The best cars of summer

Robert Duffer
Chicago Tribune

Long summer nights and bright early mornings mean our favorite season is here: driving season.

My Sky-equipped Jeep Renegades have removable roof panels over the front and back seats so all four passengers can soak up the sun.

We buy the practical car — the crossover or midsize sedan — for its capability in satisfying 95 percent of everything we want in a car.

Now it’s time to have fun, and scratch that itch on twisty two-laners that run far away from construction season and stretch deep into the twilight.

No machine embraces the sun quite like the convertible, but our favorite summer cars also include road warriors that can drive through the night in refined repose, double-duty vehicles that can hit the road as capably as the trail, and sports cars as cool as July is hot.

If summer wanderlust overwhelms, consider renting, or hitting car sharing sites such as Turo.com and getting good and lost in one of these:

Jeep Renegade: It’s cute, it’s fun and the My Sky-equipped models have removable roof panels over the front and back seats so all four passengers can soak up the sun. To stray from the beaten path, the Trailhawk version is off-road capable and oh-so likable. The Wrangler is still the quintessential summer car, but we’ll wait for the 2017 redesign before we start melting over it.

Redesigned for 2016, the MX-5 Miata is tighter, leaner and sportier.

Mazda MX-5 Miata: Redesigned for 2016, the world’s best-selling two-seat roadster is tighter, leaner, and sportier in every way. While we wait for the MX-5 RF fastback retractable hardtop, we’ll eagerly recommend a spin in a car that has been plastering sun-stroked smiles on faces for 25 years.

Subaru Outback: The classic American summer road trip family vehicle is the wagon. The Outback prefers black cladding to wood paneling and for good reason — it enables the AWD best-seller to hit the trail and ford the creek.

Buick Cascada: It can be dismissed as a rebadged Opel, the center stack is as congested as a big-city interstate, and it moves about as fast as a summer festival line, but the compact Cascada looks great, has lovely interior touches and can fit four better than any other drop top on the list.

The compact Cascada looks great, has lovely interior touches and can fit four better than any other droptop on the list.

Toyota Tacoma: Midsize trucks are making big strides in the best-selling pickup truck segment, and despite the return of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, we prefer the Tacoma for its versatility, practicality, and off-road capability. And the bed is great for camping or a night at the drive-in.

Kia Soul: There is something inherently fun about the Soul, whether it’s the boxy design that makes for great headroom and a bouncier ride quality, or the quirky interior styling with alternating illuminated dials and an available sound system that could be the soul of any beachside party. The top-of-the-line Exclaim trim is worth the rental upcharge, if available.

VW Golf GTI: There isn’t another hatch on the market that is more fun to drive for less than $25,000. Redesigned for 2015, the Golf doesn’t look much different but, is improved where it matters most. The sportier GTI hatch has a turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed manual transmission that is as exciting as tearing out of school into the first day of summer.

VW Beetle Dune: This spunky punchbug with wide hips and round shoulders demands to be promenaded down the sandy runways of the beach. Styled after the dune buggies of the ‘60s with flared fenders, a big spoiler and black cladding, Dune is much more Beetle than Buggy, so it’s best suited for concrete. It’s still a bucket of fun.

BMW M2: If you were to distill summer into one word, it might be sun. The only word for the M2 is fun. It is a pure driving experience without all the techno-gadgetry proliferating elsewhere — especially in other BMWs. If you want to go topless, check out the larger M4 convertible coupe.

A top that can retract while traveling at speeds up to 30 mph eases any cramped feelings in the Chevy Camaro.

Chevy Camaro convertible: The Camaro’s high belt line and low roofline have always made for a cramped (or snug) feel, depending on if you were raised in a Ford or GM family. But the convertible removes any coffin-like lid for sky-high visibility and a sense that you feel as cool as you look, and the top can retract while driving at speeds up to 30 mph.