its predecessor, the MX-5 NA. You can still find cars from 5,000 euros with the 110 hp 1.6 engine. Its price keeps rising year after year and there are only a few that can be purchased for this price.

Acceleration, naturally aspirated, precise steering with the ability to transmit what happens between the tyres and the tarmac, a perfect driving position and a gearbox with short, direct gearshifts. Under the bonnet is a 1.6 inline four-cylinder with only 110 hp at 6,500 rpm and 134 Nm at 5,000 revs. The engine, with an iron block and aluminium cylinder head, is combined with a five-speed manual gearbox with an exquisite feel.

This is not a car for the straight drives. This is a car that, weighing barely a tonne, is enjoyable on winding roads. Its cornering makes this its natural environment.

  1. Fiat Barchetta (1995-2005)

A trip to Italy to get to know the convertible from Turin, designed for the people. Following the initial design presented by Andreas Zapatinas, Fiat took inspiration from the classic boats of the time to shape its new convertible. Sharing a platform with the Fiat Punto to save costs meant that the product did not sell as well as expected. This forced the Barchetta to be offered only with front-wheel drive, which did not go down well with enthusiasts.

Its driving philosophy is all about enjoyment at cruising speeds. It is a vehicle to feast your eyes on and enjoy at legal speeds. Despite how low it is, it offers a good driving position, a dashboard facing slightly towards the driver, good gearshift feel and precise steering.

The heart of the little Italian is a 1.8 in-line four-cylinder with an iron block and aluminium cylinder head that delivers 131 hp at 6,300 rpm and 164Nm at 4,300 rpm, which is stretched to 7,000 revolutions per minute. The characteristics of this engine mean that it is not necessary to play with the gearbox as much as with the Japanese, although as a good naturally aspirated engine, the liveliness is still at the top end. Power is transmitted to the front wheels via a five-speed gearbox. The Barchetta accelerates from 0-60 in 8.9 seconds and reaches 200 kilometres per hour.

You can find these vehicles starting at 5,000 euros.

  1. MG-F (1996-2002)

Adobe Stock

Perhaps the least valued of the list due to the reliability problems it had in its day, especially with the head gasket and rear suspension. However, if you can find one with a good rear suspension and a replaced head gasket (the recommendation is that the gasket is replaced with the Freelander's, which is far less problematic), you are looking at a fun car and at a very reasonable price.

It is a compact vehicle, with a low weight (just over 1100 kilos) and a mid-mounted engine. Fuel consumption is somewhat high and performance is limited. However, it is an excellent vehicle to have fun on bends. In the second-hand market there are vehicles for less than 4,000 euros, and stretching the budget a little further, there are makes of the MG-TF, its successor. The latter had the suspension problem solved.

Inside, the MG-F is powered by a 1.8-litre engine, with an aluminium block and cylinder head, capable of developing 120 hp at 5,500 rpm and 165 Nm at just 3,000 revolutions per minute, coupled to a five-speed gearbox that sends power to the rear wheels.

  1. Smart Roadster (2003-2005)

Daniel Maurer

The small German car is one of the most economical of the five chosen. With a homologated average fuel consumption of 5.1 litres per hundred kilometres and a small three-cylinder engine of barely 700 cubic centimetres that generates between 61 and 82 horsepower, depending on the version chosen (there is also a Brabus version, which increases the power to 101 horsepower, although it is further away from the 5,000 euros established in the article's budget). The dashboard has details for engine lovers, such as a small clock to measure the turbo pressure.

The engine isn't a blast, as you'd expect, although the very low weight of the car, less than 900 kilos, means that it doesn't move badly. It's not quick, but it's energetic. The worst part of the package is its automatic transmission. The Smart Roadster can't be bought with a manual gearbox and the automatic, to which the engine is mated, is rather slow.

Prices on the second-hand market are very disparate, although there are some with the 82 hp engine for under 5,000 euros and some for under 4,000 with the 61 hp engine.

  1. Audi TT Roadster MK1 (1999-2006)

Karoly Matusz

It is the fastest on the list, but not the most powerful. In its 180 hp 1.8 turbo variant (the most basic), there are some available for under 5,000 euros. It has a fairly full engine that pushes hard from very low down, accelerating from zero to 100 in 7.8 seconds and reaching a top speed of 228 kilometres per hour.

Sharing the same platform as the Audi A3, the most basic versions are front-wheel drive, although there are also some that mount the 180 hp 1.8 (access engine to the range) with Quattro traction. The heart of the engine, with an iron block and aluminium cylinder head, delivers 235 Nm from 1,950 revs to 5,000 revs and maximum power at 5,500 revs, offering a very usable power curve. However, although it is not bad in cornering, it is one of the weakest on the list, especially the front-wheel drive version.

It is the heaviest on the list, weighing 1,355 kilogrammes. It is also the only one that offers four seats. The finishes and materials used are of very good quality and those units that have been well maintained and treated tend to remain in very good condition.

If you can stretch your budget a bit, you can also get one with the 225 hp 1.8t, which comes with Quattro traction as standard.

There was also a 3.2-litre 250 hp v6 version. But with that powertrain, the TT is well outside the budget set out in the article.

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