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Why should I buy a convertible?

There's something quite magical about driving a convertible, but they're not the most practical of cars.

From the way a young child stares in open-jaw awe at the roof folding itself down, to the unmatchable thrill of driving with the sun warming your skin and the wind wafting your hair, there's something quite magical about convertibles.

You could argue that it's because everything is better when enjoyed outdoors; picnic food tastes better, beer garden drinks are somehow sweeter and even a jog is less awful along a beach than on a treadmill.

Just about all forms of exercise are more fun outside, in fact, and going for a properly heart-starting drive in a nice convertible sports car is one of them.

It could be argued, and anyone who rides a motorcycle will agree, that we've been insulating ourselves from the real, visceral experience of driving, ever since we started putting roofs on the early horseless carriages, back in the 1920s.

Years of refinement, and a fierce focus on reducing levels of Noise Vibration and Harshness with more soundproofing material has only cloistered us further from the outside world in our cars.

Convertibles, then, are the last bastion of proper driving, you might say, and to own one is to experience a particular kind of joy that other drivers are missing out on. Unless, of course, the weather turns to crap.

The good

The very first time you drive a convertible, on a sunny day, it all makes sense.

Your headroom is as infinite as your happiness as you zip around feeling like a film star. It's a fantastic buzz to be in your car and out in the world at the same time.

There's something about the sensation of speed you get in a rag-top, too, which you could partly attribute to "wind rush". It's a bit like a flashback to riding your bicycle, or a skateboard, fast down a hill.

It's the kind of childish, smiley fun that makes a comparison between the convertible version of any car and its roofed relative difficult, because it goes beyond mere logic. Which, of course, would tell you that a coupe or sedan is always going to be a better option, dynamically at least.

Convertibles sound better, too, with more exhaust bark getting to your exposed ears

Taking your top down, even in highly marginal weather, becomes a compulsive habit for owners, which is why even strange places like Scotland and England have a lot of drop-top drivers. Even just the tiniest sniff of the chance of a nice day out, roof down, is enough to lure them.

Mini's cabriolets even have the option of an 'Openometer', which measures how long your top stays dropped, as part of its "Always Open" motto. This is both pointless and silly, but then so is any cabriolet, in some ways.

And let's not forget how much fun it is being able to smell things, like wattle trees in spring, or a KFC restaurant, or how handy it is to have excellent, 360-degree vision without a roof.

As one final bonus, convertibles sound better, too, with more exhaust bark getting to your exposed ears.

The whole roadster experience is very, very tempting indeed.

The bad

We didn't include "the fact that everyone can see you better" in our list of the good things because, despite the fact that we've heard it being extolled as a virtue, some of us tend to find being ogled uncomfortable.

People can see you better, and they will stare at you more with your top down, but this whole inviting the world in thing is a bit weird. You have to really worry about your taste in music, for a start, because when you pull up at a zebra crossing in your drop top, everyone can hear that you like Taylor Swift.

And don't even think about singing in the car when you drive a convertible.

The more serious problems, sunburn aside, are a result of the way they're built.

The only proper connection between the front and rear of the car is the floor pan, which robs the frame of strength and rigidity. Try cutting the roof off your house and then pushing on the walls.

This inherent floppiness can manifest itself in a strange and unsettling feeling that the car is flexing under you.

It gets worse when travelling on rough and uneven roads, where an effect known as "scuttle shake" takes hold of your car, and your steering wheel in particular, and ruins your driving experience.

Scuttle shake is when the comparatively wobbly body structure of a convertible is shoved around by poor road surfaces beyond what the suspension can soak up, making the whole car shudder.

To reduce this tendency, car makers fit a load of strengthening beams around the car, adding weight and thus taking the edge off acceleration, braking and handling.

True open-top convertibles are bad news in the event of a rollover

Convertibles, even in the case of the very good ones like a Porsche 911 Cabriolet, are generally slower, softer and less focused than the cars they're based on.

A select few rag tops – the Mazda MX-5, Porsche Boxster and Lotus Elise, for example – are exceptions to the rule. Because they were designed from the ground up to be drop-tops, rather than convertible versions of fixed-roof models, they don't require heavy-duty reinforcing.

True open-top convertibles are bad news in the event of a rollover, as you might expect, but new technology such as pyrotechnically operated rollover protection can mitigate the destruction to an extent.

Car-based convertibles aren't particularly prone to rolling; but buyers of something like the open-top Jeep Wrangler should be more cautious. Fortunately it's fitted with a rollover-protection bar.

If you've chosen a fabric-roofed convertible, it'll be louder than a hardtop out on the road, even with the roof up.

Even multiple layers of fabric can't insulate you from the noise of wind and rain as well as a hard top.

Retractable metal roofs tend to do a much better job, at the expense of complexity, heavy motors, a higher centre of gravity when they're up, and your dollars.

Folding the roof away also brings practical problems, with the rear cargo space in some convertibles made almost non-existent when the roof is retracted.

Finally, because the roof is a separate piece that attaches via locks and latches, squeaks and rattles can emerge in the long term.

Closing arguments

It's probably not surprising that you only really notice the downsides of a convertible when the roof is up.

When it's a nice day and the lid is down, you're generally having too much fun to worry greatly about scuttle shake or the extra weight you're carrying.

Not all car purchases are made for practical purposes

If you've just had to rush your roof up in a storm - or, worst of all, got stuck at a green light doing so, to the chagrin of everyone else on that road - then their failings can feel more pressing.

Convertibles are not the most practical choice, and if you're serious about your driving you'd probably look elsewhere, but then not all car purchases are made for practical purposes. If they were, Ferraris wouldn't exist.

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