Just about everyone has a Beetle story. While this lovable bug may not boast the performance of a Corvette or Mustang, it has earned a place in American hearts. Over 300,000 VW convertibles were sold from 1949 to 1980. The “New Beetle’’ was introduced in 1997, with a convertible version in 2003. Volkswagen has redesigned the Beetle convertible for 2013, and though “new’’ has been jettisoned from the name, the latest version of the VW droptop has found better ways to pay homage to its heritage while becoming a more welcoming car for both sexes.
To put us in a California state of mind, Volkswagen invited us to Santa Monica then Malibu immediately following the LA Auto Show. Ironically, our time with the Beetle convertible was plagued by rain, though the overcast weather did not cloud our ability to see this new convertible for what it was: a more marketable bug. Volkswagen has macho’d up the Beetle, replacing many of the perfectly spherical curves with more angles and chunkier fenders.
This redesign of the convertible lets Volkswagen better attract male buyers, and you won’t find any flower vases. “Whoa, I would actually drive this,’’ was overheard said by another male journalist who will not be named.
The focus on “Flower Power’’ of the previous New Beetle Convertible also ignored the fact that Beetle was sold before and after the 60’s. To that end, Volkswagen will offer special models celebrating the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Even the standard 2.5L model, with a base MSRP of $24,995, came equipped with 17-inch Heritage wheels and a dash color matched to the exterior. Both are terrific homages to Beetles of several decades.
Luckily, the rain finally broke and we were able to take advantage of the key feature to this Beetle– its convertible top. Retracting in just 9.5 seconds and deploying in 11 seconds, this feat can be accomplished at speeds up to 31 miles per hour. The Beetle Convertible benefits from its past, in that the soft top does not need to cleverly stow away like many modern convertibles. Rather, it folds out behind and above the rear seats like its storied forbears.
The 2.5L inline-5 makes 170 horsepower while returning 21 miles per gallon city and 27 highway. This is the same engine found in the 2.5L Jetta, though it feels more sprightly in the Beetle Convertible– it could have been the added effect of the wind in your hair. If a little more power is your thing, the 2.0-liter Turbo, with an MSRP of $27,795 boasts 200 horsepower and 30 mpg highway.
The real fuel economy champion is the diesel-powered TDI model- a first for a Volkswagen Beetle Convertible. The 2.0-liter turbodiesel, direct-injected inline-4 makes 140 horsepower and an impressive 236 pound feet of torque. This engine, like the Turbo model, sends power to the front wheels through either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed DSG direct-shift gearbox. The TDI achieves 28 miles per gallon city and 41 miles per gallon highway.
All three engines make for an enjoyable driving experience, while the added torque of the TDI is an enthusiast’s dream when equipped with the 6-speed manual. Volkswagen’s attention to handling dynamics was a welcomed thing in the bevy of switchbacks that constitute the mountain roads of the Malibu hills. Though it is unlikely anyone will be autocrossing the Beetle Convertible, the added body rigidity is noticeable and welcomed.
Also welcomed is the available V-Tex leatherette interior trim. Though this feature may be dismissed in the closed-top version of the Beetle, the artificial leather staves off fading in the sun and serious damage in the rain. However, leaving the top down in a deluge is not recommended, lest you damage the incredible Fender audio system. Fender does not produce its own automotive stereo equipment. Rather, it tunes equipment from other manufacturers, and does a very good job at that. The sound remains crisp no matter how loud the volume, and rivals any other designer audio system on the market.
Like the Jetta and Golf with which it shares a platform, the Beetle features a simple and utilitarian available navigation system. While luxury automakers opt for highly detailed Google-maps-supported NAV systems, the simplicity of this system yields quick reaction to chances in course. All told, a range-topping Turbo model with the Fender system and Navigation will set prospective buyers back $31,195.
That price puts the Beetle Convertible at an interesting crossroads. The obvious comparisons are to the Mini Cooper Convertible and Fiat 500C, but at that price, and for the driving experience, you start to enter Mustang Convertible territory. Though an unlikely comparison, it was one that Volkswagen was willing to make, thus suggesting their desire to take on more corners of the convertible market.
We, as a society, are a nostalgic bunch. We keep vinyls around long after the advent of the iPad, and “I Love Lucy’’ is still aired in reruns. Even those who were born long after the conclusion of the original Beetle’s production still are intrigued with its exploits. By embracing the sound and look of the past, but the feel and performance of the future, Volkswagen has created a fun-to-drive drop-top that spans the decades, with the 2013 Beetle Convertible.