MOST FUN IN THE SUN CONVERTIBLES
A great way to evaluate new cars and SUVs is to drive them back-to-back on great roads. Most consumers don’t have that luxury, but members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) get that experience on their annual Run to the Sun (RTTS) event.
This year journalists spent three days driving two-dozen highly varied cars and SUVs (as tested prices ranged from $28,985 to $427,875) hundreds of miles over stunningly scenic roads across Washington and Oregon. The routes covered twisty mountain passes, the windy Columbia River Gorge, and the wide open Central Oregon high country. Venues varied from busy cities to desolate ghost towns.
Besides the mandate to have fun driving, the group was tasked with picking winners in four categories plus an overall Northwest Most Fun to Drive Vehicle. The categories were convertibles, coupes, sedans, and SUVs. This post covers the convertible class.
There was agreement among all drivers that coincidentally matched this author’s picks for overall
category winners. I’ve gone further and listed my second and third choices. There weren’t any bad choices—all four of these open top vehicles were fun for different reasons.
WINNER: NORTHWEST MOST FUN IN THE SUN CONVERTIBLE—2019 MAZDA MX-5 MIATA CLUB RF
MY FIRST CHOICE: 2019 MAZDA MX-5 MIATA CLUB RF
PRICE AS TESTED: $38,955
A great plus for the Mazda MX-5 RF is that it has a retractable targa style roof, so it can be driven open or closed as weather conditions and moods dictate. This versatility is ideal for the changeable Pacific Northwest climate.
The nimble Mazda Miata has been a perennial favorite at the event simply because it is so much fun to drive spiritedly. It’s not the quickest or fastest car, but it feels athletic and very well connected to the road. The Mazda Miata is snug but comfortable. Thirty years of MX-5 refinement have produced the world’s greatest street legal go-kart.
MY SECOND CHOICE: 2019 JEEP WRANGLER UNLIMITED SAHARA 4X4
PRICE AS TESTED: $52,015
Versatility is a key feature of the Jeep Wrangler. At first glance it doesn’t seem very sporty, at least not in the sense of the Mazda Miata and Fiat Spider, but I was pleasantly surprised how well it handled twisty mountain roads. The
roof panels and doors can be configured in a variety of ways, which means you can get as much fresh air as you want.
The Jeep Wrangler is much quieter and
more pleasant to drive on highways than its muscular exterior would suggest. And, all that traditional Jeep off-road capability is there whenever fun takes you way off the beaten path. This contemporary Jeep Wrangler offers the best of old school 4×4 ruggedness with modern comfort, safety, and performance.
MY THIRD CHOICE: 2019 POLARIS SLINGSHOT
PRICE AS TESTED: $29,995
Unique is the best way to describe the 2019 Polaris Slingshot. It is definitely an open-air vehicle. Unless you opt for the Grand Touring model, which has a basic roof, the Slingshot is all open all the time. That is both the key to fun and some fear. Blasting through lightly traveled twisty mountain roads the Slingshot is like a powerful motorcycle with great seats and a steering wheel. Barreling down the wind-whipped Columbia River Gorge with trains on one side and logging trucks in the oncoming lane gave me a case of white
Mechanically the Polaris Slingshot is quite car-like with a powerful four-cylinder engine and a smooth 5-speed manual transmission. It has power steering, stability control, and excellent disc brakes. The Polaris Slingshot isn’t for everyone, but once you adjust to its uniqueness it delivers lots of fun.
RUNNER-UP: 2019 FIAT 124 SPIDER
PRICE AS TESTED: $41,695
The 2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth was the most traditional sports car of the group and as such it’s a fine car. It may have been its familiarity that caused us to rate it ever so slightly behind the other contenders. If we had to pick a convertible for daily and weekend driving the Fiat would easily beat the Slingshot, but given the venues of this event we gave the edge to uniqueness.
The Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is a strong performer with its turbocharged four-cylinder engine and smooth 6-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic. Our tester had the powerful Brembo brakes (optional), which oddly cost much less than the hand-painted Heritage Racing Stripe (a mere $2,195).