By the time it came to write it, the weather had turned and we were back in deep mid-winter again – the rain hammering down while summer seemed a long way away.
These small convertibles are the entry level into the fickle, weather-beaten world of convertible motoring. The days of soft (or hard) tops being banned from fleets are becoming a thing of the past.
These may be cheap, but for the most part they will offer consistent, reliable performance in all weathers, are often as safe in an impact as their solid-roofed counterparts and have decent security systems to cut the chance of being stolen.
If you look at the residual values as well, many of these cars achieve prices that the equivalent hatchback could never get remotely near.
Of the cars chosen, the newest is the MINI Convertible, launched at the Geneva Motor Show and soon to go on sale. There seems no stopping the MINI brand now and its inexorable rise as the number one most longed-for brand outside of the premium market. The soft-top MINI continues the bubbly character, retro theme of the tin-top and is as guaranteed a success as it is possible to have in the motor industry.
The Peugeot 206 CC was truly revolutionary when it was first launched, bringing foldaway metal roofs to the masses. It may be – relative to many of the others here – long in the tooth, but it is still pretty cute and desirable.
The oldest car here is the Mazda MX-5. It's still a great drivers car and its classical lines have aged very well, albeit with the odd tweak every now and again. The hood also drops in incredibly quick time to guarantee no ray of sun is wasted.
Ford's StreetKa went on sale early last year and revitalised an ageing, but still effective product line-up. In fact, so good is the StreetKa and so contemporary is its design that the question has to be asked why Ford took so long to build it.
In Luxury specification, it also comes with heated leather seats – essential for those chilly but bright summer mornings.
The Citroen Pluriel is a convertible, but the makers also claim it is about three other cars as well – a mini pick-up included.
The roof's mechanism is not as traditional as many of the soft-top convertibles, requiring the manhandling of various components to fully let the sky in, but this does mean that the Pluriel gives the driver more options on how to configurate the roof. Daihatsu raised a few eyebrows with the Copen when it was introduced. It looks like a miniature Audi TT, but has a metal roof that stows in the boot.
It has a tiny little 659cc turbocharged engine as well, which means that emissions, and therefore tax, are very low for this car.
Operations director, Inchcape Fleet Solutions
THE majority of cars in this selection have been developed from their hatchback counterparts and this can bring compromises. The MX-5 offers a good all-round package as it was developed from scratch. The Peugeot 206 CC is attractive but the MINI stands out from a user-chooser point of view as a car not defined by size and price.
Managing director, Zenith Vehicle Contracts
This sector's popularity has grown with the trend of drivers downsizing from large, stereotypical company cars to smaller, sportier variants. Manufacturers such as BMW have produced small cars that portray a feeling of sport and sex appeal. Others have tried (Daihatsu) but fallen short. It is already obvious that the ever-popular MINI is set to knock the MX-5 from the top spot.
Pricing manager, Lloyds TSB autolease
With summer just around the corner, every motorist dreams of driving a convertible on open country roads with the sun beating down. Manufac-turers have caught onto this and have launched numerous affordable convertibles to compete with the original mainstays of the sector. Looks and driveability are key, with practicality in third place. My favourite has to be the MINI.
Commercial director, Alphabet
This is a largely consumer-oriented niche but the new MINI Convertible and the well-established Peugeot 206 CC have strong fleet credentials. It is harder to fit some of the other more idiosyncratic models into mainstream fleet policies but by introducing an employee ownership scheme, for instance, firms could satisfy their drivers' preferences while also safe-guarding business imperatives.
Head of UK & international sales development, Arval PHH
So many policies exclude convertibles – a shame because most people want one at least once and the motivation of having the car you really want can be enormous. The flexibility offered by ECOS schemes may see more appearing in the company car park. Choosing requires research – best done in the winter when the harsh realities of the UK climate overrule vanity.
Vital statistics: how our models compare
Average rental rates
Citroen Pluriel £270
Mazda MX-5 £272
MINI Convertible £276
Ford StreetKa £294
Peugeot 206 CC £302
Daihatsu Copen £314
Average maintenance costs (3years/60,000 miles)
MINI Convertible £1,204
Citroen Pluriel £1,273
Ford StreetKa £1,391
Peugeot 206 CC £1,496
Daihatsu Copen £1,690
Mazda MX-5 £1,732
RV forecasts (3years/60,000 miles)
MINI Convertible £6,451/44%
Mazda MX-5 £5,817/39%
Ford StreetKa £5,244/38%
Daihatsu Copen £4,632/35%
Peugeot 206 CC £4,956/34%
Citroen Pluriel £4,526/33%
CO2 emissions (model g/km/tax band)
Daihatsu Copen 151/16%
Citroen Pluriel 157/17%
Peugeot 206 CC 166/19%
MINI Convertible 175/21%
Mazda MX-5 188/23%
Ford StreetKa 190/24%
Ford StreetKa 44.1
MINI Convertible 42.8
Citroen Pluriel 40.3
Mazda MX-5 39.2
Daihatsu Copen 36.1
Peugeot 206 CC 35.8
Citroen Pluriel 1.6 16V SensoDrive
Brown: The Pluriel adds image and interest to the range but is not as cheap to buy as you might expect. The multi-mode roof looks fun but can be complex and has some heavy parts. May be cheaper and more attractive without the SensoDrive gearbox.
McMahon: Although Citroen can make affordable small cars, the Pluriel may have limited success. The semi-automatic gearbox seriously affects performance, while the roof mechanism is far from straightforward.
Pout: The Pluriel offers a relatively cheap opportunity for a topless runaround, but it's not the most comfortable ride and I wouldn't fancy taking it on a long journey. My guess is that economy was high on the designer's list of objectives and the interior, although borrowing much from the C3, bears this out.
Schooling: The Pluriel's cute looks and innovative features make you want to ignore its rather indifferent road manners – and many people will do just that.
Cope: The Pluriel fails to deliver in this sector. The poor gearbox and fiddly roof overpowers the ingenious design and idea.
Peugeot 206 CC 1.6 S
Cope: The Peugeot dominated this sector when it was launched in 2002, but the early cars proved to be unreliable, with drivers soon realising that looks aren't everything. This car's lack of space limits its appeal and feasibility as a practical car.
Pout: The 206 has a sporty feel, with stylish looks and aluminium interior details. Suspension gives a sense of confidence and security. The three-year, 60,000-mile warranty suggests confidence in reliability, but it is on the pricey side of its peers.
Schooling: The powered folding hardtop made the 206 CC an immediate winner. Despite being quite pricey, it is the second-best-selling small convertible in the fleet market.
Brown: Peugeot brought the folding hardtop to the mass market and it is a concept that works well in the UK, but there have been reliability issues with the roof.
McMahon: The desirability of the 206 CC will ensure the residual values remain strong. However, it suffers the same driving position problems as the standard 206. Limited boot space with the roof down is a minor quibble with a car this good-looking.
Average monthly rental £302
P11D price £14,737
Average net price £11.853
Average maintenance £1,496
Average RV £4,956/34%
Arval PHH £298.89
Lloyds TSB autolease £304.00
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £616/1,120
2004 VED bill £145
MINI One Convertible 1.6
Cope: Yet again BMW has come up trumps with the launch of a convertible version of their already iconic MINI. This will be the must-have car this summer, despite minimal discounting, but sky-high RVs will compensate.
McMahon: Following in the footsteps of the hard top, the MINI Convertible is proving very popular. The quality and engineering that BMW brings, plus the heritage of the MINI, will make it very hard to beat in this sector.
Brown: Surely one of the must-have cars this summer. The solid feel and excellent driving dynamics back up the image and the only real downside is the lack of space in the rear and the temptations of the options list.
Pout: The looks, the tradition and BMW quality standards are a heady cocktail to make this retro icon highly desirable. At the top end of the price bracket but with a strong RV and excellent reliability after a shaky start, this is the obvious choice for a small convertible.
Schooling: Not only is the outstanding new MINI Convertible eminently desirable, it is the most cost-effective fleet purchase by a wide margin, thanks to the keen price, strong residual value and the TLC fixed cost servicing option.
Average monthly rental £276
P11D price £14,542
Average net price £12,284
Average maintenance £1,204
Average RV £6,451/44%
Arval PHH £285.02
Lloyds TSB autolease £299.00
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £672/1,222
2004 VED bill £145
Ford StreetKa 1.6i Luxury
McMahon: Ford has a real solid performer with the StreetKa. Although the Ka is beginning to show its age, the StreetKa is a fantastic way to get the top-down driving experience at minimum cost. Ownership costs are low and residuals boosted by leather on this model.
Pout: A StreetKa named Luxury? Ford obviously thought 'desire' might be stretching things a little – then again, so is 'Luxury' in my view. Certainly it is a fun car to drive; it won't set the pulse racing through acceleration but it gives a solid feel to the driver, good road handling and lively steering.
Cope: The StreetKa provides a cheeky alternative within the sector, although this comes with a high price tag. It will attract the image-conscious driver.
Brown: Endorsed by Kylie Minogue, the StreetKa is cute and fun to drive but the interior can be quite basic.
Schooling: The StreetKa is not quite as good as it could have been but that hasn't stopped a queue forming for the limited numbers coming to the UK.
Average monthly rental £294
P11D price £13,762
Average net price £11,857
Average maintenance £1,391
Average RV £5,244/38%
Arval PHH £284.72
Lloyds TSB autolease £300.00
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £727/£1,321
2004 VED bill £160
Pout: This is cute and sexy. It drives really well and gives a genuinely sporty ride. From a build quality point of view, this stands up well versus its peers and the metal electric roof is an impressive feature. With the roof down the boot won't hold much more than a beach towel and a pair of flippers.
Schooling: The tiny Copen clearly boasts a huge entertainment-to-weight ratio, although it is probably best appreciated in suitably small doses. Only a handful are likely to find their way on to fleets.
Brown: The Daihatsu has baby TT looks, a folding hardtop and a 660cc turbocharged engine which all combine to create a unique small car.
Cope: The Copen's small exterior appearance is carried all the way through, and cannot be forgiven as there are very few redeeming features. Poor handling, ride and styling make this car the weakest in this sector.
McMahon: Daihatsu may not have the best image in the world but this vehicle is a real head-turner. Higher maintenance costs and lower residual values result in the Copen having the most rentals in this sector.
Average monthly rental £314
P11D price £13,370
Average net price £11,206
Average maintenance £1,732
Average RV £4,632/35%
Arval PHH N/A
Lloyds TSB autolease £305.00
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £471/£855
2004 VED bill £125
Mazda MX-5 1.6i
Schooling: The MX-5 was an instant classic and continues to impress, with a growing number of drivers choosing one as a company car. Specify the removable hard-top option when ordering.
Pout: This option definitely comes out well in the rentals – principally due to its enviable RV. This says a lot about the durability and build quality. It's a bit noisier than most would prefer but, in common with its peers, what it loses in overall comfort it makes up for with sporty appeal and good looks.
McMahon: The MX-5 has set the standard. It seems to have been around forever but the MX-5 still looks fresh. It has the best performance by far and healthy residual values, although running costs are high.
Cope: The MX-5 is very much the old hand in this group, having dominated the sector since 1989. It combines all the characteristics of a good all-round sports car with an affordable price tag but its ageing looks may see it slip against the likes of the Mini and the StreetKa.
Brown: The Mazda MX-5 kick-started the roadster revival in the early 1990s. It delivers genuine driving enjoyment from the uncompromised chassis layout.
Average monthly rental £272
P11D price £14,802
Average net price £11,206
Average maintenance £1,732
Average RV £4,632/39%
Arval PHH £261.91
Lloyds TSB autolease £269.00
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £749/1,362
2004 VED bill £160