Topless Volkswagen Beetles have been around a very, very long time, and during its more than five decade presence on the market the Beetle convertible has managed to achieve iconic status amongst those who appreciate its carefree image, its mechanical and styling simplicity, and its association with the counter-culture.
While the hippie movement might have run its course long ago, and very few aspects of the counter-culture that it represented have escaped commoditization, Volkswagen has been able to keep the original spirit of the Beetle Convertible alive. We were given the opportunity to drive the latest generation of this rag top along the twisting roads of Malibu, California, and while the weather didn’t exactly cooperate we were able to form a strong impression of just how competent the most recent version of this car has become.
Classic, Not Retro, Styling
Rain and fog descended on Los Angeles the week of the 2012 L.A. Auto Show, which hosted the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible’s big coming out party in North America as well as our First Drive event. Beetle Convertible sales start in December of this year, and while it might seem strange to introduce an open air vehicle during the winter months, VW is clearly targeting warm-weather states where the cooler season makes top-down driving more comfortable.
Due to rainy weather, we got the chance to see the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible with the top raised fairly often during our L.A. stay, which led us to draw parallels between its new, flatter roofline and that of early Beetle rag tops. This is a deliberate family resemblance, and one that reinforces the already-introduced Beetle Coupe’s styling cues that draw from and update the history of the vehicle rather than simply copying older models note for note. We found the new version of the Convertible’s looks handsome, and feel that the straighter lines, and the car’s longer wider, and lower stance should help it appeal to a wider range of buyers.
Inside, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible is identical to that of the coupe, which means understated trim made of high quality plastics and soft-touch materials. Leather seats are optional with the car, but we preferred the quick-drying V-Tex base upholstery, which simply looked to be a better fit for the Convertible’s cabin and is standard with the car. Base models have a few areas that feel a bit cheaper than maybe they should, especially the entertainment system and the dimpled expanse of plastic on the steering wheel spokes where stereo controls are found on higher end editions of the car, but past that we were not disappointed by the car’s trim.
Like the coupe, front passengers have plenty of room, but those riding in the rear will most likely find their heads rubbing against the cloth top – if they can cram their legs into the small foot well. The rain cleared up enough for us to drop the automated top for most of our driving time, and we were struck by just how calm and quiet the cabin was at highway speeds, regardless of whether the available wind deflector was in position or not.
Three Flavors of Beetle Convertible
A trio of 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible drivetrains awaited us at the Santa Monica Pier, which is where we started out sojourn up the Pacific Coast Highway into Malibu’s canyons. We started out with the vehicle’s standard 2.5-liter, five-cylinder mill, which produces 170 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Available exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission, we were pleased overall with the motor’s pick-up, as well as with how smoothly it moved through the rev range. The base suspension was also quite comfortable at highway speeds.
If one is interested in a manual transmission VW Beetle Convertible, it is necessary to upgrade to either the turbodiesel or turbocharged gasoline editions of the car – each of which also offer the option of a six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual gearbox. The 140 horsepower, 2.0-liter TDI was up first, and we instantly noticed just how much of its 236 lb-ft of torque was available from down low when launching the car off of the line. Rowing the car through its traditional six-speed manual gearbox, however, also acquainted us with the out-of-breath feeling that accompanies the turbodiesel at higher revs. We detected a hint of understeer and scrub while hustling up twisty, wet roads through the Malibu fog, but nothing unmanageable – and certainly not enough to negate the significant advantage of the TDI’s 40-mpg on the highway.
The final ride of the day was in the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder model, and its 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque gave it the most unique character of the three models. With substantial go available from idle to redline, we were happy to spin up the turbo and keep our right feet planted while piloting this model. Suspension tuning also felt improved over the TDI, helping the turbocharged edition of the Beetle Convertible seem free spirited and almost sporty.
An Excellent Value
It’s possible to get behind the wheel of a 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible for just under $25,000, which to us seems like a screaming deal for a fun car with vestigial rear seating. Four passengers with the top down is a possibility in the Beetle Convertible, but we wouldn’t want to make it a habit. Instead, consider the three different personalities offered by the vehicle: affordable summer car (base), frugal sun-worshipping commuter (TDI), and racy weekend toy (2.0 turbo). The Beetle Convertible has come a long way from the previous generation’s lifestyle accessory status, and points to the engineering effort that VW has invested in this low-volume, but important member of its lineup.
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