Open-Air Hardtops

Metal-roofed convertibles are sturdier, safer, and offer better handling and a dramatically quieter ride than most ragtops

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Who doesn't love a convertible? With the top down, that is. But when a conventional ragtop is closed, it can be noisy inside. The soft roof also may not wear well or offer much protection in a crash.

Hardtop convertibles resolve such problems. And now there's a raft of new metal-roofed open-air roadsters and coupes ranging in price from around $20,000 to well above $100,000. All of them, from the lowest-cost Mazda Mx-5 Miata to the ultra-luxurious Mercedes-Benz (DCX ) SL550 Roadster, open in seconds. Just push a dash-mounted button and, thanks to a complex system of motors and tightly choreographed metal origami, the roof tucks neatly away behind you.

Hardtops offer improved durability and greater safety than ragtops. Closed, the cabins are dramatically quieter, too. And because of their more rigid underlying body structures, most handle better.

The trade-off for a sturdier roof and easy open-and-close is cramped cargo room. With the top stowed, trunk space in most of these models is cut in half, and on most smaller roadsters it's virtually eliminated. The sole exception is the Miata—it loses not an inch of cargo room when it goes topless.

The new hardtop convertibles are technological wonders. Automakers are looking to these models to create excitement in the showroom even if most customers are likely to drive off in more practical cars. Here's a sampling of sporty vehicles with power-folding hardtops for just about any budget.

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