- Fiat 124 Spider

The Love Affair With Roadsters

What draws so many people to this type of car?

42w ago

Why we love them

Wonderful springtime, crisp air, light breeze, gentle sun, and a twisty road are all the makings of a great drive. No better car to jump in than your favorite roadster, drop the top, and take off. Pound for pound it is hard to beat the fun value a roadster delivers. It isn't all about being the fastest at the track, but don't try and tell the Miata guys that because they might surprise you. For most, though, it is about smiles per mile not seconds.

Todays Lineup

There are many offerings including the BMW Z4, Audi TT, and the Tesla. All are great options at various price points. As pictured above the Fiat 124 spider is one of the better offerings for the total package. It has updated packages, but stays true to the formula of the traditional roadster. That might be due to the fact that it is not much more than a dressed up Italian MX-5, arguably the greatest roadster of all time. The MX-5 is a longstanding pillar of the small sportscar world and the standard of what a roadster should be. It has grown up over the years getting some tech to keep up with the Jones', but has stuck to its original form of simple, cheap fun. These creature comforts have effected that cheap part of the equation and some people would say it has deviated from the simple nature of the original MX-5. Whether you are for or against it the tech is here to stay and it will only get worse, especially for major companies.

However, there are some smaller car manufacturers that are able to get away with more hardcore design. Take the Gumpert range for example. The roadster equivalent of this would be something like the Zenos featured by James May on the Grand Tour. It is a stripped down, no frills roadster that focuses all of it's energy into the drive part of the experience. This is the ultimate experience for petrolheads. It might be miserable for a daily driver and be horribly impractical, but on that one day in the spring driving through the twisties it will all be worth it.

Zenos E10R

Zenos E10R

Is there a perfect formula?

The petrolhead is a diverse population and there are many different subspecies. The roadster is but a section of interest and like everything else it can mean different things to different people. If we were to try to build the perfect roadster for the majority of people though it would have the following qualities.

1. A small but punchy engine. This is the heart and soul of the roadster and what gives it the usable redline characteristic that so many of us enjoy. It is always a rush to use every ounce an engine has to offer and with a smaller displacement we can do that one the street without needing to budget for tickets.

2. Rear drive. Not a hard and fast requirement, but lets be honest with ourselves who doesn't love rear wheel drive. Also a preferred item is a manual transmission. It gives the driver more control and to feel like they are driving instead of riding.

3. Open air in the middle. Between the engine and the drive should be open sky and fresh air. This is the defining characteristic of the roadster.

4. Lower ride height and balanced suspension. The feel of the drive is very important and the connection to the road should be felt. However, this is not a hardcore sportscar trying to break lap records so no need to be overly harsh.

The interior is where things can be up to more personal preference. Back to the tech debate, some will want comforts and others would prefer just a steering wheel and three petals. Either way you would end up with a great drive for those clear days on the open road.

What are your requirements in a fun car? Do you have a favorite roadster? Let me know down in the comments what you would choose!

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Comments (14)

  • And again: the SLK/SLC is not even mentioned. But there are so many of them...

    The main problem is that it’s not so many people who love driving in a Roadster these days. That’s why Mercedes stopped making the SLC 😢. There are far more of these horrible SUVs everywhere.

      9 months ago
    • It is a great car. I left it out because it is not as popular but it is a fantastic car. It is a shame it has been put on the backburner at Mercedes.

        9 months ago
  • I'm loving my "last of the true British bred" MG-F.

    Of course, being British, it's far from perfect, but hey, leightweight, rear wheel drive, engine in the middle, open air, it ticks all the boxes really, and it's way cheaper and more comfortable than its sibling, the Lotus Elise.

    It sold like hotcakes when it came out in 1996, now you can get a decent one for a few quid. Of course there is the head gasket thing, but if that's replaced with a good spec replacement you just need to warm up gently, then you can have loads of fun.

    There is little hope for little roadsters, after the MX-5 there was a burst of these nippy thingies, but most people are just consumed with silly SUV's, or horsepower above everything, preferably combined in a silly horsepower SUV. And those are useless on the twisties...

      9 months ago
    • It is truly a shame and it would be great to see a resurgence of "drivers cars" where it was about the experience instead of the numbers.

        9 months ago
  • I have almost zero experience with roadsters. But, I took two of them for a test drive years ago on different occasions - a FIAT Barchetta which I loved.. It's like you wear it, simple, punchy, direct... Amazing.

    The other one was a 2015 SLK250 CDI automatic - and I was dissapointed - all the Benz tech in a cramped isolated box.. No connection, no thrill, no noise...

    If I were to buy one some day - definitely the simple lot - MX, Barchetta, MGF, S2000, not the luxurios ones...

      9 months ago
  • I agree with your characteristics for a roadster. I would add that it depends where you live. If you have loads of money and live somewhere hot and sunny, like the Mediterranean or California for example, you can buy an expensive roadster like an Aston or a Jag, so when you’re not having fun in the mountains, you can pose by the marina. But an expensive convertible makes no sense in the U.K., because our climate is colder and wetter so much of the time. Also a truly fast car doesn’t suit our country lanes, which are often narrow and winding with hedges either side. For me the formula is a small car with modest power from maybe a 1600 engine, a manual gearbox, a decent heater and a nice stereo. The Fiat is my current favourite, but there have been some nice little roadsters over the years; such as the MGB, MG Midget, Fiat Barchetta and of course the Morgan. The older Porsche Cabrios make sense too because of their compactness, but don’t fill the brief in other ways.

      9 months ago
    • Sounds like a great combo! Very true though environment will always play a part.

        9 months ago
  • The SL63 is the best. Hard top, two seats, good boot. Lovely power, comfort, sex appeal. Depreciated so hard I could probably buy one

      9 months ago