Written by David Boldt and BJ Killeen Photo: David Boldt
Just got a chance to drive the new 2013 VW Beetle Convertible. Had to go to a press event in San Diego, so I got some good miles in it between LA and down south. There’s no question that this car definitely fits the lifestyle of us crazy, sun-worshipping Southern Californians! The one I drove was black with a black top, fully loaded. The first thing that hits you is how similar it feels and looks to the entire lineage of VW Bugs. My sister used to own a black one, and although there have been many changes for the better, I got a bit nostalgic as I motored around in it. Did you drive the convertible as well, and did it have the turbocharged engine?
I had the benefit of the droptop ‘mit’ turbocharged diesel. Finished in a metallic gray and mated to a black interior and black top, the Convertible Beetle was about as guy friendly as VW’s newest Beetle is going to get. And while my testing took place in sunny — albeit frosty — North Texas this February, I enjoyed the convertible’s flexibility. Volkswagen’s turbo diesel pairs beautifully with the Beetle’s retro vibe, providing — as it does — a little more mechanical feedback than your 2.0T, a boatload of torque and outstanding efficiency.
And you’re totally correct in your reference to earlier Beetles, although I never bonded with the New Beetle once it moved from concept to production. Just as the original Beetle platform begat various offshoots (the Karmann Ghia and Kombi are the most obvious), so has today’s Beetle evolved from a Golf platform shared with any number of corporate siblings. The goodness of that platform is obvious, although I would enjoy just a tad more precision in the underpinnings. I wouldn’t need for my Convertible to have the overt sportiness of a GTI, but would enjoy a ride/handling balance skewed slightly more toward handling.
I started thinking about what you said, because while I agree with you on a bit more precision, what’s the real reason people buy convertibles? Are they driving it like a performance car, or do they just want something that gives them a sense of freedom, and aren’t really pushing the car hard? While the styling of this new model is definitely more “masculine” than the first redesign (I loved the flower vase, but that went away fast as it helped contribute to the “chick-car” status), it still feels a tad more feminine to me. My husband said he would feel less conspicuous behind the wheel with the top up. I gotta agree with him; it still feels like a girl’s car, and I believe that more as I drive around and see a lot of women behind the wheel of other Bug convertibles on the road.
Exterior design aside, you know it’s always difficult getting out of one car that’s completely different from the next car, and this was the case with me. I had been driving the BMW 750Li (we went to Arizona for Dodgers Spring Training!), so stepping down from a car to one about a sixth of the price took some acclimating. First, what I really noticed was the wind noise on the highway with the top up, but again, going from a tank to a convertible will make that stand out most. I had to drive with the top up from LA to San Diego since the weather is so erratic…it was 80 degrees when I left the Valley, while down toward the border it was foggy and cold. I dropped the top on the way home when I got closer to the warmer temps that a convertible demands. I did noticed, however, how quickly that top comes down, one button, and lighting fast! VW says it’s less than 10 seconds to lower and about 11 sec to put up, plus all four windows lower and raise automatically if you hold the button, which was a nice touch. I was talking to other journalists about the car, and it started a debate about hardtop or softtop convertibles. What do you think?
I’m glad you asked. While I like to think I’m fully committed to this century, I still like my convertible tops to be made of whole cloth. The convertible vibe, for me, is simply more credible if, when erected, the car features a convertible roof and not the “coupe-look” of a folding hardtop. Inevitably, the hard convertible top requires some degree of compromise in the car’s appearance to fold completely into the trunk. And if compromises aren’t made to the appearance, trunk storage – when folded – is almost completely eliminated. The worst offenders (to my eyes) are Lexus and Infiniti, with the IS and G37, respectively. Audi’s decision to retain the cloth top on its A5/S5 was brilliant, and I’d always opt for the Miata cloth top relative to its PHRT sibling. In sum, the Beetle Convertible, clothed in cloth, looks – and functions – like a convertible Beetle should.
With all of that, I understand those living in urban areas might enjoy the security of a hardtop convertible. And it doesn’t look like those target customers will lack for options.
Security is always a concern for me, but if the vehicle has a good alarm system, I’m okay with that. And I’m a Miata purist: on small vehicles, cloth tops are always a better bet since they are so easy to drop and raise. I did notice that with the top down, the Beetle had great visibility; being on the shorter side, I hate it when a top stack is so high in the lowered position that I can’t see behind me. I didn’t try to put on the convertible top cover because usually it’s a pain. Did you try that?
And what is your opinion of the interior? On the drive I thought it was comfortable, and the seats supportive. I loved that VW keeps the dash looking so close to the original, but obviously updated to today’s standards. What makes it recognizable is the flat, old-style upper glovebox that operates and looks the same as in the early Beetles. VW calls this the kaeferfach, or Beetle bin. The instruments were easy to read and reach, and I thought the nav screen and operation of the systems were easy to use. Plus the steering wheel controls always make me feel safer on the road because my hands stay on the steering wheel. I also had the Fender Premium audio system, which kicked out some serious sound. I played my music via the Bluetooth audio, but my biggest disappointment was that the USB port was housed in the glovebox, with just an auxiliary jack on the radio head face. That’s a really important feature to me in a car because when I drive long distances, I like to keep my phone charged. It’s almost useless being in the glovebox because I can quickly access the phone when parked, and I won’t forget it if it’s in front of me. I understand why VW puts it in the glovebox to resist temptation to touch it when driving, but it’s not my first location choice.