By Thomas Geiger
Stuttgart, Germany - People carriers and ordinary sedans are giving ground to convertibles this year as rising numbers of motorists discover the joy of that wind-in-the-hair feeling.
To cater for the spike in demand, carmakers are launching a raft of new convertibles and roadsters in 2016, ranging from exotic status symbols to basic versions for consumers on a tight budget.
First up is the Smart Fortwo, the smallest and cheapest soft-top that money can buy, with space for two passengers and a few pieces of hand luggage.
The hood and side beams come off for that genuine al fresco feeling and the modest sticker price of €15 655 (R272 000) makes up for the car's feeble performance.
Those who ask about the price of the new Silver Dawn soft-top from Rolls-Royce, the lead car in our gallery, probably can’t afford one. For the record, this car will leave the showroom for around 20 times the price of the tiny Smart.
The Dawn is based on the Wraith and uses the same effortless 6.6-litre V12 engine as the Ghost. The grand tourer has room for four cosseted occupants.
The makers say the new drophead is as silent as a Rolls limousine, regardless of whether the hood is up or down. If borne out, this would make it the quietest soft-top on the market.
Between the two extremes is the raunchy Fiat 124 Spider, third in our gallery, a throwback to the Italian brand's sporting past and a clever adaptation of the Mazda MX-5 platform.
The soft-top Fiat is a classical Italian design which eschews the Mazda's rounded looks for a squared-off interpretation of the original which was on sale 30 years ago.
With more power under the bonnet than the equivalent Japanese product, the Fiat 124 is great fun to drive and cool to be seen in.
Retro fans will love the optional stripe kits and Italian colour schemes in red, white and green.
Mazda has also just announced a new soft-top MX-5 to be viewed at the upcoming New York motor show.
Customers bored with the mainstream might be attracted by the pure-electric version of the quirky new Citroen Mehari.
This utilitarian plastic beach buggy is another blast from the past and in essence a shrunken version of the go-anywhere 1960s Mehari produced in various guises until 1988.
Mini has also taken the tin-opener to their current hatch, to create the new Mini Cabriolet, while Mercedes-Benz continues to cater to the upper end of the market with the svelte new S-Class convertible, the final car in our gallery.
Model range chief Micheal Kelz said the chopped limousine heralds a drophead version of the new E-Class. Meanwhile rumours are rife that a C-Class open-topper will follow hard on its heels.
The Lamborghini Huracan Spyder offers mind-blowing performance and a chance to enjoy the heady music of its naturally aspirated V10 engine. The soft roof is more a lid than a hood: the car looks more like a coupe until closer inspection reveals how it lets in open air.
Andreas Radics of management consultants Berylls in Munich said: “The biggest trend in the cabriolet market is the return of the fabric soft top.
Only hardcore customers are interested in pram-like hoods that require bows and fiddly studs to put up. These days both fabric and folding hard tops can be made to glide effortlessly up and down. These high-tech cabriolet covers can be raised in seconds if it starts to rain and they do not flap in the wind.
Upmarket open-toppers from Audi and Mercedes also have the ability to pipe warm air around the driver's neck and keep the occupants nice and snug, even when the top is down and ambient temperatures are lower.
A list of upcoming fresh-air cars would not be complete without a mention of the new drophead version of the off-road Land Rover Evoque. It will built alongside the five-door and coupe Evoque at Land Rover's Halewood plant in Britain and will be on sale in 2016.DPA