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Top 5 Convertibles Under $45,000

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author photo by Nick Jaynes March 2012

Warmer weather means it's finally time to take the plunge and get that convertible you've been dreaming about. To help you find the perfect car for top-down motoring, we've compiled a list of the 5 best new convertibles available for less than $45,000.

The competition really starts to heat up around the $40,000 mark, so that's where we've decided to focus. However, if you're looking for a convertible on a tighter budget, there are a handful of value-oriented choices out there, like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which starts at less than $24,000 and the Mini Cooper Convertible, which starts at about $25,000.

2012 Volkswagen Eos - $34,350

The 2012 VW Eos might be the cheapest car on this list, but it easily holds its own against the competition. At first glance, the Eos looks like a shortened Golf with a funny roofline. But there's more to the Eos than meets the eye.

Distinguished from the rest of the pack by its front-wheel drive setup and a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing 200 horsepower, the Eos is surprisingly fun to drive. And at 25 mpg in combined city and highway driving, the Eos is one of the more fuel-efficient convertibles in its price range.

Another high point with the Eos is the retractable roof. With the push of a button, the metal hardtop automatically retracts, folds and stows in the trunk in just 25 seconds.

On the road, the Eos feels more powerful than it looks. The turbocharged motor is especially responsive. Both the handling and steering are taut and responsive, and the 6-speed automated dual-clutch transmission shifts with Germanic precision. If you don't want an all-out performance convertible, the Eos is the perfect blend of excitement and the kind of down-to-earth sensibility that has become VW's hallmark.

2012 BMW 128i Convertible - $36,900

The 128i Convertible harkens back to the 3 Series convertibles of the 1980s in the best possible way. Compared with the 3 Series convertibles of today, however, the 1 Series convertible is slightly smaller, a little cheaper and arguably more fun.

The base model comes with a 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine producing 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a six-speed manual. This classic BMW rear-wheel drive setup will make a 0-60 run in 5.4 seconds.

Like a few of the other convertibles on this list, the 128i comes with a cloth, soft-top, automatically retractable roof. Needing only 22 seconds to fold away, the top can be activated at speeds of up to 25 mph, which allows drivers to drop the top on the fly.

Opt for the leather upgrade and you'll find the upholstery has been treated with BMW's Sun Reflective Technology, which limits the effect of the sun's ultraviolet rays on the leather.

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Used 2012 Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe
Used 2012 Chevrolet Camaro

If you're looking for a straightforward, rear-wheel drive, two-door convertible fitted with a manual transmission, the 128i is hard to beat for the price. Just be forewarned - although its base price is $36,900, the sticker price can quickly rocket northward with the inclusion of any optional extras.

2012 Nissan 370Z Roadster - $40,050

It might not be immediately apparent, but the Nissan 370Z convertible is more expensive than both the 128i and the VW Eos. Although comparing the Eos and the 128i is a lot like comparing bananas and apples, the two German cars have an air of refinement the Z lacks.

By comparison, the 370Z convertible is more aggressive. The Z is much more at home making high-speed runs around a racetrack than hauling a set of golf clubs to the course.

Under the hood, the 370Z convertible has the same 332 hp 3.7-liter V6 as the standard roofed version. As for transmissions, customers can choose between a close ratio six-speed manual and a seven-speed automatic.

Customers interested in the 370Z convertible are likely be those eager to tackle a twisty back road and less interested in luxury.

2012 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible - $40,680

To be fair, the base Camaro convertible starts at $30,180, well under our $45,000 self-imposed limit. Still, the Camaro LT is plenty of car for most people, as the V6 just got a bump in power up to 323 hp. However, the level-two SS with leather, 20-inch wheels, and a massive 426 hp 6.2-liter V8 is pretty strong contender in its own right. It's priced at $40,680. Option it with the six-speed manual transmission and you'll be melting the road all day long with this American muscle car.

Compared with the other convertibles on this list, the Camaro gives a lot of bang for the buck. Leather interior, premium sound system with Bluetooth, heads-up display - it' all there. Plus, the Camaro is probably the most handsomely distinctive looking of the lot as well. Consider, too, the Camaro is packing nearly double the horsepower of the 128i, and you've got one heck of a convertible.

With rising fuel costs, the Camaro might not be the best daily driver on this list, as it only achieves 16 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 - $42,500

SLK in German stands for "Sportlich, Leicht, und Kurz," meaning Sporty, Light, and Short. The story with the SLK 250 is much the same as the 128i Convertible: once customers add creature comfort optional extras, the MSRP rises quickly. Want the "White Diamond" paint? That's an extra $720. How about dual-zone climate control? That's another $760. Look past the expensive extras, however, and the SLK 250 stands out as brilliant convertible.

Like the Eos, the SLK has a metal retractable roof, which makes it a convertible that's very easy to live with every day. Under the hood, Mercedes has placed its 201 hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine coupled with a six-speed manual transmission. The SLK 250 will hit 60 from a dead stop in 6.5 seconds and move onto an electronically limited 155 mph.

With a gorgeous new body and nearly perfect steering, the SLK is the kind of giggle-inspiring convertible that the English would build if they still made cars. The SLK is the most expensive convertible on the list, but it's also one of the most fun to drive.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Top 5 Convertibles Under $45,000 - Autotrader