Not exactly as cool as Herbie, but still remarkableThe Beetle's small size, sheer amount of character, and unmistakable looks make it an automotive icon.
Brought back from the dead in 1998, the Volkswagen “New” Beetle was a runaway success for the past decade. I have a huge amount of respect for the design team put in charge of rejuvenating the Bug for its second generation, because it’s incredibly hard to modernize a retro design. Cars like the PT Cruiser and the Chevrolet HHR vanished after just one generation, and the Mini Cooper just put on weight and spawned a series of spinoffs. All-new for this year, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible is an interesting entry into a car class that doesn’t exactly appeal to the motoring enthusiast.
The Beetle is in a class of its own; compared to other niche market cars such as the Mini Cooper, the Fiat 500, et al. I’m going to go out of the Beetle’s comfort zone here and compare it to the Chrysler 200 Convertible, because it’s really the only real ragtop that holds a candle to the Beetle. The drop-top Mini is an absolute hoot to drive and essentially embarrasses the Bug in every way possible, so I’ll avoid comparing notes there.
Powered by Volkswagen’s 2.5L inline 5-cylinder mated to the 6-speed Tiptronic automatic, the Beetle Convertible doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s quick enough to keep up with the flow of traffic in most situations, but with 170 horsepower, you can really feel every pound of the ragtop’s weight. On a positive note though, the 5-cylinder has a lovely sound, and the Beetle Convertible’s stock exhaust sounds perfectly adequate. The rental-spec 2.4L Chrysler 200 Convertible is far more anemic and therefore makes the Bug the far more appealing option as an affordable rental that’s actually tolerable to drive. By the way, I achieved 10L/100km in combined driving. Luckily, the 2.5L 5-cylinder sips regular fuel.
The equipment list on my Beetle Convertible was pretty generous. I drove a Highline model with the Technology Package; giving it literally everything from leather seats to a navigation system and a 400-watt Fender audio system. Top down driving is one of my favourite parts of the warmer months, and music is a personal passion of mine. Therefore I typically complain about the inability to hear the stereo in a convertible on the highway. However, that wasn’t even slightly an issue with the Beetle. The Fender system provided a brilliant amount of clarity right up into the higher volume levels; virtually no distortion at highway speeds.
The one biggest hesitation that Volkswagen faces is its reputation for, er… questionable reliability. Most of the cars in Volkswagen’s beautifully-equipped fleet of testers have less than 5,000km on them, so it’s hard to gauge reliability. However, in the case of my Beetle Convertible, it had a serious glitch with less than 200km on the odometer. The driver’s side window appeared to have a mind of its own; it would go up or down as it pleased. After a conversation with Volkswagen Canada, I’m writing the issue off as a glitch not picked up during the PDI process.
In the fall, I was fortunate enough to experience the redesigned Beetle hardtop with the turbocharged engine and Volkswagen’s trademark DSG transmission. I really liked that powertrain and transmission combination. After a few days with this 2.5L and 6-speed automatic car, my appreciation for the other application was only solidified. Unfortunately, for the time being, the Beetle Convertible is only available in this configuration in Canada. It’s a crying shame too, because this car would be phenomenal with more power.
Throughout my time writing about cars, I’ve done my level best to have a certain level of objectivity. There are cars that some people “wouldn’t be caught dead” driving, and I’ve heard that comment more often than I’d have liked to. I maintain that I have zero limitations and am willing to experience just about anything for the sake of testing. Some cars inevitably get more attention than others, and the Bug Convertible is a great example of this. On a top-down cruise through downtown Toronto with my mom, three people gave us the thumbs-up, two of them being middle-aged women. When out with my male colleague, both of us in our mid-twenties, we received quite a bit of “negative” feedback confirming stereotypes around guys driving Beetles. The experience only diminished my faith in society as a whole.
As a purist, I have a huge soft spot for the original Beetle. I affectionately named my first car “Herbie”, and maintain that I will one day own and tinker with a classic Bug. Its small size, sheer amount of character, and unmistakable looks make it an automotive icon. The new one though; not so much. It’s too big, doesn’t really have as much character, and isn’t as easy to tinker with. The 2013 Beetle Convertible is still unmistakable as a Bug though, and based on that sole fact, it will sell well.
2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible