Convertible, cabriolet and roadster: what’s the difference?

Convertible, cabriolet and roadster: what’s the difference?

We look at whether there's any difference if a car is classed as a convertible, cabriolet or roadster.

Cars which have a soft-top or metal-folding roof may be referred to as either a convertible, cabriolet or roadster, depending on the exact model and manufacturer you’re viewing.

But do they all mean the same thing or is there any significant differences car buyers should be aware of? This guide explores each body style term and what actually makes them different.

The differences

In truth, there’s hardly anything which separates convertibles from cabriolets and roadsters.

Ultimately, if a car is classed as any one of these things, it’s guaranteed to have a roof which can be lowered, allowing passengers to experience open top driving, and that’s what matters the most.

One thing to note though is that the term roadster is frequently used for two-seater sports cars, both those with a folding roof and others which don’t have any sort of roof at all (e.g certain versions of the Caterham Seven).

For cars with folding roofs and more than two seats, either the term convertible or cabriolet is more commonly used and they are interchangeable nowadays. While American car brands more commonly use convertible, several European manufacturers have used both the terms convertible and cabriolet (or cabrio for short) during their existence.

Some manufacturers may prefer to use the term cabriolet instead of convertible simply because it is the older word (it has been used since the 18th century) and see it as more traditional.

What about targa tops?

Targa top cars can also offer open top driving but the roof is more semi-convertible than fully convertible.

While convertibles, cabriolets and roadster do not have a rear window when the roof is folded, cars with a targa top have a fixed rear window which remains in place even when the roof is opened.

Targa cars also have one or two removal roof pieces (usually taken off by hand). Another unique design feature a targa top car may have is at least one piece of metal which links the front and rear windows and forms an uninterrupted line over the roof.

Are you interested in buying a convertible? Check out our guide to the best new convertibles to buy now. If you fancy a particularly quick example, you can also check out our best fast convertibles guide.

Latest Guides

Join the newsletter

Get the latest news, reviews and guides every week. Update your preferences at any time.