Used car buying guide: £12,000 convertibles

A pick of our £12,000 convertibles, the warming sun, an open road and the wind in your hair: it’s the dream drive for many British car owners. Our love affair with the drop top is a peculiar one; despite our unpredictable and frequently inclement weather Britain has the most buoyant convertible car market in Europe. Although frequently bought to be seen in rather than for driving thrills, there’s still a world of difference between a soft top that’s good to live with and one that just looks the part. Here we outline three that are worth considering if you have a £12,000 budget.

£12000 Convertibles

Folding soft top on the Fiat 500C is like a sunroof and then some (Picture © Fiat)

£12,000 convertibles: Fiat 500C Overview
The Fiat 500C is about as chic as modern cars come. It’s an unpretentious small car that has a big personality. In convertible 500C guise, the baby Fiat has all the functional benefits of the chic hatchback with a roof that folds back between rails into the base of the rear screen. There’s a choice of four engines including the innovative 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol and an economical diesel.

£12,000 convertibles: Fiat 500C Convertible with no compromises
There are two ways to use the folding roof: one is to have it folded back to the rear window like a full-length sunroof. The other is to fold it all the way back, although this does impede rear visibility. It’s also worth noting, that the 500C has a conventional boot lid rather than a hatchback so although the 182-litres of boot space isn’t taken up with the folded roof, access to it is limited to the size of the opening. The rear seat backs do fold forwards to accommodate longer loads. The 500C is an easy car to drive and with the roof down, buffeting from the wind is limited.

£12,000 convertibles: Fiat 500C What you get
In many respects, the 500C makes a better used buy than it does new. Thanks to the way new cars lose money, you can get a nearly new model for our budget. We found a 2014, 14-reg 0.9-litre with just under 4000 miles for £11,695. For just £300 more, there was a 2014 64-reg 1.2-litre 500C that had done a mere 10 miles, so to all intents and purposes a new car. These cars will come with a manufacturer warranty, giving added peace of mind. For drivers thinking of the 0.9-litre TwinAir, be warned: in day-to-day driving, the claimed fuel economy of 65mpg is pretty much unmanageable.

£12,000 convertibles: BMW 3 Series Overview

£12,000 Convertibles

Folding metal top transforms 3 Series from classy coupe to open top in seconds (Picture © BMW)

To call the BMW 3 Series Convertible a compromise is underplaying the breadth of its abilities. The German car is classy to look at but still discreet, desirable on the driveway but not too flashy, and it’s practical for a convertible but still great to drive. Also available with a huge variety of engines, there’s pretty much something for everyone. The range starts with an economical four-cylinder, peaks with the immense, supercar-baiting M3 and covers pretty much every base in between with petrol and diesel alternatives.

£12,000 convertibles: BMW 3 Series Practical four-seater
The 3-Series Convertible we’re looking at is the model built between 2007 and 2013, known as E90. Unlike its main rival from Audi, the 3 Series comes with an electric folding metal roof rather than one made from fabric. This means that with the roof up you feel like you’re being cosseted in a coupe. It lowers in 25 seconds and there’s barely any buffeting for the front two passengers, even at motorway speeds. As with all BMW 3 Series models, it’s not overly endowed with space in the rear but adults can get in, although there’s not sufficient leg room for them to be comfortable on long drives. There is adequate head room with the roof up. The one down side of that folding hard top is that it eats into boot space when the roof is dropped.

£12,000 convertibles: BMW 3 Series What you get
Owners appear to have few complaints concerning the reliability of the 3 Series Convertible. It’s affordable too. We found a 2008 08-reg 2.0-litre 320i SE with 33,000 miles on the clock going for £11,000 from a trade seller. For £11,680, we found a 2007 57-reg 320i in popular M Sport trim with 59,000 miles on it. With limited supply they tend to hold their value quite well, which may explain why their drivers frequently look so happy!

£12,000 convertibles: Volkswagen Golf Overview

£12,000 Convertibles

The VW Golf looks just as good with the roof up too (Picture © Volkswagen)

You don’t get a much better all-round car than the VW Golf hatchback, so does it follow that the convertible version is a wise buy? Most definitely. It looks as good as identical to the Golf MkVI, until you get to the windscreen pillar which is more swept back. It’s available with the same wide range of engines as the hatchback so there’s the 1.4 and 2.0 supercharged turbo petrols as well as the 1.6 and 2.0 turbo diesels. It’s even available in sporty GTI trim.

£12,000 convertibles: Volkswagen Golf Excellent refinement
In convertible terms, the Golf is a work of art. The roof looks sleek even when it’s up. And it drops in less than 10 seconds at speeds of up to 18mph. Going for a fabric roof means it’s lighter than a metal equivalent but refinement is still excellent – so much so, you’d barely know you were in a convertible on the motorway. Although notionally a four-seater, there isn’t much room in the rear seats; enough for children, a squeeze for adults. And if we’re nitpicking, the boot is on the small side with narrow access.

£12,000 convertibles: Volkswagen Golf What you get
This budget buys you a 2012 12-reg Convertible 1.6TDI Tech S with 20,000 miles under its wheels from an official VW dealer. For the same money, we found a 2011 11-reg model with the same diesel engine that had done 22,000 miles. However, it did boast £2000 worth of extras. Drivers looking for a car that’s great fun to drive should look elsewhere. The Golf is more about cruising and taking it easy with some good tunes on the stereo and the wind in your hair – and less about pulse-raising thrills while tackling a twisty B road.

3 comments on “Used car buying guide: £12,000 convertibles

  1. J S May 15, 2016 12:01 pm

    Nice review! All the three drop tops featured here are desirable roadsters! The main concern for many when it comes to roadsters is the wind noise and buffeting, good that the Fiat 500C is free of that, how about the other two? The back draft at high speeds was so bad on my Cabrio that I had to mount a wind deflector to get rid of that. Thankfully the Windblox windblocker that I installed is doing its job brilliantly.

    • J D Sullivan February 17, 2017 12:22 pm

      Yeah Windblox wind deflector is a trusted name in draught-stop equipment. I too have it on my roadster, and now I have my hair in order even after a long exciting al fresco cruise!

  2. Deepak Eapen September 30, 2016 12:28 pm

    Yes, a wind deflector is a must-have for most roadsters, especially for the ordinary ones. I’ve read that the Merc has something known as the Aircap to ward off the wind swirls and buffeting. Maybe other premium droptops will have some or the other indigenous and intuitive ways to counter this vice. Well, I too have mounted a Windblox wind deflector on my Cabrio, and I haven’t experienced any palpable wind buffeting since then.

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