Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Top 5 Drop-Tops for Spring Cruising

There is simply no finer feeling than taking that first top-down cruise on the day when the weather finally turns the corner and we exchange heated seats for abundant spring sunshine. Those who don’t already own convertibles start feverishly searching the web and/or Road & Track, while calculating how much they can possibly afford to spend on a new car. Suddenly taking out a second mortgage looks extremely tempting, interest rates be damned. And there are some devilishly good reasons for doing so, thanks to the very best British and Italian marques who understand that while man’s need for open-air driving may be atavistic, it sure as hell doesn’t hurt to have 600-plus horses and a race-bred powerplant. So here are our picks for this season’s five best convertibles, from understated and elegant to “where are my heart meds?” — plus a few in between.

1
Maserati MC20 Cielo

When Maserati first debuted its new MC20 supercar in 2020, we started counting the days until the legendary trident-badged marque debuted a drop-top (or “spyder” in Italian sports-car speak) version. Finally in late 2022 they unveiled the MC20 Cielo — that’s Italian for “sky” — declaring the new convertible would be characterized by an incomparable “Sky Feeling.” The MC, you might recall, stands for Maserati Corse (“racing”), so this is a vehicle dually devoted to “driving pleasure in the great outdoors” and “all the prerogatives of a true supercar.” One hundred percent made in Italy, it was developed at the Maserati Innovation Lab in Modena and produced at their historic factory on Viale Ciro Menotti, linking the Cielo’s state-of-the-art styling and engineering to Maserati’s deeply impressive heritage and competition pedigree. With 621 hp courtesy of its 3.0L, Twin-Turbo V6 “Nettuno” engine, the MC20 Cielo rockets from 0 to 62 mph in just under 3 seconds and tops out at nearly 200 mph. No wonder British GQ has dubbed it “the thinking person’s mid-engined, drop-top supercar…more likely to be driven in circles around [London’s] Royal Opera House” than buzzed along in some less cerebral locale. However, we think a car as perfectly balanced as this — for an Italian exotic, it manages to command attention without screaming “Look at me!” — with its unmistakable Maserati styling and smoothly powerful core, can be driven anywhere you damn well please, with the maximum of pleasure to be derived from the experience.

2
Lamborghini Huracán EVO Spyder

If you’ve ever looked at a Ferrari and thought “Nice, but a bit tame,” odds are good the object of your lust has a raging bull on it in place of a prancing horse. Lamborghini has carved out quite a niche for itself by dialing up the classic Italian combo of eye-popping performance with aggressive styling, with the key difference that any idea of restraint has been chucked out the window. This has not only made its mouthwatering models popular with the roaring-down-Collins-Avenue crowd, but also with those who like to whip their rides around the track on the weekend. And Lamborghini has answered their prayers with the ultimate drop-top for just such a requirement: the Huracán EVO (for evolution) Spyder.

Its 640 hp may be less than that of the 296 GTS, but thanks to its naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V10, this beauty “roars with authority as the exhaust announces the presence of a formidable machine,” whereas the Ferrari emits more of a throaty growl. The EVO Spyder is nearly as fast, as well, with a 0 to 62 mph clock of 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 202 mph. “The Huracán EVO Spyder incorporates all the performance, next-generation vehicle control and aerodynamic features of the EVO coupé, with its own unique personality and a driving excitement that only an open-top car can offer,” as Stefano Domenicali, the dashing chairman and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, puts it. “The Spyder continues the Huracán EVO’s evolutionary charge: extremely easy to drive while excelling as a highly responsive, fun super-sports car…. [Its] design, performance and exhilarating open-air drive experience are literally breathtaking.”

3
Ferrari 296 GTS

While Maserati certainly more than holds its own in the supercar sphere, there will always be those purists among us for whom it remains a “baby Ferrari” — and for these men of means, only the real thing will do. Nor does the marque ever fail to deliver a pulse-racing new drop-top for its Ferraristi to salivate over; there’s a reason the waiting list to buy any new Prancing Horse typically runs close to a couple of years. This season the object of obsession is the 296 GTS, proffered as the “evolution of Ferrari’s mid-rear-engined two-seater ‘berlinetta spider’ concept,” and powered by a new 120° V6 engine coupled with a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) electric motor. That makes it the most powerful ride on this list, with a whopping 818 horsepower, kicking it from 0 to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds with a top speed of 205 mph. EVO magazine calls it “compact, pure and almost classically styled,” noting that while it is “wildly potent,” it’s also a rare Ferrari that “seems to want its driver to enjoy peace, to take in the sights and sounds” sans the roar of the larger-cylindered engines the Maranello-based marque built its reputation on. Now that Ferrari has declared this to be “the age of the V6,” the 296 GTS is leading the charge as a “peerlessly elegant epitome of the open-air hybrid concept [with] unprecedented architecture for a spider,” the brand says. Lighter, faster, more nimble — and, dare we say, a little more laid-back? This is certainly a Ferrari for a new era.

4
Aston Martin DBS 770 Ultimate Volante

Now on to the Brits. Keep the noise down a bit, please. There’s a reason they call them “secret” agents. That’s more like it. The Aston Martin DBS Volante, is, of course, the kind of car James Bond would drive. And 007 would especially chomp at the bit to get his hands on the just-announced open-top edition of the new DBS 770 Ultimate, the “final celebration of the DBS nameplate and the most powerful DBS to date.” The Volante version, limited to just 199 examples worldwide, will of course lay claim to nearly 800 hp as its name suggests, though few details had been released as of press time. The car is expected to be powered by an amped-up version of the standard DBS’s 5.2-liter twin-turbo V-12, which is of course nothing to sneeze at, boasting even more cylinders than the Huracán EVO Spyder — and, therefore, in point of fact, perhaps even a bit too vocal for the likes of MI6, unless you soft-pedal it. Aston Martin’s styling, however, is much more at home in civilized surroundings; one can’t really imagine pulling up to Blades, the semi-fictional London gentleman’s club in St. James, for a confab with M at the wheel of a Lamborghini. Until and unless you can get your gloves on one of the 770 Ultimate cars, we’d wager that the “stock” DBS Volante is more than adequate for the average millionaire, whether British or not.

5
Morgan Plus Four

When it comes to quintessential British sports cars, none are more retro-exclusive and elegantly evocative of the grand old days than those of the Morgan Motor Company. It was, after all, the very first car purchased by the ultimate Anglophile, Ralph Lauren, when he first became a success; and, even more tellingly, he still owns it today. Morgans, while continuing to be built mainly from a combination of ashwood, aluminum, and leather, are nonetheless representative of the very latest in engineering and a hell of a lot of fun to drive — while offering a more exclusive-seeming and much more gentlemanly experience at a fraction of the price of the other cars on this list, amongst which it can doubtlessly hold its own. Do not expect the Plus Four — the follow-up to the Plus Six Morgan launched in 2019, though all but indistinguishable from Ralph’s ride of 50 years ago — to keep pace with an Italian supercar. Its BMW-sourced 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline four-cylinder engine delivers a relatively modest 251 hp and a top speed of 149 mph, but that’s hardly the point of a Morgan. It simply exudes exponentially more class, out of all proportion to its price tag. For a hand-built British motorcar that wouldn’t look out of place in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, it nonetheless can emit a serious growl when the pedal is pressed with extra verve. When our friend Duncan Quinn drove one around London’s Mayfair recently, people popped their heads out of shops and restaurants all down the street to see what looked to stately yet sounded so menacing when provoked. The sheep’s clothing in this case is impeccably tailored by Savile Row.

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Jared Paul Stern
Jared Paul Stern
Jared Paul Stern is Executive Editor of Maxim magazine, Editor-at-Large of JustLuxe.com, and a Contributing Writer for Nobleman Magazine and Enthusiast Report.
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