Image: A new Ferrari 458 Spider car is on displ
Daniel Roland  /  AFP/Getty Images
The 570-hp Ferrari 458 Spider runs $257,000.
updated 7/1/2012 4:55:44 PM ET 2012-07-01T20:55:44

The Porsche Boxster S is an entry-level coupe suitable for middle-aged accountants and dentists, right? Not exactly.

Think more along the lines of James Dean.

“It’s a sexy car because of him,” Porsche spokesman Dave Engelman says. The $64,100 coupe is said to evoke the iconic Porsche 550 Spyder driven by the “Rebel Without A Cause” star. “They were designed as all-out sports cars with no compromise.” slideshow: See the 10 hottest convertibles

Indeed. Not that Joe the Accountant couldn’t drive it, of course, but the Boxster offers so much more than that. Three hundred fifteen horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds are nothing to laugh at. Not to mention a top speed of nearly 175 miles per hour.

And if you ask a pro he’ll tell you that for most civilians, the mid-engined Boxster is much more fun to drive on the track than its 911 sibling.

“The Boxster is a great car — it’s way more manageable than the 911,” Patrick Long told me once at a party in New York. He would know — Long drives the Porsche 911 GT3-RSR for Flying Lizard Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series.

All this to say that the Boxster S is a perfect fit for our list of 10 hot convertibles on the market this summer.

This year’s group includes cars from the likely suspects (think Aston Martin, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz) along with a few surprises. Some are impractical but exceedingly attractive. Others look more demure and will work for a weekend jaunt with friends. But they’re all relatively expensive — the $60,000 Ford Shelby GT is the cheapest thing on the list — and muscle-car buffs and exotics-lovers alike will agree they’re all hot rides. (We chose the winners on this list from model-year 2012 or newer cars.)

To drop or not?
Convertibles have been around for more than a century (they were the original horseless carriages, after all — just ask Gottlieb Daimler) but once conventional vehicles came about their popularity waned. Sales nationwide may actually be slipping even more, thanks to the growing popularity of panoramic sunroofs and targa tops.

According to the research firm RL Polk, convertible sales typically account for nearly 2 percent of the auto market but were running closer to 1.2 percent last year. The Chevrolet Camaro was the top-selling convertible last year, accounting for 7,530 car registrations. The Ford Mustang was second, with convertible sales of 6,645.

On the luxury side, the highest-selling convertible, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, sold just of 3,446 units last year; the BMW 328 convertible sold just 2,867 units. But convertibles are still an important part of each brand, says Lonnie Miller, an analyst for Polk, because they act as “halo” vehicles — they attract attention and excitement. Even if someone doesn’t actually buy the roadster they walk into a showroom to drool over, at least it got them into the showroom.

“It’s a feel-good car,” Miller says.

Hard or soft?
For those who do opt to drop-top, the biggest question often comes down to form: Which is better, a soft top or a hard top? Switch from a cloth top to hard top in any given cabriolet and it’ll affect everything — performance, structural soundness and (most importantly for many consumers) aesthetics — because of the difference in weight and structure. Each style has its merits — it just depends on what you want.

Hard tops like the one available in the $105,500 Mercedes-Benz SL550 are quieter and more durable, especially for drivers who live in cold climates. They’re also generally accepted as better-looking when the top is raised. But they’re also heavier, which means hardtop cars are slower and less fuel-efficient than they would be with cloth tops.

A cloth top on something like Ford’s Shelby Mustang means more space in the trunk and a lighter (more efficient) vehicle. It’s well-suited to drivers who won’t likely need to put up the roof very often. But they often look dingy and cheap when they’re deployed, and they’re usually more complicated to engage than the push-button hardtop. They also tend to be slightly louder than something hard, despite huge gains in recent years to make the seals more sound-proof.

One of the best in the ragtop range is Bentley’s arch Continental GTC. It has 500 horsepower, with a top speed of 195 miles per hour and a 0-to-60 sprint time of 4.5 seconds. Inside it has unique bulls-eye air vents and wood-framed organ stop controls, Mulliner diamond-quilted leather seats and a three-spoke leather steering wheel with aluminum inlays. Price: Just under $200,000, for the base version.

It’s a handsome car, to be sure. There’s just one catch, and it goes for everything on this list: The Continental goes faster with the roof up.

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