Differences Between Convertibles, Roadsters, and Targa Top Cars


How to tell the difference between these top-down cars

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We all know certain cars' roofs can be removed, but there are a lot of different names for the different top-down cars. Is a targa top or targa roof the same thing as a regular drop-top retractable roof, and what is the difference in the cabriolet vs convertible debate? Many people use these terms interchangeably, which only makes the confusion worse. This guide will help you to separate what makes each style unique so that you can impress your boss when you compliment him on his stylish open-top car.

Targa Top Cars Porsche

The Types of Car Tops

First, we need to understand which of these terms are synonyms, as well as what each means because there are various types of convertible tops:

  • Convertible/cabriolet. A convertible's name says what it is. It's a vehicle that can be converted from closed to open by folding the roof down. It's the same as what a cabriolet is - the latter is just a French-derived word for convertible. Thus, the definition of convertible and cabriolet are one and the same. The roof can be made of fabric or a layered composite material, but in either case, it retracts and is usually stowed in the trunk, eating into cargo space. Modern convertibles generally have two doors and four seats, the rear seats usually being very small. There were a few 4-door models in the past, but it's hard to make a long, open, four-door convertible's body structurally strong, and the market for such cars is limited, so they've died out.
  • Roadster/speedster. Roadsters are convertibles in a sense too, although the name erroneously implies the roadster can convert between open and closed top, when in fact, roadsters are roofless all of the time. The roadster definition stipulates that this is an open-top car with two seats, made for sport. So, while all roadsters are convertibles, not all convertibles are roadsters. Some European manufacturers call a roadster a spyder or spider - an 1800s name for a lightweight horse-drawn carriage. Speedsters, like roadsters, are hardcore, lightweight cars with no tops and sometimes even no windscreens, such as the McLaren Elva.
  • Targa top. The main difference between the previous two and targa-top cars is that the roof panels of a targa top car are removed manually. The roof panels attach to a roll bar that runs the width of the car behind the driver and front passenger, and can be taken off or left in place - they do not retract into the car itself. The roll bar remains in place and adds to rigidity and safety.

Cars With No Tops at All

We've briefly mentioned the roadster and the speedster - the most hardcore type of open-top car. Besides having no roof at all, speedsters of 100 years ago often didn't even have doors or windshields. The whole premise of the body style is that it is light, small, fast, and open - very open. US legislation requires that modern cars must have windshields. Porsche has been playing fast and loose with the speedster nomenclature, with all its recent speedsters having lightweight, manually folding canvas roofs. However, these limited-run cars are sufficiently differentiated from the other Porsche convertibles in the range to qualify as modern-day speedsters.

Roadster vs Convertible vs Targa Roof vs Cabriolet… What To Choose?

If you just want to cruise the boulevards and you need occasional rear seats for small children, a four-seat cabriolet/convertible is ideal. For the most part, targa tops don't offer any improvement in passenger space but do have more cargo space in the trunk as there is no need to stop a folding roof. In the battle of targa vs cabriolet, it really comes down to what your needs are and the type of vehicle you want. Broadly speaking, convertibles are more luxury and comfort-oriented, while targas often boast more performance benefits.

When it comes to the choice between roadster vs convertible, remember that roadsters are roofless entirely, which means you won't be able to drive it in all weather conditions. Additionally, these are usually high-performance sports cars, while cars with retractable roofs like a regular convertible can be more comfortable, can be used daily, and still offer some sporty aspirations.

Convertible Roof Porsche
Convertible Soft Top CarBuzz
Roadster vs Convertible CarBuzz

Deciding: Convertible Soft-Top vs A Convertible With A Hard Top?

A convertible usually has one of two types of tops - soft or hard. A soft top usually weighs less, folds faster, and takes less space to stow, meaning that the vehicle will have more trunk space. Negatives include more wind noise and the fact that it's easier to break in through the soft canvas.

A folding hardtop is usually slower, much heavier, and more complex, but when closed, the vehicle has the refinement and security of a normal coupe. There are notable examples of fast and light folding hard-tops, like those manufactured by Mazda and Ferrari. Whether you choose a convertible with a hardtop or a soft-top will depend on your priorities and weighing up the above-mentioned pros and cons.

Cars With Targa Top unsplash.com


Although the lines between different drop-top cars have become blurred nowadays, they provide the option of wind-in-your-hair thrills, which makes for a more visceral motoring experience. Buyers in the USA have no shortage of options, with the only limit being how much they want to spend, whether it is a $3,500,000 Pagani Huayra Roadster BC or a $27k Mazda MX-5 Miata. The line-up of Mercedes convertibles is huge, too, extending from around $55,000 to nearly $200,000.


What was the first car with a convertible hardtop?

In 1931, Georges Paulin first applied for a patent for a detachable hardtop, and his Eclipse hard-top design debuted on the 1934 Peugeot 401D Éclipse Décapotable.

What was the first power-operated convertible hardtop?

It is believed to be the 1957 US Ford Crestline Skyliner. Its entire roof lifted off without folding and was stowed under a reverse-hinged trunk lid. The whole operation took only around six seconds but the system was complex and expensive, making for a near-$3,000 car - very expensive at the time.

How durable is a canvas top?

The lifespan of a canvas top is difficult to predict and can be shortened by frequent folding and excessive sun exposure, for example. A good-quality canvas top with a glass rear screen can last decades with proper care and if parked indoors.

Should I buy a used car with a worn soft top?

A worn soft top in need of replacement can reduce a car's value by thousands of dollars and make it a bargain, but you'll have to do your homework first to see if the cost of a replacement will be worth it. Some old, low-price convertibles' soft tops can be ordered for a few hundred dollars and replaced by a competent home mechanic. Others will cost thousands.

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