Volkswagen Beetle Convertible takes giant leap into future

With a longer body than that of the With a longer body than that of the previous convertible, the top doesn't hang out as far, which provides a neat and tidy appearance.

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When Volkswagen introduced the Beetle hatchback for the 2012 model year, you had to suspect the convertible edition was hard on its heels. Sure enough, the drop-top has arrived in all its attention-grabbing glory.

Convertible Beetles have been around since 1949 when the first rear-engine, air-cooled Type 15 was launched. VW sold more than 330,000 of them worldwide over the next 32 years, then cranked out another 235,000 New Beetle convertibles from 2003 until the 2010 model year when it was put out to pasture.

The third-generation Beetle (the "New" is gone) Convertible maintains the tradition, but in a less-retro way. Visually, the body is slightly lower, but is now a substantial 3.3 inches wider and half a foot longer than the old New Beetle. That means significantly more leg and elbowroom, for both front- and rear-seat passengers. Front headroom is nearly as generous as before despite the lower profile, while rear-seat headroom actually increases slightly.

The Beetle Convertible benefits from a more rigid body architecture with 20 percent more resistance to bending and twisting. This is helpful since convertibles don't have a roof structure to join the back and the front of the car together. The only real support is in the floor.
The soft top is triple lined on the outside and has three layers of insulation on the inside to minimize noise. Two electric motors raise and lower the top in 9.5 and 11 seconds, respectively, at vehicle speeds up to 31 mph. Unlike past iterations, the top no longer extends beyond the rear deck when folded, which makes for a much tidier appearance.

Overall, Volkswagen's designers have done as great a job fashioning the Beetle Convertible as they did with the hatchback and have even succeeded in creating a less miniscule trunk. Just make sure you pack only the essentials, especially with a full complement of passengers.

The Convertible's interior is similar to the coupe's, which is to say stylish and inviting. You no longer face acres of dashboard surface as in the previous model since the front seats are no longer positioned near the middle of the car. The gauges are easy to read and there are no excessive knobs and switches to overwhelm the driver.

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Three engine choices, all from VW's Golf parts bin, confront the Beetle buyer. Base Convertibles feature a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder, while the Beetle Turbo uses a turbocharged 200-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The Beetle TDI features 140-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-diesel.

The 2.5 powerplant is only available with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the Turbo and the TDI can be had with a six-speed manual, or optional six-speed automated manual gearbox capable of making almost instantaneous gear changes (in less than four-hundredths of a second, claims VW).

Of the three, the TDI is your costliest choice by about $4,200 above the $25,800 2.5 (though only $100 more than the Turbo), but it offers the most torque and returns an estimated 28 mpg city and 41 highway, compared with 21/27 for the 2.5 and 21/30 for the Turbo.

Ordering the Turbo also gets you a sport suspension, larger brakes and an electronic limited-slip differential that moves engine torque to the gripping wheel if slippage is detected.

All Beetle Convertibles show up with the usual power and climate accouterments plus a set of roll bars behind the back seat that immediately pop up should a tip-over be detected. Leatherette seat covers are also standard, but beware of burning skin on hot summer days. Of course there is a vast array of option packages such as touch-screen audio and navigation systems, keyless pushbutton start, genuine leather seat coverings and 18-inch wheels (17s are standard).

In content and usable space, the Beetle Convertible represents a giant leap forward. It's no longer a cutesy toy car, but should now resonate with performance-minded buyers who would prefer the option of bringing a few friends along to savor the open-air experience.

What you should know: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
Type: Two-door, front-wheel-drive convertible
Engines (hp): 2.5-liter DOHC I5 (170); 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (200); 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbo-diesel (140)
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic; six-speed manual; six-speed automated manual
Market position: The Beetle returns as the latest and arguably best-looking member of the compact four-passenger convertible club of which only European-based automakers are currently members.
Points: Beetle Convertible returns with significantly improved looks; Trio of engine options offers something for everyone; Why does base I5 not offer a manual transmission?; Larger, but still impractical trunk; TDI worth the extra premium; Restyled Beetle now much more of a driver's car, which should increase interest.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; anti-lock brakes; pop-up rollover bars; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 21/27 (2.5);
Base price (incl. destination) $25,800

BY COMPARISON 

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BMW 1-series convertible
Base price: $37,500
Slick little droptop costs a lot, but delivers plenty of sporty driving pleasure.

Fiat 500C
Base price: $20,000
Giant folding roof barely qualifies it for convertible status, but price is right.

Mini Cooper convertible
Base price: $25,800
Beetle's main rival looks better with the top down.JCW version rocks! 

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