Summertime! Ah! Time to take off the anoraks and live! George Gershwin certainly captured the essence of our hottest season when he composed this masterful lullaby for his 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess. The lyrics of Summertime are all about the languid pace of life as the sun guns for high noon.

Let it be said, though, that summer has many faces. At its fiercest, it can be hell; sheer blinding heat drove Camus’ main character in The Outsider to kill another man. At the other extreme, summer floats with a slow sensual caress; every single drawn-out quiver of Gershwin’s opening clarinet prepares us for getting high on nothing more than a haunting melody and lazy tempo. If Summertime wasn’t so achingly beautiful, we’d probably tune in to the bouncy Vitamin C jollies of Mungo Jerry’s smash 1970′s hit:

In the summertime, when the weather is high You can chase right up, and touch the sky. Similarities between the two songs abound, not so? Temperatures soar, cotton is high. Fish are jumpin’, you can touch the sky. Or kiss it, like Jimi Hendrix in Purple Haze – which is only possible if you don’t have a roof up over your head. Summertime, see, is all about plugging straight into the source of all life. It’s about being topless. And the best way to go topless is, ahem, in a great car. Forget about a pool party populated by PLAYBOY’S best. A Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder will blow them into the weeds.

Upper-Class Playmates

First, though, the latest and greatest in open- topped mobility, which is BMW’s two 6 Series Convertibles: the 640i and 650i. As speed and performance is of the essence, both cars boast twin turbo-charged power. Yet, it is rather in the way that BMWs deliver their bang that so rewards the buck; engines and gearboxes are butter-smooth and the V8, at least, roars with proper anger. Handling, also, is top-notch, which means that 6 Series Convertibles reinforce all the classic BMW values: great dynamics coupled to mighty performance at superior levels of refinement.

Ditto for lesser stable mates, meaning 1 Series and 3 Series Convertibles, plus the intoxicating M3 Convertible. The latter is probably the best al fresco BMW, seeing that the aggressive-looking Z4 Roadster with its hard folding roof is slightly over weight, while steering is a tad remote. Grip, on the other hand, is so immense that you’d have more success in scraping a sticky Chappie clean off the asphalt than breaking the Z4′s tail away.

Which sounds impressive, doesn’t it, such a vicelike hold on the road? Yeah. But summer’s about fun as well. And let me tell you that the side-on position (from behind the wheel) is better than most in the Kama Sutra. Yet the Z4 won’t yield, despite bucketsful of promise and a mouth wider than Marilyn Monroe’s; you just can’t drive it sideways.

Squaring off against this squadron of great Bavarian convertibles are Stuttgart and Ingolstadt’s cabriolet squads – or open-topped Mercs and Audis, if you’re unfamiliar with automotive geography.

As packages, they’re equally competent, though each manufacturer focuses on different aspects of motoring excellence. In general, BMW would win the mechanical and dynamic contest, Benz would offer the best and most cosseting ride, and Audi will deliver the best packaging, build quality and styling, with special emphasis on interior design.

The Merc rostrum, then, would counter Munich’s onslaught via the beautiful E-Class Cabriolet plus two roadsters: (1) a compact SLK (of which the more nimble and agile new model with macho styling and much- improved engines has just debuted in SA); and (2) the truly mighty SL (of which the wicked SL65 AMG version is fired by a 6.0-litre V12 punching out a monstrous 1,000 Nm of peak torque to obliterate the 0-100 km/h run in 4.4 secs. It’s the sorta muscle that will rip the Terminator apart whilst the soundtrack roars.).

Merc engines are great, in any case, if not quite as soulful as BMW’s, nor quite as refined as Audi’s. That’s because they’re built extra-strong for durability, of course. On top of that, ride quality, noise isolation and crash protection are best-in-business, but gearboxes and steering lack a bit of speed, feel and precision, while interiors are perhaps a tad too technocratic.

This is precisely where Ingolstadt has cornered the automotive market over the last two decades; Audi design and build stunning cabins. Even their MMI infotainment interface is so much better than, especially, BMW’s iDrive. And yes, class-leading exterior styling has somewhat tapered off over the last decade, but there are signs of rejuvenation.

A formidable open-topped range thus starts off with Audi’s buxom little A3 Cabrio, followed by the elegant A5 Cabrio and, again, two roadsters: (1) the iconic TT (boasting direct petrol injection and an S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox distributing power to all four wheels); and (2) the sensational R8, of which the soft-top Spyder offers a slightly detuned version of Lamborghini’s thunderous 5.2-litre V10.

Super-Duper Playmates

Now, imagine sky diving without a parachute, or bungee-jumping without a rope. That’s the R8 into corners; the end is nigh – except that you can open the parachute at the last minute to slash speed like Slash does speed, at a ferocious rate. Turn-in, clip the apex and blast off again, all in one mighty swoop. It’s a bit like an eagle hunting mice; in you dive and off you soar, except that the Audi’s flight is accompanied by an awesome roar.

Pity then, about the V10′s gearbox alternatives: the manual is sticky; the automated R-tronic slow and jerky – an ailment also afflicting Aston Martins. Nothing wrong, however, with the new Virage Volante’s charismatic 6.0-litre V12 up front, nor with the chassis. Astons yield a surprisingly supple and absorbent ride in the softer of 10 different damper settings. And boy, the soundtrack will have every Playmate on this planet prick up her ears. Awesome brakes, too, which will stop the aluminium-bodied Virage right at the tips of her, well, pointy little shoes . . .

But don’t bet on Aston’s robotised box.

The Volante’s natural enemies are the Maserati GranCabrio, Jaguar XKR Convertible, Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, a Ferrari or two, a Porsche or three and the aforementioned Merc SL. The Lambo is wild, raucous, brutal, untamed, insane. If you want to challenge something, anything, even the summer sun, the V10 LP560-4 Spyder should be your weapon of choice.

“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,” the Beatles once sang. Re-tune all of this to Led Zeppelin or Metallica and you get the Lambo; it can do anything.

We’ve not driven the Ferrari California yet, but Maranello’s modern cars cut the mustard on so many levels that this new GT with its mid-front-mounted V8, banshee wail and retractable hard-top instantly renders the glory days of the late great 250 GT, which carried the California name as well. And yes, an extraordinarily pretty Californian maiden who just happened to be Maid of California, in 1959, once owned one. Her name was Raquel. And boy, think summer, sun, sweat and squelch…

Whoaa! From strident then, to trident; the latter being Maserati’s emblem. Is there anything prettier than a GranCabrio? Low-speed ride is way too firm, steering is too light and I haven’t noticed Raquel’s pointy little shoes, or pointy big…

Correction: I haven’t noticed Miss Welch in the passenger seat, at all. But the GranCabrio’s drive train and balance are almost as exquisite as the styling itself, which challenges the young Raquel’s own supernaturally good looks, which says it all.

You can trump the Maser, of course, with a Jaguar XKR – 5.0 litres of V8 power, let alone supercharged, is just too much for a 4.2 litre V8. The Jag’s greatest strength, though, lies in the seamless integration of systems: engine, gearbox, suspension, the aluminium body and chassis, Adaptive Dynamics and Active Differential Control all synchronise perfectly. Big words then, with big results – the XKR is a potent force.

Everyday Playmates

Enough of heaven, though. Let’s come down to earth and do some low flying in a tortoise that’s actually a hare: the Porsche 911.

First up is a truly rare kinda hare, or a speedy tortoise, in the shape of Zuffenhausen’s latest 911 Speedster. Paying homage to the first Porsche model with that name – the 356 Speedster – only 356 units of the latest Speedster were built, and they’ve all been sold. So, basta. Finished.

But don’t fret. For a little over two bar 105 you can get a 911 Turbo S, sans roof, with insane levels of power and torque – enough to catapult the car from 0-100 km/h in a shatteringly quick 3.3 secs! And that’s the thing with that 3.8-litre flat-six hanging over the rear axle: it pins the Porsche’s tail to the tarmac; traction is immense. Steering, too, is brilliant.

If your purse is not heavy enough to carry a 911 though, you can always go for the athletic little Porsche Boxster or heavy-hitting Nissan 370Z Convertible. Or what about the even cheaper Mazda MX5 or Mini Convertible, both with nimble handling and zesty performance? Women even go gaga over the Renault Mégane CC or Peugeot 308 CC. They’re a bit Porgy (or Porky) and Bess, perhaps. But they’re good for that lazy Sunday afternoon tempo that Gershwin did so well in Summertime. Just imagine: at the age of 37, she knew that she would, forever, drive through Paris in a sports car, with the warm wind in her hair. Crikey, that’s Marianne Faithfull’s Lucy Jordan.

One step up in energy, and we get Mungo Jerry; the unbridled joy and pep of the MX5 and Mini Convertible. Then comes the Boxster, 370Z, SLK, Z4 and TT; they’re Eddie Cochran or The Who’s Summertime Blues – without the blues: “Son, you gotta make some money/ if you want to use the car to go ride next Sunday…” After that we get the big guns. You can go to war with some of them, the Gallardo Spyder being a case in point.

But hey, calm down! Summer’s a song, the livin’ is easy, the rhythm’s relaxed, the go positively slow. And all you need is a bit of topless love.