Volkswagen Beetle convertible — Top-down cruising at its best

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The new Volkswagen Beetle convertible offers iconic open-air cruising at its best. And as rewarding as it was to go "topless" on an unusually warm winter day, the newest rendition of the soft-top Bug proved more impressive to us driving with its lid closed.

Volkswagen has created an interior environment unusually free from wind and road noise — thanks in part to the seven-layer top. That's an impressive feat in a convertible that comes in under 30 grand.

Nearly as impressive is the wind blocker that makes conversation in a normal tone of voice possible while cruising with the top down. And equally noteworthy is the remarkably short 9.5 seconds it takes to stow the top and the 11 seconds it takes to put it back in place — with the push of a button. Perhaps best of all, the top can be opened and closed at speeds up to 31 mph.

Like Beetle convertibles of the past, the top still stacks above the bodywork, but not enough to block rearward visibility. For a finished look, VW has provided a vinyl top boot that can be fairly easily installed with several clasps and tabs. But we discovered the boot consumed much of the 7.1 cubic-foot trunk space, so we removed it to the garage.

Although the new Beetle bears a nostalgic resemblance to the Beetle of old, 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.

Extra bolstering and stronger sheet metal has gone into the body structure and when combined with inherent safety technology makes the 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 — 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.

With the six-speed manual transmission the turbo 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 rated at 28/37. Our 2-liter gas turbo with manual scored 21/30 and the automatic was right behind with 21/29. Another cool feature, which comes with the turbo models, are secondary dash-top gauges dispensing such information as turbo-boost and oil pressure.

We are diesel fans and the ancient engine technology has never been better than in the 2013 convertible. The smell associated with diesel engines is history, and from the cabin it's nearly impossible to detect that familiar diesel engine growl. Performance is rewarding, measured at about 8 seconds from 0-to-60, and we discovered that even with our lead-foot gas-mileage-be-damned style of driving, we averaged about 35 mpg for 300 miles.

The interior layout is truly Beetle-like drawing its design inspiration from the Bugs of the past. A neat feature is the trim that runs across the dash and doors that can be painted the same color as the exterior.

Aside from the contemporary color schemes both in and out Volkswagen has created three specific editions each with its own unique paint that harkens back to the three decades of the iconic vehicle in American history: the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. The ‘50s is classic black with a tan interior; the ‘60s has two-tone seats and Denim Blue paint and the ‘70s edition has a Toffee Brown exterior and chrome-look disc wheels.

For a base price of $25,790 including destination the Beetle 2.5-liter is well equipped with such amenities as full power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, leather-wrapped tile-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated and height-adjustable front seats, leatherette upholstery, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system.

Both the turbocharged 2.0-liter version and the TDI (diesel) start at $28,590. Add the six-speed automatic transmission and the navigation and upgraded Fender audio package and the price goes to $31,090, the bottom line on our test car. We consider the navigation/audio package well worth the $1,300 extra cost.

Base price: $25,790; as driven, $31,090
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel
Horsepower: 140 @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 236 foot-pounds @ 1,750 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 99.9 inches
Length: 168.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,296 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 7.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (diesel)
EPA rating: 37 highway, 28 city (automatic)
0-60: 8.1 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Mini convertible, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Fiat 500 convertible

The Good
• Unique head-turning styling
• Quiet interior
• Top opens, shuts in seconds
• Excellent gas mileage with turbo diesel

The Bad
• Small trunk

The Ugly
• Expect to pay full MSRP