For me, one of the most elegant and endearing type of cars is the roadster. They are beautiful, never failing to pull my attention as I make my way down the motorway. It’s easy to get caught up in the daydream of driving along the Golden Coast of 1950’s California in our iconic convertible. The winding road of Highway 1, the vast ocean on one side, and dense forest on the other. Its 70 degrees, the top is down and the cool breeze gives the impression of ‘objectively cool’. In our day dream we may even find ourselves pictured as the cool and classy Jimmy Stewart, or the beautiful actress/princess Grace Kelly.
There is no lie in saying I have an infinity for the roadster genre, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I will ever be able to have one. The reason being that a roadster shares the design and attribute of a race car, meaning, they are built for speed and style, and sometimes on the same lines and tracks as racing cars. A modern roadster is typically built from lightweight material, like aluminum or carbon fiber, and designed with aerodynamics in mind, so a low center of gravity and physics-related-shapes, allowing for control around the corners. Typically, they are two seaters.
Perhaps you’ll tell me “my Toyota Camry is a convertible and it only cost me 5k, why can’t you afford a roadster?” and that brings up a much-needed point of clarity. The difference between roadsters and convertibles is somewhat nuanced. A convertible is a broader type of car than the roadster, it encompasses all vehicles that have open tops; whereas roadsters is a more specific type that sits inside the convertible category. A VW beetle may be a convertible, but it will never be a roadster. Now that I’ve made it somewhat clear what is and isn’t a roadster, and that I will probably never be able to own one, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite ones to look at on the road.
Audi R8 Spyder-Starting MSRP $175,100
Audi introduced the R8 class in 2006, and it has been received extremely well by the populous, something we have come to expect from the clean-cut and pure automotive company. In 2016, they gave us the R8 Spyder, and likewise, we love it. The best way I’ve heard about the love of this machine is “meeting that super model you’ve always had a crush on, and finding out you two have everything in common. Yes, that good”.
Audi claims that the R8 Spyder was built side by side with R8 LMS (GT3 racing car), meaning that it has “the making of a race car, and the spirit of a Cabriolet.”. It comes with a massive V10 engine, producing 540 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. A new dual clutch transmission that allows for gears to shift at 120 milliseconds, allowing for a faster and smother drive.
Jens Meiners of Car and Drivers says that the new ‘Virtual Cockpit TFT’ and the tech additions to the interior of the car, deliver an aura of futurist-ness. The exterior however, Meiners says the grille is too boxy, and the side profile suffers from drooping character lines. All in all, Meiners concludes that the style is more subjective than not and that “even without a generations long pedigree, the R8 spyder is one of the worlds elite super sports cars”
BMW Z4-Starting MSRP $49,700
The opening title to the web page for the Z4 says “LIBERATION IS AN ARTFORM”, a bold statement for the Bavarian motor company. The continuation of the introduction says ‘the Z4 roadster was designed to make every single drive an indulgence. Its stunning hard top and elongated hood combine with breathtaking power to create an almost addictive open-top experience that’s sure to leave you with your odometer as your only alibi’. It’s a bold marketing campaign that surely a room full of college graduates spent weeks preparing and reviewing every single word.
But I don’t think they spent all their time in the office. The Z4, unlike its Audi competitor, has a lineage of roadster designing. The Z4 actually comes in triplets; the sDrive28i, which has a 2-liter twin powerturbo inline 4 cylinder capable of producing 240 hp, the sDrive35i having a bigger 3 liter turbo inline 6 cylinder at 300hp, and finally the sDrive 35is, with a 3 liter turbo inline 6 cylinder that pushes out 335 hp. BMW claims that the Z4 is spectacular because not only does it look good, it looks good with the hard-top up, which in many cases is not true for several roadsters.
Left Lane News says “The BMW Z4 is a two-seat hardtop convertible that provides a blend of luxury, style and the expected precision BMW handling dynamics”. But this long pedigree and expectation BMW holds sometimes comes with a back lash. “As good as it is, Z4 drivers will find themselves behind dedicated sports cars like the Porsche Boxter or Chevrolet Corvette every time. By the same token, there’s more luxury in a Mercedes-Benz SLK, and the all-wheel-drive Audi TT is great in low-traction areas”-Kelley Blue Book.
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible-Starting MSRP $61,175
“Stingray is a perfect driving machine, born from brilliant engineering and precision performance” claims Chevrolets introductory lines. There is no doubt the stingray is one of the classic cars of old; its aggressive lines, raw power, and a front fascia that just looks mean. It’s a heartthrob for any young American male. And the convertible, well…
The stingray has a 6.2 liter V8 engine, giving the machine 460 hp and 465lb-ft of torque. The stingray is coaxed with all sorts of dazzling mechanical terms; such as a dry sump oil system and 8 oil-spraying jets in the engine block that allow temperatures to stay low during high g-force turning. The frame is made of aluminum, making it 100 lbs. lighter than its predecessor. It may have been designed on the track, but the stingray has 5 driving modes, available for the type of terrain you are on. And due to its high-performance suspension, it ‘reads’ the road every millisecond.
Chevy is another brand that brags a heritage of sports cars and convertibles. As Edmunds puts it “the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette doesn’t move the needle relative to last year’s lineup…but frankly, it’s hard to imagine this car getting much better…unlike its predecessors this ‘Vette has virtually no weakness”.
A Noticeable Classic
Mazda MX-5 Miata-Starting MSRP $24,915
Mazda is a Japanese based company out of Hiroshima. Without having to tell you the history of the city, I think it’s safe to say that out of the horror, came many legacies. The Miata was introduced first in 1989, nearly a decade after the legends of the MG MGB, Triumph Spitfire, and the Fiat Spider, and released at a time when the roadster was thought to be dead. In 1976, however, a journalist named Bob Hall was working in Japan and met with the heads of research and development at Mazda about the future of the company. Legend has it that during their conversations, Hall said “I babbled how the simple, bugs-in-the-teeth, wind-in-the-hair, classically-British sports car doesn’t exist anymore. I told Mr. Yamamoto that somebody should build one inexpensive roadster.” (Automobilemag.com 2005).
The Miata is by far the slowest of the group, the sport edition has 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine that puts out only 155 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. Its only rear wheel drive and has a basic 6 speed transmission. Car and Driver reports “What we like most about the MX-5 Miata, is the MX-5 Miata…The Miata embodies such clarity of purpose, and so compellingly delivers on its promise of being simply a fun car to drive.”
For the simplistic style, its elegance, its history, and especially its price, I don’t think we should be so quick to dismiss the Miata, simply because of its competition.
The brittle and snowy winter here in West Michigan is coming to end, and soon we will have the sunny 80 degree days we’ve longed for. I’ve never cared much for the heat and humidity here in Grand Rapids, but I am looking forward to seeing all the different types of vehicles that will have the tarps taken off, pulled out of storage, and driven down our (sometimes bumpy) streets and motorways. Keep your eyes out this summer, as you make your way to the beaches, lakes and countryside cottages; for the stylish, elegant and beautiful machines known as roadsters.
Sources: Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Mazda, CarandDriver.com, Edmonds, KellyBlueBook, Autoblog.com