THE SMART CHOICE: Audi A4 Cabriolet
For: Lots of choice,stylish cabin,practical
Against: Noisy diesel,costly servicing,dull drive
Its hard to think of a better open-air all-rounder than the Audi A4. Hugely popularwith British buyers, the German machine combines a premium image with a large cabin and a vast range.
The drop-top A4 arrived in 2002, and thanks its popularity, is in abundant supply. It was one of the first four-seater cabrios to come with the option of diesel power, and the A4 is more than capable of dawn- to-dusk family treks. In 2.5-litre TDI form, it can return nearly 40mpg.
Another reason to shortlist the Audi is its quality feel. The multi-layer roof is snug in winter, while the switchgear and seats seem immune to wear and tear. The big boot is easy to access, and while all cabrios have tight access to the rear seats, there’s enough space for kids. A budget of L8,500 will bagyou a tidy 2005 2.5 TDI with fewerthan 65,000 miles.
THE ENTERTAINER: BMW 3 Series
For: Agile handling,great diesel,gutsy petrols
Against: Low kit on some models,running costs
If you want a more engaging driving experience than the Audi, try the BMW 3 Series. As with its rival, it has a fabric roof and is an excellent all-rounder.
It’s available with a wide range of engines and transmissions, and is also good value. Your budget puts a solid 2005 model with average mileage and decent kit within reach. If diesel is your preferred option, the 2.0-litre is great. It offers lively acceleration and can return nearly 45mpg. If you want more pace, the 325i and 330i petrols offer smooth acceleration and amazing in-gear performance. Running costs can be high, but a great network of BMW specialists will help keep your outgoings down.
THE WILDCARD: Volkswagen Eos
For: Great value,frugal,secure hard-top
Against: Tight rear space,not particularly sporty
Ok, so it’s smaller and less practical than its premium rivals, but the Volkswagen Eos is an attractive package that offers superb value for money.
The Eos was launched in 2006, and it has a folding hard-top rather than a canvas roof. It’s based on a bespoke platform with a longer wheelbase than a Golf, and clever packaging means you can carry an impressive 380 litres of luggage with the roof up. Another advantage is refinement – the Eos is at home on the motorway and is more winter-friendly than its canvas-topped rivals. Your L8,500 budget should buy you a low-mileage 2006 example with a generous spec.
THE BARGAIN: Saab 9-3 Convertible
With question marks over the brand’s future, choosing a Saab might seem to be a gamble. But unless you’re the kind of motorist who insists on visiting a main franchised dealer at service time, you shouldn’t have a problem.
Parts supply for older models is virtually guaranteed for now, andasmall army of loyal Saab specialists will pick up the slack from the firm’s dealer network. The 9-3 is a favourite with British buyers, even if the quirky design touches that characterised earlier models have disappeared over the years. Still, the styling is distinctive inside and out and, while it can’t compete with Audi and BMW for material quality, the Swedish machine is easy to love.