2013 VW Beetle convertible

LOS ANGELES — Few of us were around in 1949 when the type 15 Convertible was introduced by Volkswagen. In essence it was the first Beetle convertible and over a 32-year span the company produced more than 330,000 of the popular little cars. With a salute to the past, the third-generation Beetle convertible, introduced at the L.A. Auto Show, has three specific editions that harken back to the three distinct decades of the iconic vehicle in American history: the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Each has its own unique paint: the ‘50s is classic black with a tan interior; the ‘60s has two-tone seats and Denim Blue paint that is reminiscent of blue jeans, which VW alludes to as the “attire of that decade;” and the ‘70s edition has a Toffee Brown exterior and chrome-look disc wheels.

Although the new Beetle bears a nostalgic resemblance to the Beetle of old, Volkswagen is not enthralled with emphasis on retro-looks. The 2013 model is substantially wider, has a longer hood and a more upright windshield that sits further back than before. A standard rear spoiler reinforces the Beetle’s sporty look.

It has a bold stance via wider tracks, a longer wheelbase, a longer and wider overall dimension and a 1.1-inch lower roofline. In actuality, even with the top up the convertible has a lower roofline than the coupe. Furthermore, since the soft top takes up less space than a folding hardtop the vehicle offers more trunk space.

Just because this Beetle is a convertible with no solid roof doesn’t mean it’s any less safe than the coupe model of the same vehicle. A lot of extra bolstering and stronger sheet metal has gone into the body structure and when combined with inherent safety technology makes the 2013 Beetle Convertible one of the safest cars on the road.

It boasts an Automatic Rollover Support System, two roll-over bars concealed behind the rear bench seat-back that when activated by the computer deploys the airbags in the case of a crash. It also includes VW’s advanced Intelligent Crash Response System that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors and switches on the hazard lights if the car is involved in certain types of collisions.

Three engine choices are available for 2013: a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder that develops 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque; a 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder that puts out 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque; and a 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection Clean Diesel engine that produces 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.

When equipped with the six-speed manual transmission the diesel version has an EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 28 miles per gallon-city/41 mpg highway, making it one of the most economical convertibles on the road. The other transmission choice is a six-speed automatic.

What’s better than driving through the sunny skies of Southern California with a convertible top down? Don’t ask me because I don’t care WHAT Albert Hammond said, it DOES rain in Southern California and the skies took out their vengeance on us journalists as we test drove the new Beetle Convertible through a series of twisty mountain roads, freeway driving and through the city and suburban streets of the Los Angeles area.

However, the real surprise came when we were able to experience first-hand the absolute interior quietness. The only reason to raise your voice while riding in the vehicle is if you have rear-seat noises that constantly cackle about how long it’s taking to get where you’re going. Another surprising feature is how good the visibility is even with the top up. The rear, heated glass window, though on the small side, doesn’t really block much, if any vision.

The new Beetle’s ride is very good. All convertible models are fitted with a strut-type front suspension with lower control arms and an anti-roll bar. The back gets a multi-link independent rear suspension with coil springs, telescopic dampers and an 18-mm-diameter anti-roll bar. Depending on how it’s equipped the vehicles comes standard with 17” wheels and available 18s.

As I’ve heard asked many times, “Who put eight great tomatoes in that little, bitty can?” Same could be said about how VW managed to create room for four full-sized adults. I personally witnessed a man who could play center at 50 percent of the colleges in the country ease himself into the rear seat. Granted, it was made easier by his first lowering the top, but the old adage of “man do what man got to do” still rings true.

Front seat legroom is a very comfortable 41.3 inches. Total interior volume is 51.9 cubic feet. Cargo volume is an acceptable (for what it is) 7.1 cubic feet. The front-wheel-drive compact convertible has a curb weight beginning at 3,206 pounds for the 2.5L w/automatic transmission and goes up to 3,296 pounds for the TDI w/automatic.

There are scads of optional packages available on the new Beetle Convertible; load it up with your choices. Among them are technology, sound and navigation combinations. Even basically equipped the new Convertible has something for everyone. There’s a really good RCD 310 eight-speaker sound system w/aux-in, V-Tex leatherette seating, heatable front seats, Bluetooth technology, Media Device Interface w/iPod cable, three-color adjustable lighting and a host of other amenities.

VW must have some real confidence in its entry in this segment because it has targeted its competition: for the TDI it’s Fiat 500c and the Mini Cooper Convertible; for the Beetle Turbo its sights are set on Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang Convertible and Mini Cooper S Convertible. I’d be hesitant to go into battle against those soldiers with an M1A1 tank.

I do know that VW has priced its 2013 Beetle Convertible very competitively. MSRP begins at $24,995 for a 2.5L equipped with an automatic transmission and eventually works its way up to $32,295 for the Beetle Turbo Convertible with six-speed DSG automatic transmission and the Sound and Navigation package. Destination charges add another $795.

Were there things about the new Beetle Convertible I didn’t like or care for? Probably, but I was having too much fun driving it to notice them. I’m easily spoiled by grandchildren and fun-to-drive small cars that are built to please.

— Al Vinikour