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Cool Convertibles at Droptops & Dirt

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author photo by Jason Fogelson June 2017

For the past five years, the Motor Press Guild's Droptops & Dirt has been a must-attend event for automotive journalists in Southern California. This year, I got a chance to drive five cool convertibles that I want to tell you about.

The Motor Press Guild is the largest organization of automotive journalists, public relations professionals and affiliated businesses in the U.S. Headquartered in Los Angeles, its members are some of the most influential and widely-read professionals in the country. Droptops & Dirt (DND, for short) hosts two classes of new vehicle: off-road-capable SUVs and crossovers on specially prepared trails; and convertibles, which follow driving routes through the twisty turns of the mountains above Malibu. It's a great opportunity to get a first drive, a refresher and some back-to-back comparison of competitors.

Southern California is in the midst of a heat wave, and Calamigos Ranch, which DND calls home, was not immune to the phenomenon. It was hot -- triple-digit hot -- on the ground. I started each of my convertible drives with the top down and then pulled over after a few miles of driving to quickly bring the top back up, cranking up the air conditioning to try to stay alive (I did).

Here are five cool convertibles from Droptops & Dirt 2017.

 2017 BMW M240i Convertible

 2017 BMW M240i Convertible

Out here in Los Angeles, BMW convertibles are thick on the ground and seem to be popular gifts for high school graduates from well-heeled families. So it's easy to overlook how special the 2017 BMW M240i Convertible can be. Available with rear-wheel drive (starting at $49,050) or all-wheel drive (xDrive, starting at $51,050), the M240i is a real driver's car. The example I drove at DND also had a manual 6-speed transmission (an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters is standard) and a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder twin-turbocharged engine (335 horsepower/369 lb-ft of torque). Driving the route, I was impressed with the sharp handling and precise steering. Even though this was a convertible, it was solid and secure. In just 22 seconds, the top went up and locked into place automatically, and the M240i was as quiet as a coupe. They say youth is wasted on the young -- don't let this youthful convertible go to waste, no matter what your age.

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 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2LT Convertible

 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2LT Convertible

I've driven many versions of the latest Camaro, but this was my first chance to drive the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2LT Convertible. The muscle car looks like a fire-snorting road shark, but it carries a secret: It's equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that's less than one-third the size of the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that comes in the top-of-the-line Camaro ZL1. Surprisingly, the 4-cylinder Camaro manages to pump out a very respectable 275 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, plenty of power to motivate the 3,339-lb convertible through the curves and down the straights. The 4-cylinder Camaro is about 600 pounds lighter than the V8, which gives it a different feel on corner entry -- maybe a better one. Our test vehicle had the optional ($1,495) 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, which I really liked. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard. The 2017 Camaro 2LT Convertible starts at $35,605 ($43,735 as tested).

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 2017 FIAT 500C Abarth Cabrio

 2017 FIAT 500C Abarth Cabrio

Have you ever dreamed of driving a giant roller skate down the road? That's the impression I got from the 2017 FIAT 500C Abarth Cabrio. Driving over the hills and through the canyons of the DND route, I felt like I was scooting down the road, skimming along the tarmac with great confidence and maneuverability. The 500C is so tiny and narrow that you can use the lane to set up for perfect positioning and apex clipping without crowding the yellow line. The 1.4-liter inline 4-cylinder turbocharged engine revs freely, and the 5-speed manual transmission comes with a light clutch. Though it looks like a toy and has a few rough edges (like the manually retractable canvas roof), the 500C is a great little runabout, and the Abarth performance package elevates the driving experience to a hoot. The 2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio starts at $21,490 ($25,910 as tested).

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 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

The Mazda MX-5 Miata has been the favorite affordable roadster for over 25 years. The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is the latest retractable hardtop version Mazda has produced, and the first one on the current-generation vehicle. It's a winner -- a gorgeous targa-style top transforms the car from a stunning hardtop coupe into an open-air racecar in seconds without compromising the supreme drivability that attracts Miata fanciers and serious drivers. The Miata's big virtue is balance and light weight rather than pure muscle, and it uses a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated (nonturbo) inline 4-cylinder engine (155 hp/148 lb-ft of torque). Starting at $31,555, the RF is about $3,500 more expensive than a comparably equipped Miata roadster, but it's worth it.

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 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible

 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible

Convertible crossover vehicles have a spotty record. The Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet and Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible are two short-lived examples of much-maligned attempts. The 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible that I drove at DND is a much better swing at this pinata. Turning the Evoque into a convertible turns the crossover vehicle into a 2-door coupe with a trunk, in essence. The resulting vehicle looks great with the top up or down, and the driving experience on the road with the top up is very much like the experience of the hardtop version, thanks to the well-upholstered and tight-fitting convertible top. Put the top down with the push of a button, and the Evoque is transformed into a stylish, unique convertible. The Evoque Convertible starts at $52,000, or $10,200 more than the base hardtop model.

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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.
Cool Convertibles at Droptops & Dirt - Autotrader