Thumbs Up: Better than the last Beetle Convertible in every way
Thumbs Down: Cloth seats not available, not much rear passenger room
Buy This Car If: You were there in the 1970s and long for your first Beetle convertible
It’s probably safe to say that few cars ever sold in North America achieved quite as large a cult following as the original Volkswagen Beetle. Countless numbers of us learned to drive behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Beetle, and those of us in snow-belt states soon learned the advantage of skinny tires and a rear-mounted engine in winter. We also learned about things like snap oversteer on black ice, ejecting windshield wiper blades and a heating system that varied between “primitive” and “nonexistent.”
Though we can look back fondly on our memories of the VW Beetle, that doesn’t mean we’d want to make the concessions necessary to park an original in our garage. The “New Beetle,” launched in 1998, wasn’t exactly a step in the right direction, either. Essentially just a re-bodied Golf, the New Beetle’s three-arch design and cramped proportions did not age well, yet Volkswagen kept the car in production for some 13 years. Early models quickly earned a reputation for questionable reliability, especially on the used market, giving VW something of a bad name among potential buyers.
That’s all in the distant past now, and Volkswagen has recently launched a third generation of Beetle, with more emphasis on the original’s design and less focus on the “cute factor.” That’s not to say the new car is overly-retro, since it sports a design fresh enough to appeal to those unfamiliar with the original, while still speaking to first-generation owners. If that’s not crossing demographics, we don’t know what is.
The Beetle Convertible followed the Beetle to market at the end of 2012, and the new car is longer, lower and wider than the previous generation ragtop Beetle. Increasing the car’s proportions do a lot to up the car’s attitude, and it’s no secret that Volkswagen has gone to great lengths to pitch its latest Beetle, in coupe and convertible forms, to male buyers.
Though no other current Volkswagen model shares the Beetle’s rounded profile, there’s enough family resemblance to other VW models to keep things familiar. The front bumper, for example, gets the same angular styling as the current Golf, Jetta and Passat, while the rear lower fascia will look familiar to current VW fans as well. We give the German automaker credit for not pulling from the leftover parts bin when it comes to wheels; while the Beetle is available with stylish alloy wheels, it can also be configured with retro-styled alloys sporting chrome wheel covers.
Inside, the first thing you’ll notice is the outside (color, that is). Like the previous Beetle, the latest version uses body-colored dash and door trim in homage to the original. If you like the outside color of your car (or if you owned an original Beetle), you’ll probably love this nod to the past. Thankfully, the rest of the dash area is trimmed in black plastic and equipped with simple controls. To be honest, the infotainment system display is a bit small by contemporary standards, but we had no trouble with its operation and functionality.
Instruments are housed in an arched binnacle, centered in the driver’s field of view. The display is dominated by an oversize speedometer, flanked by a tachometer and the largest fuel gauge we’ve ever seen in an automobile. It’s a bit odd, if you ask us, and we wonder why VW didn’t opt to use a smaller fuel readout combined with, say, a temperature gauge. If you’re curious, coolant temperature can be seen in the driver information display (located at the bottom of the speedometer), which can also give the driver readouts on things like range, current fuel economy, average fuel economy, elapsed time and average speed.
Front seats are wrapped in what Volkswagen calls “V-Tex” synthetic leather. While it looks good enough (especially with the faux-carbon-fiber-patterned trim) and we’re sure it will stand up to years of abuse, it’s not the most comfortable of materials to sit on. It doesn’t breathe particularly well, and its tacky surface makes getting in or out in shorts an unpleasant experience. The front seats are otherwise excellent, but we simply couldn’t live with the V-Tex material in Florida’s summer heat. Please, Volkswagen (and other automakers), go back to offering cloth seats as an alternative to cow-from-a-test-tube.
Like the front seats, the rears are covered in V-Tex and trimmed with carbon-fiber-look vinyl. Head room isn’t bad with the top in place, but leg room is sub-optimal, even with the front seats pulled forward. Unless your friends are all short of leg, few will voluntarily sign up to spend long periods of time in the second row.
Like the last Beetle, the current version gets a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive. Volkswagen serves up three solid engine choices, including a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine (borrowed from the GTI) and a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel engine (pulled from the Golf/Jetta/Passat TDI). Our Volkswagen-supplied tester came with the base 2.5-liter five cylinder, which cranks out 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Ours came mated to the six-speed automatic transmission (a single-clutch unit, not VW’s superb DSG), which is the only choice available with the base engine. Opt for either of the turbocharged engines, however, and you can choose between the DSG gearbox and a six-speed manual.
With the 2.5-liter five cylinder, expect the run from 0-60 mph to take in the neighborhood of nine seconds, while the EPA rates fuel economy at 23 mpg combined (21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway). We saw an indicated 25.5 mpg in an even mix of city and highway driving (including heavy use of the transmission’s Sport mode), so it’s likely that the EPA numbers are on the conservative side.
The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible is one of those cars that drives better than the sum of its parts. Though not particularly fast with the base engine, opting for the transmission’s Sport mode does give the car more willingness to run, and its brakes deliver the best feel we’ve seen in a modern Volkswagen. Even the steering feel rises above what you’d expect, making the Beetle Convertible fun to toss around on a winding road in good weather. At highway speeds, cockpit turbulence isn’t bad and Volkswagen offers up an optional wind blocker for those desiring more open-air serenity. Dropping or raising the top is as simple as pressing or pulling a switch, and the lined-fabric top can be deployed or retracted at speeds up to 31 mph (a very handy feature should you mis-time the changing of a traffic light).
If you owned an original Beetle Convertible (or even an original Beetle), chances are the latest version speaks to you in some subliminal way. Unlike most modern automobiles, the new Beetle manages to pull off a distinct personality, heavy on the retro charm. If you’ve got fond childhood memories tied to the Beetle, we suspect that a single test drive is all it will take to convince you that the newest variant deserves a place in your garage.
Volkswagen supplied the 2013 Beetle Convertible with Sound and Navigation for the purpose of this review. Total sticker price on our car was $29,290.
For comparative purposes, a similarly-equipped MINI Cooper Convertible would list for $30,850, while a comparable Chrysler 200 LX Convertible would sticker at $29,875.