This is a chart comparing the current shortlist for my next automotive purchase in a number of areas. I did my best to compare them accurately but I have little to no firsthand experience with any of these, so any corrections would be greatly appreciated. I'm mostly concerned with the relative values, e.g. is a C4 Corvette more reliable than an E30. The actual number is meaningless, just an assessment of how close something comes to meeting my optimal expectation in a certain field.
I'm also open to any suggestions of cars that you think would be better than whatever is on this list, although they must at least have a targa or T tops. Honestly as it stands I'm pretty close to chucking the W124, but I figured I would give it a chance to redeem itself if I was wrong about anything.
A little explanation of each of the fields to clarify:
Initial Cost: the higher number, the higher quality car I can get upfront within my budget (approximately 8,000–16,000 in 2015 dollars). I attempted to correct for regional variations. For example, since I'd likely be buying the car in Michigan, Corvettes will be easy to find than other places and convertibles a little harder.
Maintenance Cost: how much does it cost to fix something when something goes wrong. This is separate from reliability. I only allowed a slight variance for DIY maintenance since I have no experience wrenching at the moment, and thus wouldn't be able to reliably count on this to affect my maintenance costs.
Reliability: pretty simple—how often can I expect an issue that needs to be fixed.
Fuel Economy: once again, pretty straightforward. Since this would be a DD I biased more toward highway miles for a hypothetical commute, so keep that in mind.
Practicality: separate from fuel economy, this is pretty much a measure of a car's ability to carry people and things.
Fun Factor: mostly subjective. Miata scores the highest because it's small and a full convertible. I ranked the E30 slightly lower since I don't think the convertible will drive as crisply as the Miata. Despite not being a full convertible I put C4 at the same ranking because it's relatively fast and has a V8. Z31 and AW11 rank below those because they're small and tossable but not full convertibles. W124 ranks the lowest (although still good) because it's the boatiest of the bunch. Full convertible though, so that's a plus.