Make no mistake; the latest iteration of Beetle is new from the ground up.
Introduced in 1938, the Volkswagen Beetle (known in North America as the Bug) holds the honour of being the most-produced nameplate in history, with over twenty-one million produced. Such success is not the work of coincidence, but rather a combination of durability, simplicity, affordability, and a cheeky, lovable exterior that takes after the insect that it’s named after. In 1998, Volkswagen introduced a New Beetle that shared a platform with the Golf and Jetta of the era, even though they carried on production of the original model until 2003. For the 2012 model year, the second-generation modern Beetle went into production, dropping the “New” from its name.
Make no mistake; the latest iteration of Beetle is new from the ground up, but retains many of the same friendly styling cues that adorned the original car. Sporting a new 1.8L turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a Moonrock Silver paint job with Sioux canvas top, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Classic Convertible was sent over for a week of testing and evaluation. Volkswagen Canada was also kind enough to let a DoubleClutch.ca take a museum-condition 1979 Beetle Convertible out for a spin. With less than 800 kilometers on the clock, it was a great throwback to a time before computers and the Internet. Would the new car live up to the nostalgia of the past?
Like the original Beetle, the 2016 Beetle has two doors. The Classic option gives drivers unique 17-inch “Heritage” retro wheels that look like they could pass as 1960s steelies, but upon closer inspection, they’re made from an aluminum alloy and built to 21st century standards. The seating surfaces are also finished in special two-tone leatherette with a checkered beige pattern. While not necessarily the easiest to keep clean, they add further charm to the Beetle Classic’s personality. With seating for four (children only in the back, please!), the convertible gets a power folding soft top that operates in eleven seconds without having to operate any latches – the driver simply holds the button while the vehicle is stopped.
Also included is a tonneau cover that slips into place on top of the opened roof assembly. Although it was a bit cumbersome to install and takes up most of the trunk space when stowed, the cover created a much more aesthetically pleasing look. At speed, without the wind blocker that’s built into the tonneau cover, there is quite a bit of wind entering the cabin. Thus, for longer trips, passengers need to weigh the need for a quiet and comfortable cabin, or cargo space.
Inside the cabin, the infotainment system in the Beetle Convertible is new for 2016, and is greatly improved over the system it replaces. The menu layouts are improved, the system is more responsive, and the touch screen is larger and brighter. The navigation included on all Classics was easy to use, and Bluetooth phone pairing worked flawlessly. Automatic headlights are not included on the Classic, but would be a very welcome feature. There’s a good helping of shiny body-colour and piano black plastics all over the interior, and although they look great when clean, they will attract scratches and fingerprints over time. With all things considered, Volkswagen is typically well regarded for making interiors look good, and the Beetle is no exception.
Under the hood of the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Classic is a 1.8-litre, direct-injected, and turbocharged four-cylinder making 170 horsepower at 6,200 rpm, and 184 lb-ft of torque between 1,500 to 4,750 rpm. This ubiquitous corporate workhorse also sees duty in the Jetta and Golf, and is a welcome update to the 2.5-litre inline-five cylinder engine of yesteryear. While a bit coarser on the sound, the new four-cylinder is much improved in the throttle response and low-end torque department, while also being more fuel efficient.
Paired to the turbo-four is a six-speed automatic that shifts well and keeps the engine at optimum revs. Volkswagen has calibrated the transmission to select higher gears wherever possible, and uses the turbocharger’s boost to provide the extra oomph in lieu of revving the engine to the stratosphere. When in boost, the big flat torque curve between 1,500 to 4,750 rpm makes the Beetle feel like a freight train under acceleration, with steady, but not necessarily fast performance that won’t win any races. It also won’t leave drivers noticing a lack of power.
Underpinning the Vee-dub drop-top is a MacPherson-strut front, and rear multi-link suspension. With a curb weight of 1,463 kg (3,225 lb), the Beetle isn’t exactly a porker, and the suspension does an admirable job of balancing ride quality and handling. At highway speeds, the Beetle hunkers down and provides good stability, and the dampers do well in terms of body control. Steering feel is minimal due to the electric power steering, but is well-weighted. There is some amount of cowl shake in the chassis when going over larger bumps, but it’s not excessive and not out of the question when it comes to a convertible.
With the forced-induction four-cylinder engine, Volkswagen rates the Beetle at 9.8L/100km in the city, and 7.3L/100km on the highway. Those looking for fuel efficiency over the likes of a six-cylinder Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro convertibles may find solace in the VW. After a week of mixed driving, observed test economy was 8.3L/100km. Thankfully, even though it has the turbocharger, the Beetle will happily accept regular 87-octane. Volkswagen makes no recommendation for premium fuel, which would be unheard of five to ten years ago. The advent of direct-injection has allowed for the finer control of air and fuel mixtures, keeping detonation (“pinging” or “pre-ignition”) in check and allowing the use of regular fuel.
With an as-tested price of $28,550 before destination, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Classic Convertible represents a safe choice when purchasing a ragtop for the lowest price possible. The powertrain, suspension, and interior form a jack-of-all-trades combination that will satisfy the vast majority of drivers. Those wanting the fun-to-drive factor should consider the Mazda MX-5, and those looking for more aggressive styling might be well-suited to spend a little more for a Ford Mustang Convertible. The VW’s styling fills a fairly specific niche of the market. For those that like it, they can rest assured that they aren’t making many mechanical and practical compromises in order to enjoy open-roof motoring.