VW Beetle convertible offers striking appearance and endless options
If variety is indeed the spice of life, Volkswagen has injected a copious amount of it into its 2013 Beetle convertible.
This new drop-top can be ordered dozens, maybe hundreds, of different ways if you count all the drivetrain combinations, along with special trim, color and wheel combinations. Each exhibits a distinct personality.
The buffet of choices includes three different engines, three transmissions and three appearance versions that pay tribute to past motoring eras.
Not only does the new VW convertible meld the endearing and familiar look of the original Beetle with modern styling and structure, it manages to bear a strong family resemblance to Porsche sports cars, which are considerably more expensive.
Top that off with those three tributes to decades of the 20th century, and you have a four-passenger machine that should appeal to almost anybody who enjoys fashionable wind-in-the-hair motoring.
The three appearance packages pay tribute to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Most striking is the '50s version, tested here, with a shiny black paint job, a tan interior, and wheels with chrome trim rings and real hubcaps.
The '60s model comes in a denim blue jeans color with two-tone seats, while the '70s edition has a toffee brown exterior and chrome disc wheels. Mix and match them with the three engines and three transmissions. Each offers different suspension system tuning and, therefore, a distinctive performance and handling feel.
Rolling softly and likely to be the sales leader is the base model, which comes with VW's venerable 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. It drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission -- the only one available with the 2.5.
It's attractive enough in the base setup, which has a suggested price of $25,790. But for $1,100, you can order the tested '50s version. Add a $450 wind blocker and you have a nicely equipped ragtop that also has a leather-wrapped steering wheel, iPod dock, Bluetooth capability and cruise control.
Unless you're addicted to a load of options, the combination is perfect for cruising. Run the top down, which takes just 9.5 seconds at speeds up to 31 miles an hour, and you have open-air motoring with minimal buffeting from behind with the wind blocker in place. Take 11 seconds to put the tight-fitting fabric top up and the interior becomes quiet and comfy, as if you were in a coupe or sedan. There is little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise. However, the wind blocker -- it stores in the trunk and fits over the rear seat area -- reduces the Beetle to a two-passenger car.
Though no hot rod, the base convertible's performance is adequate and the ride compliant and comfortable. Handling, with hydraulic power steering, is capable, with good steering feel. But the ride is softer and more comfortable than that of the other versions.
Enthusiasts likely will gravitate toward either the model with the turbocharged, 200-horsepower 2.0-liter gasoline engine or the 140-horsepower 2.0-liter diesel, which also is a turbo. Both models use electric power steering and are available either with a five-speed manual gearbox or VW's twin-clutch automated manual gearbox.
Though there's a big difference in horsepower, the diesel has more torque, or twisting force at low rpms, than the gasoline engine. It is rated at 236 pounds-feet of torque, compared to 207 for the gasoline engine. That gives the diesel a quick, powerful surge off the line, though it actually has slower acceleration.
VW says the oil burner is the only convertible available anywhere with a turbo diesel engine. City/highway mileage, as rated by the EPA, is 28/41 miles to the gallon with the manual gearbox. It is 28/37 with the automatic.
Both cars feature different suspension system tuning than the base model, so they ride harder but have crisper handling. Of the two transmissions, the manual is more entertaining in sport motoring, especially on twisting mountain roads.
The basic upholstery in all of the VW convertibles is a high-quality vinyl called V-Tex, which rivals leather in looks. However, leather is available as an option.
VW says the Beetle convertible's main competitors are the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper and six-cylinder versions of the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. However, the latter two are way bigger, and the former two are smaller. With its variety of styles and power trains, it's fair to say the Beetle ragtop is unique.
"People love our brand," says VW of America President Jonathan Browning. "They just don't buy our cars."
That's changing, and the 2013 Beetle convertible is in the vanguard.
Model: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle convertible
Engine: 2.5-liter five-cylinder, 170 horsepower
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Overall length: 14 feet
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/7 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,206 pounds
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 21/27 mpg
Base price, including destination charge: $25,790
Price as tested: $26,890
Contact Frank Aukofer at email@example.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.