2013 Volkswagen Beetle ConvertiblePosted on December 1st, 2012
Life’s a beach
By Nina Russin
No car was a purer expression of the Summer of Love than the original Beetle convertible. With its air-cooled four-cylinder engine, four speed manual gearbox, canvas top and no-nonsense interior, the Beetle was the antithesis of Detroit’s mighty muscle cars, and hence an icon for the sixties counterculture.
It was for automobiles what the Jimi Hendrix was for music. Driving a Beetle said to the world: “I dance to the beat of my own drum.”
At a time when Americans are rethinking decades of excess, and reevaluating the value of human interaction as opposed to personal wealth, the Beetle convertible’s message takes on new meaning.
New generation of Beetle-maniacs
The third-generation Beetle convertible, which debuted at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, takes its cues, and its mission from the classics. Gone is the bulbous profile of the former generation, replaced by a leaner wedge. While the former model was sweet, the new car is more masculine. It begs to drink in life and spend as little time as possible in the barn.
Product planners were acutely aware of value. With a base sticker price of $24,995 for the 2.5-liter automatic, the 2013 Beetle convertible offers buyers a lot of content for the money. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels, iPod adapter, Bluetooth interface and leatherette upholstery are standard equipment.
The base 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower block is one of three available options. Others include the same two-liter turbocharged engine used in the GTI and a turbo diesel with 41 mile-per-gallon highway fuel economy.
Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmission on the base model. Turbocharged and clean diesel models come with a six-speed DSG automatic or the six-speed manual.
While inspired by cars from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the new Beetle is by no means retro. Safety features such as automatically deploying rollover bars, automatic fuel shut-off in the event of a serious collision, front and side airbags are clearly designed for today’s crowded highways.
The power top, which deploys in less than ten seconds, is extremely well insulated. The lack of noise intrusion into the passenger compartment is remarkable for an open-top car. So is the torsional rigidity.
All three engines offer owners ample power for commuting on crowded urban highways and respectable fuel economy. The dual-clutch automatic transmission available on the turbo and clean diesel models combines the convenience of no clutch pedal with the performance of a manual gearbox. It is also more fuel-efficient than an automatic transmission with a traditional torque converter, since it utilizes friction rather than fluid couplings.
Test drive in Southern California
I recently drove the 2.5-liter and turbocharged Beetle convertibles at a media event in Southern California. The day of the test drive was rainy, so we weren’t able to enjoy the tops down. But my driving partner and I got a good feel for performance on the Pacific Coast Highway, canyon roads in Malibu and a short stretch of the 101 freeway.
I started out in the black 50s edition 2.5-liter automatic. All three of the special edition packages are very attractive. The fifties car features a black exterior, the 60s denim blue and the 70s brown. I was especially impressed by the 70s car, simply because it is so much more attractive than anything which came out of that decade.
The 2.5-liter engine produces more torque than horsepower, which gives it good acceleration off the line and in the 20-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use on highway entrance ramps. It has the advantage over the turbo block of running on 87-octane as opposed to premium fuel.
The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly with no obvious shock except under hard acceleration.
Steering is pleasantly heavy, but offers ample assist at low speeds for maneuvering around parking lots. A 35.4-foot turning circle makes the occasional U-turn a non-issue.
Interestingly, the hydraulic power assist system on the base model has poorer on-center response than the electric power steering system on the turbocharged and clean diesel cars. It is the car’s only obvious flaw.
The suspension consists of a strut setup in front with multi-links in the rear and stabilizer bars on both axles. It is compliant enough to cushion the ride on uneven road surfaces without being overly soft.
Visibility around the perimeter is quite good. Convertibles can suffer from large blind spots in the back due to the small rear window, but this one does not. The window is glass rather than plastic, so buyers don’t have to worry about it fogging or turning yellow.
Since the car has no B pillar, over-the-shoulder visibility is excellent.
Front ventilated and solid rear disc brakes might feel soft, but are capable of stopping the car quickly if necessary, and provide firm, linear control.
Turbo engine for driving enthusiasts
As someone who enjoys pushing the envelope, I really appreciated the turbo model’s extra power and sport-tuned suspension. The turbocharged two-liter block produces 30 more horsepower and 30 additional foot-pounds of torque than the naturally aspirated block. The bigger difference is that it reaches peak torque, 207 foot-pounds, at 1700 rpm: 3000 rpm sooner than the base model.
I drove the turbo model through one of the winding canyon roads in Malibu. In addition to rain, there was dense fog on the ocean side of the mountain. The combination of the turbo engine’s flat power band and manual transmission’s smooth clutch action makes the car feel as if it is almost driving itself.
The other advantage of the turbo car is fuel economy, which is close to three miles-per-gallon better on the highway than the naturally aspirated block. The difference in gas mileage almost makes up for the price differential between regular and premium gasoline.
One of the biggest drawbacks to owning a convertible for buyers with active lifestyles is cargo space. Convertibles have small trunks, which become even smaller with the top deployed.
I applaud the design team for adding a rear pass-through. The convertible’s rear seat folds flat to extend the cargo floor, adding enough room for longer items such as skis and snowboards.
Product planners wanted to give the convertible a real back seat, in keeping with their goal of making it practical enough for everyday use. Legroom in back is adequate for kids and small adults, but taller passengers will feel cramped.
Styling inside the car is a nice blend of classic cues and modern technology. A flat-bottomed steering wheel is modeled after race car designs. The flat bottom gives the driver more room to move his legs.
The central screen is large enough for good visibility. The standard rearview camera eliminates blind spots in back when the driver shifts into reverse and makes it easier to monitor cross-traffic in parking lots.
A double glovebox is a nod to the air-cooled cars, which had a small “Beetle Bin” in the upper part of the dash. Turbocharge and clean diesel models also have an auxiliary gauge set at the top of the center stack which includes boost pressure, chronometer and oil pressure.
Manual seat adjustments are easy to use. I found the seats comfortable for our hour-long test drives.
Audiophiles can upgrade from the standard sound system to a Fender unit and add satellite radio. Other options include navigation, keyless start and leather upholstery.
All models come with front and side thorax airbags, antilock brakes and stability control. Volkswagen’s crash response system automatically shuts off the fuel, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard lights in the event of a serious collision.
All new cars come with three years of complimentary scheduled maintenance.
Like: A stylish, solidly constructed convertible with a refined powertrain, versatile interior and good fuel economy.
Dislike: Soft on-center response from the hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering system on the base model.
Model: Beetle convertible 2.5-liter and 2-liter turbo
Base price: $24,995 (2.5L); $27,795 (turbo)
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 170 Hp @ 5700 rpm (2.5); 200 Hp @ 5100 rpm (turbo)
Torque: 177 lbs.-ft. @ 4250 rpm (2.5); 207 lbs.-ft. @ 1700 rpm (turbo)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A*
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/27 mpg city/highway (2.5); 21/30 mpg city/highway (turbo manual)
Comment: *All models come with side thorax airbags.2013, Best Value 2013, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Auto Shows, performance, pricing, standard safety, Volkswagen
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