With sunny skies ahead, drivers’ thoughts turn to putting the top down and feeling the wind in their hair. But when shopping for an open-top car, you’ll find the terms “cabriolet” and “roadster” sometimes used interchangeably. What’s the difference between these two sporty convertibles? Read on to learn how these vehicles compare on design, performance, and features.
Here are some of the major differences between cabriolets and roadsters:
- Cabriolets focus on luxury and comfort with room for 2-4 passengers, while lightweight roadsters prioritize driving performance as strict 2-seaters
- Roadsters optimize for nimble handling with sportier suspensions and engines, while cabriolets have a smoother ride.
- Cabriolets offer hardtops or soft tops, but roadsters typically utilize soft tops to save weight
Defining The Terms
Cabriolets and roadsters share an airy open cabin and the ability to retract their roofs. But they prioritize different qualities:
- Originated as an early 20th century car with a folding textile roof
- Typically has room for 4 passengers
- Focuses more on comfort and luxury amenities
- Often based on an existing coupe or sedan model
- Originated in the early days of motor racing as a lightweight, minimalist speedster
- Strictly a 2-seater
- Prioritizes agile handling and acceleration
- Often has a bespoke sportscar design
|Luxury and comfort
|Performance and handling
|Hard-top or soft-top
Difference Between a Cabriolet & Roadster
There are a few key factors that separate these body styles:
- Roadsters are strictly two-seat vehicles, with a lightweight minimalist design focused solely on the driver’s experience.
- Cabriolets can have small rear seats and room for 2-4 passengers, making them more practical for carrying passengers.
- Roadsters prioritize nimble handling and driving performance above all. They have sportier suspensions, steering, and engines.
- Cabriolets focus more on comfort and amenities with luxurious interiors and smooth rides. They are often based on executive coupes and sedans.
- Most roadsters utilize lightweight soft-top roofs to lower their center of gravity. Some may have basic manually retracting roofs.
- Many modern cabriolets offer multi-layer powered folding hardtops for added security, sound insulation, and weather protection. But soft tops are still common.
Looking for an open-air exotic or just a fun weekender? Here are some top cabriolets and roadsters available:
Comfortable four-seat convertible with elegant styling and abundant features.
- BMW 3-Series
- Infiniti G37
- Lexus IS
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet
- Bentley Continental GT Convertible
- VW Eos
Performance-oriented sports cars designed for ultimate driving pleasure.
- Abarth 124 Spider
- Audi TT
- BMW Z4
- Mazda MX-5 Miata
- Mercedes SL (R129)
- Nissan 350Z/370Z
Convertible Variants and Terminology
The terms roadster and cabriolet are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings in the automotive world. Here are some other types of open-top cars:
A targa top is a semi-convertible with a fixed rear window and center roof section that can be removed. Porsche is famous for its 911 Targa models spanning decades. Targas provide more weather protection than traditional roadsters while retaining some open-air ability.
Spyder vs Spider
Spyder and spider are terms used by automakers to denote lightweight open-top sports cars:
- Spyder originated with Porsche’s 1950s 550 Spyder racecar
- Spider came from Italian racecars – now used by Lamborghini, Ferrari
- Same meaning – just different naming conventions
Drophead is a British term denoting luxury open-top grand touring cars. Rolls-Royce uses drophead coupe to describe convertible variants of its stately luxury vehicles:
- Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe models feature hand-crafted leather interiors with customization options
- Power-retractable hardtops made from five laminated layers for isolating from the elements
- The pinnacle of luxury open-air motoring for up to 4 passengers
As a happy convertible owner for over a decade, I’ve learned a lot about the pros and cons of cabriolets versus roadsters. In my experience, it comes down to your priorities – do you want an exciting performance machine or a more luxurious cruising companion to enjoy open air driving with your family or frineds?
If you’re all about thrilling handling and acceleration, a lightweight two-seat roadster can’t be beat. Lower to the ground with quick steering and trademark engine notes, they deliver fun in spades.
For those who prefer leisurely top-down drives, four-seat cabriolets offer greater comfort and amenities. With smooth suspensions and abundant insulation, you can enjoy hour-long country drives while passengers relax in heated rear seats. Most modern cabriolets even retain a surprisingly quiet interior when the roof is raised.
Either way, going topless lets you connect with the world around you.
Cabriolets and roadsters are both open-top cars, but have some key differences. Cabriolets are based on coupe or sedan models and have a retractable roof that can fold down to open the cabin to the air. They tend to retain familiar styling and amenities from the closed-roof version, including full windshields and side windows. Roadsters are typically 2-seater performance-oriented sports cars. Historically more spartan and performance-focused than cabriolets, roadsters sacrifice some creature comforts and trunk space.
Roadsters are generally faster due to being lighter weight and having more powerful engines focused on performance. Cabriolets sacrifice some speed for added comfort and features.
Roadsters almost always handle better given their sports car roots and performance-tuned suspensions. Stripped down with only two seats, they have quicker steering and grip the road tighter.
Top affordable models under $40k include the Mazda MX-5 Miata, BMW Z4, and retractable hardtop Chevrolet Corvette. Used options like the Porsche Boxster also provide lots of speed for the money.
The Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet, Bentley Continental GTC, and Rolls-Royce Dawn provide the most luxurious convertible experience that don’t compromise rear seat passenger room and amenities.
In-house writer and editor at CabrioNation. I've been a lifelong fan of convertibles ever since my first car, a well-worn Bimmer convertible that I learned to maintain from the ground up. Since then I've owned many soft and hard top models, becoming an experienced DIY mechanic and care taker. I also run a small repair shop and rental service in Montpellier, where I get to share the wind-in-your-hair feeling with customers while also helping fellow cabrio enthusiasts on maintenance and top repairs.