After VW squared off the shoulders and flattened the roof of the Volkswagen Beetle coupe in an attempt to inject a bit of masculinity into the model, the fun-loving 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible seems like a bit of a step back toward "cutesiness." That's probably OK, because to be honest, short of moving the engine back to the rear of the vehicle where it belongs, there's not much that VW can do at this point to butch up the Beetle.
So, a chick car it will remain and I suppose that's just fine. Sorry, male and masculine Beetle fans. Don't blame me, I don't make the rules.
On the other hand, anthropomorphizing and assigning gender to a hunk of metal, plastic, and rubber is a bit silly, so let's quickly move along.
We've already driven the Beetle coupe and most of the lessons learned there apply here. The cabin materials, ride quality, and cabin technology are all the same. The major difference in the brown Beetle that arrived in the Car Tech garage this time was the power-folding fabric top.
My first spin in the Beetle Convertible was en route to a photo shoot with the Bentley Continental GT Speed on a cold San Francisco morning. I took the trip through downtown with the top up and was disappointed to hear quite a bit of creaking and groaning from the seals where the glass of the windows met the roof. This led me to believe that there was quite a bit of chassis flex as the Beetle crawled over the lunar surfaces of downtown San Francisco's perpetually-under-construction roads. This was not a good first impression.
Aesthetically, the rag-topped Beetle loses just a skosh of the abovementioned flat-topped masculinity gained in the recent refresh; its rounded roofline harkening, to my eye, back to the circular dome of the previous-gen New Beetle.
I find that I'm also not 100 percent pleased with the top-down aesthetic, either. The way the roof piles up at the back of the passenger compartment looks untidy to my eye -- though I suppose that some prospective owners will see the visibly and neatly folded pile of fabric as a sort of a classic VW cabriolet touch. That said, I found that I preferred the topless look to the raised roof.
Lowering the fabric top requires only the touch of a button and a few moments of your time while the power folders do their thing. It's so easy to drop the top that I found myself doing it almost every time that I settled in behind the wheel. Sunny morning? Drop the top. Quick trip to the store? Drop the top. Chilly nighttime drive at freeway speeds? Max the heater, activate the heated seats, and crank the stereo, because I'm dropping the top.
Back when I drove the 2.0T coupe variant of the Beetle, I was surprised by how fun the cute coupe was to pilot 'round a bend. In this 2013 Convertible model, I was surprised by how equally satisfying yet wholly different the driving experience is. The handling is responsive, but relaxed. The engine is competent and smooth and the automatic transmission is inoffensive. The Fender premium audio system is, well, kick-ass.
At the risk of being unfairly called an Apple fanboy, the VW Beetle Convertible "just works" like an iPhone. It doesn't have the best engine, the best chassis, or even the best tech, but the bits work together to create an experience that's slightly greater than the sum of its parts.
Our example of the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle came powered by a 2.5-liter gasoline five-cylinder engine. Output is estimated by the automaker at 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, which is multiplied by the six-speed conventional automatic transmission before reaching the road at the front wheels.
The transmission largely stays out of the driver's and its own way with smooth shifts that match the relaxed character of the Beetle. The gearbox features a Sport mode that is activated with the press of a button and adjusts the shift program to hold each gear a bit longer for increased engine responsiveness at the expense of a bit of fuel economy. However, while the 2.5-liter engine features good low-end torque and off-the-line responsiveness, it seems to run out of steam near the upper reaches of the revolutions-per-minute range, seemingly precluding any real "sport" benefit from the Sport mode. As long as they're not trying to autocross the topless slug bug, most drivers will be happy with the 2.5-liter's very usable power.
Left in its standard drive mode and driven with care, the EPA estimates that the VW Beetle Convertible will average 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, and average out to 23 mpg combined.
The VW Beetle's styling has, since the model was revived in 1997, been a mashup of modern and retro designs. Our 2013 tester seeks to play up its retro heritage with special-edition packaging. I was born in the '80s and I missed the '70s, but if this Beetle's '70s Edition styling is any indicator, the decade was very...um...brown.
Now I love brown cars, possibly more than any guy should, so I was pleased as punch by the '70s Beetle Convertible's Toffee Brown Metallic paint, which is continued in the cabin on select color-matched interior panels. The complementary beige fabric roof, leatherette seat and interior trim, and roof cover complete the two-toned, earthy palette. Chrome-alloy disc-style wheels have a highly polished mirror finish, while chrome '70s badges hang out in the space just aft of the fenders and ahead of the doors.
The result is absolutely gorgeous and garnered many unsolicited compliments whenever I stopped the Convertible within earshot of passersby. (There's just something about being in a Beetle that makes people comfortable striking up random conversations.)
The '70s Edition isn't just a paint and leather package, it also loads the Beetle up with every tech and comfort option worth having.
In the dash, you'll find VW's RNS 315 navigation system, which we've seen in other VW models ranging from the Golf to the CC to the Beetle itself. The touch-screen navigation system is simple and effective, featuring large physical buttons flanking the display with shortcuts to the various modes of operation. The navigation portion of this infotainment system is responsive when searching for POIs and quick about pathfinding routes, but didn't feature even rudimentary traffic data.
Audio sources include Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming, an SD card slot on the dashboard for digital-media playback, an auxiliary input, an AM/FM radio, a single-slot CD player, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio tuning. The Beetle is also equipped with VW/Audi's MMI media connection, which combines a USB port and a 30-pin Apple dock connector into one weird proprietary mess. iPhone 5 users will have to use an adapter of some sort. Hopefully, VW's next generation will standardize on a simple USB port like the rest of the industry.
Audio input is then output through the previous Car Tech-award-winning Fender audio system. With eight cabin speakers and a powered subwoofer, this is one of the best-sounding and most affordable premium audio systems that we've tested. Feed it hip-hop or honking electronica and it sounds good. Feed it anything with a thumping drum kick and it sounds amazeballs.
The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle's tech doesn't do a whole lot past playing your music and giving you directions. There's no connected Web searching for destinations, no fancy 3D maps, and I'm all right with that. Too much tech wouldn't be very '70s, would it?
The 2013 Beetle Convertible is also available in '50s and '60s Editions featuring different color schemes, engine options, and cabin amenities.
Our 2013 Beetle Convertible's trunk contained what feels like a vinyl cover that can be fitted over the folded cloth roof for a cleaner look, but the fitting can be a bit complicated. It took two Car Tech editors and a photographer no fewer than 15 minutes to get the cover, which installs with a combination of clips and friction, fitted for the photo shoot. Subsequent installations and removals were much quicker, but still averaged about 5 minutes of tugging and tucking.
Also in the trunk was a mesh windscreen with a 90-degree bend that both covers the rear seats to prevent light items, such as papers, from blowing away at speed and reduces the amount of wind hitting front-seat passengers. This was considerably easier to install, but required a bit of folding and unfolding in the right order to get fitted behind the rear seats. This and the roof cover are nice touches, but the benefits are outweighed by the inconvenience and both items remained stowed in the Beetle Convertible's tiny trunk for the duration of testing.
The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible starts at $24,995 -- not a bad price for a stylish convertible with a good balance of performance, efficiency, and comfort. If not as sharp and quick as, say, VW's own GTI, the Beetle convertible is an approachable car that's relaxing and fun to drive. The type of fun here isn't the shaving seconds off of lap times kind of fun, but the rolling along in my automobile with no particular place to go kind of fun, even on a chilly evening with the top down and the heated seats maxed out.
All of that said, I believe that ultimately the Beetle is about style: either you like its cutesy, faux-retro style or you don't.
For fans of "1970s" style, the thump-thump of a great stereo, and -- perhaps most importantly -- sweet brown cars, our '70s Edition example rolls in pretty much everything you could possibly want in the Beetle Convertible (short of the 2.0T engine and DSG gearbox) for $28,595. Add $600 for the wind deflector that we ended up not using (and you likely won't either) and $795 in destination charges to reach our as-tested price of $29,990.
The only alternative that springs to mind when looking at the VW Beetle Convertible is the Mini Cooper S Convertible, which, aside from being slightly overpriced, is a much smaller car with a (frankly) useless back seat. However, the Mini is a much more fun ride when the road gets twisty and its compact size becomes an advantage in the cramped quarters of a major city like San Francisco; see also the Fiat 500C.
|Model||2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible|
|Power train||2.5-liter, 5-cylinder, 6-speed automatic transmission with Sport and manual shift programs|
|EPA fuel economy||21 city, 27 highway, 23 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||n/a|
|Navigation||Yes, no traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes with audio streaming|
|Disc player||Single-slot CD|
|MP3 player support||Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection, SD card slot|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM Satellite Radio|
|Audio system||Fender premium audio, 8 speakers plus powered subwoofer|
|Price as tested||$29,990|