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Buying & Leasing a Car

A Roadster for Every Wallet

A bumper crop of fun and affordable sports cars hits showrooms.

Don't be embarrassed: That urge for a roadster is perfectly natural. You've reached the point when you're not completely committed to carpooling or chauffeuring, so you can have fun behind the wheel. Yes, you see plenty of singles and young, kidless couples in two-seaters, but most are sold to forty- and fiftysomething men at the peak of their earning power. The average income of these roadster-ripe buyers is more than $100,000, according to R.L. Polk & Co., an automotive- research company.

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Affordable Two-Seater Convertibles

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And there have never been more good, reasonably priced two-seat convertibles -- including the newest kid on the block, the Saturn Sky, which will take you from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than 5.7 seconds, and for less than $30,000.

The Sky has an appealing, curvy front end, muscular, flared fenders and a pert backside. The look is topped off by imposing 18-inch aluminum wheels. The rumble of the exhaust is empowering, guaranteed to remind you of when you spent at least three-fourths of your time having fun. The Sky starts at $25,325, or $29,025 for the turbocharged Red Line, which you'll need to crack the six-second barrier.

Reality check

Picking a roadster is an exercise in trade-offs. The Sky, for example, loses some of its luster when you examine it practically. To open the top, you have to unhook it from the inside (which also opens the trunk), then jump out to stuff the top into the trunk and push down the trunk lid. Going on a weekender with your significant other? Storage almost disappears when the top is down, so you're forced to travel light.

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And the 2007 models are basically sold out. If you place an order now, you can expect to wait until the 2008 models arrive (you'll have a similar wait for the Sky's slightly less curvaceous stablemate, the Pontiac Solstice).

Other sports-car trade-offs are just as stark. If you want raw power and enough cargo space to pack for a road trip, you can get a Corvette, but you'll pay $53,000. If you prefer the best value in top-down driving, you want the MX-5 Miata -- but it's the slowest pony in the pack. For midlevel budgets, it's hard to beat the Nissan 350Z's speed, comfort and reliability. But you'll pay extra for insurance because your fellow Z enthusiasts apparently let that speed go to their heads.

Then there's the Porsche Boxster, which combines classic cool with power and pinpoint handling. For Tim Aluise of Washington, D.C., the roadster's charm wore thin after three years because he found his sports-car fling to be high-maintenance. Aluise used the car primarily on city streets, and the stop-and-go driving ground down its thin brake rotors. He and his Porsche made frequent, "very expensive" trips to the shop, he says. Faced with a $1,000 charge to replace his worn tires, he decided to sever ties. Luckily, by that time his midlife crisis had safely passed. He sold the Boxster to his bachelor brother and bought a new Toyota Prius.

But roadsters as a group post better-than-average resale values, according to Automotive Lease Guide. The Corvette, expected to be worth 55% of its sticker price after three years and 41% after five years, is tops. The Porsche Boxster has the lowest projected resale value of the bunch: 48% after three years and 33% after five.

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