2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

Volkswagen adds Beetle Convertible with new flattened roofline

Fans of the Volkswagen Beetle have been awaiting the arrival of a new convertible ever since the redesigned Beetle Coupe went on sale as a 2012 model. Finally, the wait is over. During December, the dramatically reworked 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible hit U.S. dealerships.

Automakers have generally been easing away from convertibles - especially the traditional fabric-roof variety. Ever-bigger sunroofs appear to have nudged some soft-tops aside. So have retractable hardtops, which promise more comfortable all-weather driving. Volkswagen, by contrast, knows they're dealing with an automotive icon, and you don't make changes idly. So, the 2013 Beetle retains a fabric roof, which lowers in 9.5 seconds. About 11 seconds are needed to raise it, which can be done at up to 31 mph.

In the words of Jonathan Browning, president/CEO of Volkswagen of America, the Beetle remains "the soul of what VW is." Convertibles are a "symbol of youth, independence, simplicity and most of all, fun."

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Flower (and Diesel) Power

As in Beetle coupes, three engines are available - including the first diesel in a convertible since 2006. Base models get a 2.5-liter five-cylinder with six-speed automatic transmission, developing 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Turbos hold a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, producing 200 hp and 207 pound-feet.

For the first time since 2006, convertibles may be diesel-powered. Volkswagen's TDI clean-diesel generates 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet. Both the Turbo and the TDI may have either a six-speed manual transmission or Volkswagen's Direct Shift Gearbox. Fuel economy is a prime benefit of the TDI edition, which earns an estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of 28 mpg in city driving and 41 mpg on the highway, with manual shift.

No diesel sound is discernible at all in the Beetle Convertible with the TDI engine and Direct Shift Gearbox. Turbo torque comes into play potently when pushing on the pedal, though you may wait a bit for a downshift to match. No penalties are paid in performance for the diesel, and DSG operation is masterful. So are its manual-shifting buttons, yielding virtually instant, unfettered response.

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Driving Impressions

Magnificent ride comfort ranks as the foremost attribute of the base-model convertible. Nicely-controlled handling offers fine steering feel and feedback. The end result is close to sporty in nature, almost as promised. In ordinary driving, at least, there's no shortage of performance, for the majority of drivers.

Although Volkswagen's manual gearshift is especially easy to manipulate, the TDI convertible with that gearbox isn't quite as pleasing to drive. Sometimes, throttle response isn't quite appropriate, and on hilly terrain, considerable shifting is needed.

Automatic-transmission shifts are barely noticed. With its top down, the Beetle Convertible is surprisingly quiet. Front-seat occupants can easily converse at highway speed, and there's little threat of having one's hat blow off. Manual shift feels more satisfying when coupled to the 200-horsepower Beetle Turbo. That engine clearly does enhance the Beetle's sporty disposition, though the difference between it and the base model isn't exactly glaring much of the time.

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A New Icon

Soon after the first Volkswagen Beetles arrived in the U.S., way back in 1949, convertibles began to appear. The last Beetle convertibles for U.S. sale were 1979 models. Volkswagen launched the revived, bubbly New Beetle for 1998, adding a convertible in 2003. Thus, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible is only the third generation of that iconic, ever-so-familiar design.

Longer, wider, and sportier than the prior (2006-10) convertible, the new model features a markedly lower, flatter roofline, similar to that of the steel-roofed coupe that was redesigned for 2012. Convertibles get extra structural reinforcement: at the A-pillars, front roof crossmember, and lower body sidemembers. A-pillars are 0.5 mm thicker than before, pushed back a bit to create a longer hood. Offered in beige or black, fabric tops have three outer layers and three inner layers.

According to Volkswagen, designers have "reinterpreted" the "timeless design," giving it-in addition to the flatter roofline-a more upright windshield. This brings its profile closer to that of the long-lived, first-generation convertible.

With Volkswagen's Automatic Rollover Support System, two rollover bars are concealed behind the back of the rear bench seat. They're activated by the same computer that deploys the airbags in a crash.

Compared to prior Beetle convertibles, wheelbase has grown by 1.2 inches-now 100. Length is 168.4 inches (up 6). Beetle convertibles also are 3.3 inches wider than their predecessors, and have been lowered by 30 millimeters (1.2 inch). At 41.3 inches, front legroom has increased by 1.6 inches. Volkswagen says the convertible is about 229 pounds heavier than a Beetle coupe.

Base models get standard 17-inch alloy wheels. Inside are heatable V-Tex leatherette seats. Options include navigation, a Fender audio system, pushbutton start, an auxiliary instrument cluster, and leather seating surfaces.

Seats are particularly comfortable, with good support and rather snug bolstering. Most gauges are easy to read, though the trip odometer is rather low in the instrument cluster. Auxiliary gauges (if installed) sit atop the dashboard, quite easy to see at a glance.

A little wind noise was evident with the top raised. In addition, riders may feel rather cocooned after driving open-air for a time. The top isn't really flat when stowed; rather, it sits beneath a moderate bulge behind the back seats. A windblocker is available, which can be stowed in the trunk.

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Finish Line

Though the Mexican-built, four-passenger Beetle Convertible is a unique design, it has two main rivals: the Mini Cooper and the Fiat 500. Volkswagen even considers the larger Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang to be competitors.

Starting price for the base convertible with a 2.5-liter engine and automatic is $24,995 (plus $795 destination charge). A Turbo runs $26,695, while the TDI commands $28,495. Three special Launch Editions are available: a 50s model, painted black; a 60s edition is Denim Blue; and a Toffee Brown 70s version. An R-Line convertible is coming later, following the R-Line coupe that debuts in spring 2013.

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