How the sun set on convertibles – plus the electric versions you can buy now

The electric convertible Maserati GranCabrio Folgore will be on the market soon
The electric convertible Maserati GranCabrio Folgore will be on the market soon - MAXSAROTTO

A litre of petrol cost 80p, the Ford Focus was Britain’s best-selling car again and, joyously, not one SUV registered in the top 10. Twenty years ago, despite our unpredictable weather, the country was also the convertible capital of Europe, buying twice as many soft-tops as Italy – and 10 times more than in sunny Spain.

Regardless of a rain-drenched summer, open-roof car sales peaked here in 2004, at more than 90,000. British drivers were living the topless dream, soaking up a dose of vitamin D on the way to the office, frightening pedestrians with a track from the latest Dizzee Rascal CD.

However, since then, the sun has slowly set on convertibles, which last year claimed only 1 per cent of new car sales. The majority of brands no longer offer an open-top model and for those hoping for an affordable, battery-powered example, it could be a very long wait.

Despite figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which show that battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales climbed 17.8 per cent last year, there’s currently a dearth of electric convertibles. Plug-in examples range from the tiny Abarth 500e to the even tinier Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio and… not much else.

Max Missoni, design director at EV brand Polestar, said cost-conscious manufacturers transitioning to BEV were focussing on the most popular type of car first, those being SUVs. Sports utility vehicles accounted for 60 per cent of new cars in 2023, even though the Government is calling on manufacturers to concentrate on smaller, more affordable electric models first.

The Polestar 6 LA Concept is expected to cost around £165,000
The Polestar 6 LA Concept is expected to cost around £165,000

“With the adoption of new technology like BEVs, manufacturers have to prioritise the more desirable models available to the masses,” said Missoni. “As this technology is scaled up and development and consumer costs reduce we will likely see more lower volume product lines, like convertibles, start to emerge.”

While electric cars are also heavier because of the weight of their battery packs, Missoni says a BEV platform is still the perfect basis for a convertible. “The thrill of enjoying an open-air experience, unsullied by engine noise and tailpipe emissions, makes them a unique and thrilling proposition. The challenges with building an open-roof BEV are no different to an open-roofed car with an ICE [internal combustion engine] powerplant, namely ensuring a stiff structure.”

That usually means managing more structural weight too, with stiffening added to compensate for the rigidity provided by a fixed roof. However, Polestar says it will use a stiff, bonded aluminium platform for the forthcoming Polestar 6 convertible, which requires no additional bracing in the build process.

Due for production in 2026, the Polestar 6 LA Concept edition quickly sold all 500 build slots. Customers paid a £20,000 deposit to secure first versions of the two-seater, which is expected to cost around £165,000 and will accelerate from 0-60mph in only 3.1 seconds.

However, the first to arrive at a Maserati dealer near you this year is the GranCabrio Folgore, which looks remarkably similar to its current V6 sibling – which also looks remarkably similar to the beautiful GranTurismo of old, a stylish coupé that stayed in production for 12 years.

More expensive will be the Maserati MC20 Folgore convertible, expected in 2025. Launched alongside a hard-top version, the tri-motor, 700bhp convertible will likely cost in excess of £220,000 and also promises staggering performance.

The all-electric MG Cyberster with scissor doors is due on sale this summer, priced from around £50,000
The all-electric MG Cyberster with scissor doors is due on sale this summer, priced from around £50,000

Even faster will be the long-awaited, second generation Tesla Roadster. The fastest production car not yet built was first revealed six years ago and is now due to be delivered from 2025 onwards.

The four-seater will feature a removable glass panel roof that stores in the boot, like the targa tops of old. Thanks to rocket-like thrusters developed by SpaceX, Elon Musk claims the car will travel from 0-60mph in an astonishing, if unlikely, one second. What could possibly go wrong…

Details on the drivetrain are still sketchy at best, with a 200kWh battery – twice that of a current Tesla car – 1,000bhp and three electric motors the latest predictions. Prices would start from around £160,000 – not exactly within reach of the average driver. So, what’s coming that is affordable?

The all-electric MG Cyberster with scissor doors is due on sale this summer, priced from around £50,000. The first MG convertible since the TF is similar in size to the Jaguar F-Type and impressed critics who drove it in China last autumn, with performance figures that outpace a combustion-engined Porsche Boxster.

A pair of electric motors offer all-wheel drive to transmit the car’s 536bhp, with a 0-62mph time of only 3.2 seconds. The 77kWh battery manages 360 miles between charges. A less powerful, single-motor version of the Cyberster develops in excess of 300bhp and will offer rear-wheel drive fun, just like the original MGB.

Pininfarina's B95 hypercar sets buyers back  £3.75 million
Pininfarina's B95 hypercar sets buyers back £3.75 million

Elsewhere, many manufacturers I contacted didn’t want to talk about BEV convertibles. Lotus, which created the 1962 Elan – one of the greatest open-roof cars of all time – said it didn’t have any on the drawing board; Lexus and Rolls-Royce wouldn’t discuss future products; Aston Martin won’t launch an EV of any kind until 2026.

Last year, Mini offered a BEV convertible restricted to 150 examples in the UK that cost an eye-watering £52,500 each. However, despite production of a new cabriolet later this year, the company still won’t confirm an electric variant. Mini’s owner BMW itself has no convertibles scheduled either, while Volkswagen-owned Bentley recently delayed delivery of its first all-electric model of any type to 2026.

While VW ponders a roofless version of its ID.3 hatchback and Genesis works on a production version of its X Convertible concept, buyers will likely have to wait until the next decade to experience the joys of a singed forehead and burnt thighs in an open BEV. At least Pininfarina may have build slots available for its £3.75 million B95 hypercar, if you’re very quick.

Small mercies

The mainstream manufacturer convertible BEVs you can buy now:

Fiat 500e/Abarth 500e Cabrio

The Fiat 500e/Abarth 500e Cabrio
The Fiat 500e/Abarth 500e Cabrio

The cute Cabrio has an electric, sliding roof to let in the sunshine. The retro looks and funky interior won’t appeal to everybody but it travels up to 199 miles on a full charge and costs from £34,195. The sportier Abarth versions are an extra £3,000.

Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio

The Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio
The Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio

A two-seat runabout, the Smart has a measly range of up to 80 miles and is priced from £24,645. Great for city streets, the small range and a 17.2kWh battery mean it’s not suitable for long distances or faster roads. At least the tiny dimensions make it easy to park and weave through traffic.