Convertibles usually offer sporty driving experiences – especially as two-seaters with powerful engines under the hood.
Even in convertibles (and other types of cars) without sporty characteristics, manual transmissions provide higher levels of driver engagement, car control, and fun than cars with automatics.
Fewer and fewer new vehicles in North America are being offered with stick shifts. That’s why we’ve researched and compiled a list of cheap convertibles with manual transmission for open-top fun on summery days.
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#1: Fiat 500c
Like a shot of espresso in the mornings, a slick-shifting manual transmission in the retro hatchback Fiat 500c is quintessentially Italian.
The Fiat 500 is a true city car, and in the 500c convertible guise, it adds even more panache, style, and urban chic to its already hefty dose of Italian flavor.
A peppy 1.4-liter turbocharged engine kicks out 135 horsepower. Mated to a 5-speed stick shifter, it is fun – and easy – to dart through rush-hour traffic or freeway cruising.
Value for money? The Fiat 500c with a manual transmission offers that in bucketloads. When new in 2019, the Fiat 500c had a sticker price starting at $19,035. Today, you can buy a 2018 and 2019 model with reasonably low mileage for under $12,000.
If you scroll further down, 10-year-old Fiat 500c examples start at just $4,000 for retro-tastic open-air fun. A cheap convertible with a manual transmission? Don’t overlook the Fiat 500c!
#2: Fiat 124 Spider
The second Fiat on this list of cheap convertibles with manual transmission is none other than the 124 Spider.
The original Fiat 124 Spider was created in 1966 and was an icon of its time. Re-envisaged in 2016 with the underpinnings of the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the Spider channels much of its predecessor’s spirit while blending today’s modern advancements.
It offers a healthy portion of Italian convertible flair for its price tag of $26,995. Under the hood is a lively 1.4-liter turbocharged engine in perfect harmony with its smooth 6-speed manual transmission.
Its lightweight nature and turbo power allow swift acceleration and a playful driving feel. The responsive stick shifter further augments the sensation of being one with the machine.
Casting your search across the pre-owned market, relatively new 124 Spiders with low mileage are available at $22,000. Ones that are a handful number of years old with reasonable mileage have asking prices of around the $15,000 mark.
The Fiat brand’s commitment to affordable motoring doesn’t make this a boring convertible to drive. Its performance and features are decidedly engaging.
Breezy open-top motoring that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg? The modern 124 Spider lives up to its forebear’s legacy of elegant motoring for every man (and woman).
#3: Mazda MX-5 Miata
Ever since the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s introduction to the North American market in 1990, this two-seater convertible has defined the convertible car concept with its lightweight design, punchy engine, and everyday ease-of-use charm.
Latest generation Miata models are equipped with easy-to-shift 6-speed manual transmissions, rev-happy 2.0-liter gasoline engines, and a price tag starting at just $29,215.
With a sporty 2-seater like the Miata, carving canyons is all the more fun with a stick shift. There are even racing classes developed around the Miata because these are such fun cars to drive, even on a race track.
Much of that has to do with the slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmissions, peppy naturally-aspirated engine, and lightweight design philosophy that enhances the fun factor.
Suppose you’re keen on dipping your toes into this car category. In that case, you’ll be incredibly pleased to learn that older models of this distinctive 2-seater can be had for far less than that sticker price – without compromising the driving dynamics, reliability, and value for money that turns owners into Miata enthusiasts.
For instance, you can buy a lightly used 10-year-old example for less than $10,000. Looking further back, you’ll find an older model – still in good condition – for around $5,000.
Mazda has retained a consistent design philosophy with the Miata over its various generations, keeping it compact and focused on driving fun. While some features, such as safety, have evolved, the core principles have remained intact, ensuring that every generation of Miata offers a pure, simple driving experience.
Driver engagement with a rewarding manual transmission? Check. Japanese reliability? Check. Open-air thrills? Check. The Miata is a bargain convertible – no matter the model year you choose to park on your driveway.
It’s no wonder that the Miata is the world’s best-selling drop-top.
#4: Mini Cooper Convertible
The Mini Cooper Convertible is a quirky, compact, and retro-styled British icon with a legion of fans the world over.
This 2-door, 4-seater convertible has a crisp 6-speed manual transmission paired with a range of lively engines, from fuel-efficient 3-cylinders to potent turbocharged versions.
Rowing your gears – whether cruising the beachfront at sunset or zipping down alleys in the city –adds to the appeal of this drop-top compact.
As with the Miata, the Mini Cooper Convertible has a ready-to-play attitude. It is nimble in city traffic but also exhilarating to drive on the open road. It is renowned for its go-kart-like handling characteristics, and the stick shift enhances that feeling even further.
With the Mini, it’s not only about spirited drives; it’s about personality. The Cooper Convertible offers a dazzling array of customization options, from Union Jack convertible tops to bright interior trims, owners can make their Mini truly theirs by reflecting their personal style.
The price tag for all fun? Retail pricing for new models starts at $36,695.
Looking towards the used market will yield fantastic deals for those on a tighter budget. You can easily find a dozen or more 3- to 4-year-old examples for around $20,000.
Still cheaper? Previous generation Mini Cooper Convertibles in good condition can even be had for $10,000 – and less.
#5: Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
American muscle-car styling and thrills sum up the Chevrolet Camaro Convertible. Whether you opt for the latest generation’s V6 or V8 powerplants, the 6-speed manual transmission adds even more hair-on-your-chest attitude to this drop-top’s appeal.
Wind your hair, sun on your skin, and an aurally-pleasing exhaust note, the Camaro Convertible is a feast for the senses.
The Camaro Convertible is a gutsy vehicle to drive with a satisfyingly slick 6-speed manual that maintains the enthusiast’s appeal.
Tantalizingly, the chassis is highly communicative. It begs to play on twisting roads while being suitably composed for cross-country trips.
As with any other $38,495 stickered car, the Camaro Convertible is equipped with the latest touchscreen infotainment displays, driver assistance systems, and modern conveniences that make living with it on a daily basis so very easy.
#6: Ford Mustang Convertible
Steeped in history and synonymous with American muscle, the Ford Mustang Convertible is an icon, blending the allure of classic design with today’s advanced engineering.
When it comes to sporty driving, the Mustang Convertible doesn’t disappoint. It is available with a fuel-efficient 2.3-liter EcoBoost or rorty 5.0-liter V8, the Mustang has won over many fans.
But, the 6-speed manual transmission truly lets drivers best connect with this pony car.
Driving with the top down and a stick shift in your right hand is a sublime driving experience in the Mustang Convertible – even more so with the burble of the V8 in your ears.
With a starting price for newer models at $34,645, the Mustang Convertible offers a lot of bang for your buck. Yet, its value proposition doesn’t end there.
The used market makes it possible to snag a well-maintained 5-year-old model for under $20,000. Even more fantastic bargains can be found for those fond of earlier generations.
For many, the Mustang Convertible embodies the spirit of open-air motoring thrills. Equipped with a manual transmission – and any of the model’s illustrious models over the decades – it promises an experience that’s hard to match.
#7: Nissan 370Z Roadster
Nissan dropped the 370Z Roadster from its sports car range at the end of 2019. It had a sticker price of $42,815 at that time – and a sweet 6-speed stick shift.
While that price might not be widely regarded as low cost even today, in the realm of 2-seater convertibles with sporty pretensions, it promised to be a relative bargain for driving enthusiasts.
Under the hood is a 3.7-liter V6 gasoline engine producing 332 horsepower for the rear wheels to drive the sleek Japanese 2-seater. It was able to hit 60 mph in a shade under 5.0 seconds. It is most certainly no slouch.
With a driver-focused cabin design, a throaty exhaust note, and more than enough sports car DNA flowing through its oil pipes, the 370Z Roadster offered plenty of drop-top fun, style, and driving pleasure.
For all intents and purposes, it is a more muscular, heavier, and faster version of the iconic Mazda MX-5 Miata. Does that come with any compromises? Only that new price tag, if you buy it fresh from the factory.
You can score a lot of bang for your buck on the used market. The 370Z Roadster delivers massive convertible fun under the $14,000 mark for low-mileage examples from the 2010 to 2013 model years.
Like the Ford Mustang on this list, the 370Z Roadster will more than satisfy your dreams of a thumping big engine with open-air driving fun – on a budget. Grab one while you still can!