Cool rides for hot summer days 

Summertime, and the l

Summertime, and the living is easy - or breezy, with the top down and the wind in your hair ... unless you have a case of helmet hair if two-wheel transportation is your preference. With more than 50 convertibles available in the U.S., selecting the best top-down ride isn't easy. Deciding on a bike might be even harder. By no means comprehensive, this list of 2005 models is just enough to get your motors running. Convertible fun Mazda Miata: sticker $22,098-$24,903; mileage 22/28. The Miata revitalized the convertible market with its 1990 introduction and is still the standard when it comes to delivering top-down thrills. Creating 142 horsepower, this 1.8-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged version with its trademark agility and precise steering and handling has breathed new life into the popular roadster. Ford Mustang: sticker $23,870-$30,550; mileage 18/24. America's favorite pony car is available in V-6 and GT V-8 forms. Built from the outset with a convertible version in mind, this exciting incarnation provides a comfortable ride with reasonable precision at top-down touring speeds. Despite a little more understeer and moderate body roll, it's a solid car with a manageable push that otherwise stays obediently in place even with aggressive throttle input. Mini Cooper: sticker $21,450-$24,900; mileage 26/34. With its BMW-engineered suspension and steering (not to mention safety features), this retro go-kart is irresistible fun. But if you want the real fun that only the horses can provide, look for the "S." Toyota MR2 Spyder: sticker $25,145-$26,145; mileage 26/32. Though not practical as a daily driver even in the summer, the nimble Mister Two provides sharp and responsive handling and SMT transmission. And it scores high on the fun meter. The mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 1.8-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine produces 138 horses. Volkswagen Beetle: sticker $21,290-$26,525; mileage 22/41. No longer a hippie classic, today's Bug features retro styling, a range of engine choices, a long list of standard features and excellent crash test scores. The Turbo S is pricey, but worth it. Audi TT Roadster: sticker $35,500-$43,150; mileage 21/28. Sacrificing a little performance for one-of-a-kind head-turning style, this hard-to-resist cruiser features sophisticated DSG transmission and a strong V6 engine available in famous Audi all-wheel drive, but beware: Its hefty curb weight limits handling. Of the three engines available, the 3.2-liter V6 that delivers 250 hp competes best with the Z4. Chevrolet Corvette: sticker $50,735; mileage 18/28. The C6 is still a brassy, 6.0-liter V-8-powered American sports car with powerful styling and great performance, but now it's even better: longer wheelbase and shorter overall length; better ergonomics; greater displacement; more power; and a high level of refinement. It's quicker, it's more aggressive and it sticks to the road better. Few cars can equal the Corvette's handling and performance when pushed hard. Porsche Boxster S: sticker $43,800-$53,100. Stiffer suspension and a 3.2-liter dohc flat-6 give the Boxster excellent snap off the line, better stability through tight corners and increased speed exiting them. Handling is super-crisp and power delivery is seamless in this little gem. BMW Z4: sticker $34,300-$41,300; mileage 19/27. Although it has never achieved the acclaim of its predecessor, the Z4 is a luxury roadster with a long list of standard safety features and the exceptional quality you expect from BMW. The inline-6 provides plenty of grunt; however, its exhilarating driving dynamics are offset by notable wind and road noise and expensive options. Jaguar XKR: sticker $74,830; mileage 18/26. Jaguar's reputation for delivering the most beautiful mass-production cars ever made is not dispelled by the sleek and sexy XKR. A 4.2 liter, aluminum supercharged V-8 produces 390 hp, matched by sophisticated suspension and quick steering, as well as interior elegance, comfort and style. Light, precise steering and minimal body roll provide a smooth ride, making this more of a grand tourer than a sports car - but does that really matter? Money no object? Then consider the BMW Z8 Roadster, Ferrari 360 Spider, Porsche 911, Panoz Esperante or Dodge Viper. Motorcycle madness BMW K 1200 S: This high-precision sport bike offers unique agility and power. Its transversely mounted 1157-cc four-cylinder inline engine with integrated transmission is unique among sport bikes. Its revolutionary front wheel suspension uses two parallel links - without telescopic forks - to ensure responsiveness. Its lightweight construction helps the K 1200 S deliver superior handling, precision and overall rigidity. Triumph Rocket III: Featuring a unique, fuel-injected 12-valve longitudinally mounted inline three-cylinder engine with a cubic capacity of 2,294 cc, the Rocket accelerates incredibly hard without obvious effort, yet remains relatively nimble and easy to ride. Its relaxed, comfortable ergonomics don't detract from its raw character, muscular performance, stunning looks, attention to detail and monumental presence. Kawasaki Vulcan 2000: If you're looking for a traditional V-twin cruiser, this is the king: the largest V-twin engine in a mass-production motorcycle, producing 96.0 horsepower ... and a lot of torque coming out of corners. With a push rod design to reduce engine height, the Vulcan 2000's low center of gravity and relatively low seat height on a long, curving silhouette provide all-day riding comfort. Its power, presence and throttle response make it an attractive - and powerful - option. Harley Davidson VRSCA V-Rod: Another V-twin that has the traditional look of a narrow, big-inch engine, the V-Rod provides smooth engine power, with 71.9 pound-foot of torque and 115 horsepower from its fuel-injected 60-degree powertrain. Its handling and ergonomics take a little adapting: The feet-forward riding position and handle locations can make the bike feel heavy and uncertain in turns, with steering becoming progressively heavier as the turns tighten. Yamaha V Max: Now in its 20th year, the V-4 V-Max still packs a punch. Winning awards year after year illustrates its rock-solid reliability and overall power and performance. This power cruiser, with its original liquid-cooled, 1198 cc, DOHC, 16-valve, V-4 engine, looks, feels and rides like an old motorcycle. Ducati dreaming? Check out the 999 superbike. Known for offering series production bikes similar to their race versions not only in styling, but also in technical features, Ducati has implemented changes and improvements to its 150 horsepower racing bike: improved shocks; strengthened crankshaft; ventilated cam belt covers; weight-saving titanium valves; trestle-type frame, high-strength steel tubing; and cylinder heads and pistons designed specifically for racing combine to produce unequaled performance, solid handling and precision.

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Lori Lovely

Lori Lovely is a contributing freelance writer. Her passions include animal rights, Native American affairs and the Indianapolis 500.

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