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Tips and advice

Top 3 used hardtop convertibles for £20,000

“Dear Carbuyer, I’m looking for a used hardtop convertible costing less than £20,000. What do you recommend?”

There have been several different types of hardtop convertible in the last 20 years, ranging from variations on hatchback models, such as the Ford Focus and Peugeot 308, through to more traditional two-seaters like the Mazda MX-5 and the Mercedes SLC

Choice has become slightly more limited recently, so there are fewer models available on the nearly new market as a result. However, there are still some excellent used choices for a reasonable budget. 

Advantages of a hardtop roof over a fabric version include added security with the roof up, a greater level of sound insulation and some extra structural strength. The downsides usually include less boot space, extra weight and a more complex opening system that potentially requires more maintenance.

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Convertibles are generally available in high-spec trim levels, meaning you can expect sat nav, leather seats and a decent stereo as standard. Features such as heated seats are also common, meaning you can put the roof down in the winter, as is climate control to keep you cool on hot days. 

Most will also be sporty to drive, despite the extra weight of the roof, with a good choice of petrol engines that are capable of reasonable fuel economy.

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Our reader wants a used sporty hardtop convertible that costs less than £20,000. All of our choices are available within budget, are great to drive and come with lots of equipment as standard.

The balanced choice: BMW Z4

  • For: Strong mix of performance and refinement 
  • Against: Used examples are all at least four years old 

Due to some midlife updates, there were quite a few variants of the Mk2 BMW Z4 by the end of its eight-year production run. Regardless of what’s under the bonnet, the Z4 is fast, fun and agile, although the ride in M Sport models might be too firm for some. 

For £19,995, you can bag a 64-plate, 14,500-mile 28i M Sport with a 245bhp 2.0-litre engine. Alternatively, a 14,000-mile 20i M Sport on a 66-plate with a 181bhp 2.0-litre unit will set you back £20,000 precisely. 

The Mk2’s cabin was a big improvement over its predecessor’s, particularly in its build quality and layout. It was available with the iDrive infotainment system, and look out for options such as cruise control and parking sensors. Boot space is 310 litres. 

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Depending on the engine you pick, the Z4 goes from 0-62mph in between 4.8 and 8.1 seconds. All examples are good fun in corners thanks to the car’s well weighted steering and strong grip. M Sport models have stiffer suspension; whether you go for one of these depends on the sort of ride you want. 

The fun choice: Mazda MX-5 RF

  • For: Fun to drive and most up-to-date car of the three 
  • Against: Small cabin and boot, slowest acceleration 
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Mazda MX-5 owners usually absolutely rave about their cars, which is why the current model topped the best sports car/roadster class in our Driver Power 2020 new car poll. The MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback) variant blends the standard car’s top-notch handling with a folding metal roof. 

For £19,995, you can have a 19-plate MX-5 GT Sport Nav Plus with the 181bhp version of the larger 2.0-litre engine and 11,000 miles on the clock. This model has sat- nav, Bluetooth, cruise control and rear parking sensors. 

The MX-5’s interior is smart and well made, with a seven-inch central display and the option of a leather dash. The cabin is small compared with its rivals here, which could be a problem for taller drivers, while the boot is tiny, at just 130 litres. 

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An MX-5 RF fitted with the 2.0-litre 181bhp engine will sprint from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, while the 1.5-litre model takes 8.7 seconds. The best aspect of the MX-5’s dynamics, though, is how it behaves in corners, where it’s incredibly agile and engaging. Yet the ride is not so rigid as to be uncomfortable. 

The refined choice: Mercedes SLC

  • For: Spacious boot, comfortable seats and smooth ride 
  • Against: Not as thrilling to drive, interior looks dated 
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The third generation of the well established Mercedes SLK was renamed SLC when it received a facelift in 2016. Unlike the other two cars here, it’s less adept at the vigorous driving one might subject a sports car to; instead it’s more suited to use as a powerful yet comfortable cruiser. 

For exactly £20,000, you can have a 16-plate, 201bhp SLC 250d AMG Line that has covered 12,000 miles. Another option is a 16-plate, 242bhp SLC 300 AMG Line model with 27,000 miles on the clock for £18,999. 

While the SLC’s cabin looks a little dated and button-heavy compared with the interiors of newer Mercedes, it’s still well designed and built to a very high standard. The seats are very comfortable and it also has the biggest boot here, at 335 litres. 

No SLC is a slouch: the 0-62mph dash takes between 5.8 and seven seconds depending on the engine. But it’s not as much fun to throw around on a twisty road due to its comparatively vague steering. The smooth auto gearbox and soft suspension make it the best car here for a comfortable long-distance trip. 

Carbuyer’s choice, as picked by deputy editor Ben Hodges

Every car here would be a strong choice but if I were to pick one to own, it would have to be the Mazda MX-5 RF, which offers an extra level of refinement and comfort compared with the standard MX-5 (which has a fabric roof). 

While the metal roof does make the MX-5 RF heavier, it gets stiffer suspension to compensate for the extra weight, meaning it’s still great to drive. It also looks sleeker with roof up and is well-equipped. A great interior further adds to its overall appeal.

Why not read our picks for the best sports cars you can buy now.

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