2013 Volkswagen Beetle

June 25, 2013

People will cozy up to the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle convertible for the same reason they like Furbies, pugs and YouTube toddlers: It's cute. It's also better in many ways than its predecessor, which went eight model years without a redesign, but beauty is only sheet-metal deep.

The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle convertible has plenty of throwback flair, but once the groovy wears off, the grumbling begins.

Redesigned alongside the Beetle hardtop, which arrived a year earlier, the Beetle convertible has a power cloth top and three available engines, including a four-cylinder turbo and a diesel TDI version. We tested the base five-cylinder car, which gets a standard six-speed automatic. Click here to compare the Beetle hardtop and convertible, or here to read our review of the hardtop.

Keeping the Look

A few inches wider and 7.3 inches longer than the outgoing New Beetle convertible (which, like the coupe, has now dropped the "New"), the convertible retains the coupe's lengthy profile. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard, with 18s optional.

Now fully automatic, the powered top latches and unlatches itself from the windshield frame rather than relying on a manual release. Our test car's cloth top took just 11 seconds to lower and 15 seconds to raise, including the windows. The power-folding top stores in a compartment separate from the trunk, leaving cargo room at an uncompromised 7.1 cubic feet. That's less than half the space in the hardtop Beetle, but it beats the previous-generation convertible's 5 cubic feet, not to mention other small droptops from Mazda, Mini and Fiat. Another plus: Volkswagen ditched the last Beetle's center pass-through in favor of a proper split-folding rear seat.

Alas, the trunk opening is so small you have to wedge small suitcases in, and the lid dumps leftover rainwater straight into the cargo bay. Hope you like your groceries wet. Want a better trunk? Get a Ford Mustang convertible; it has nearly 10 cubic feet of space and no roof intrusion, with a larger opening to boot.

Clumsy Drivetrain

The base 170- horsepower , five-cylinder engine chuffs along quicker than the anemic Fiat 500c and the non-S Mini Cooper, but it revs hoarsely, and passing at highway speeds requires most of the drivetrain's reserves. Climb an on-ramp, and the engine feels spent halfway up. The six-speed automatic helps little, stepping through intermediate gears on its way to two- or three-gear kickdowns . It evokes early six-speed automatic transmissions, whose expansive choices bred all the decisiveness of a kid staring down the Lego aisle. Some editors noticed too much accelerator lag too — not good.

The automaker's Sport mode quells some of the transmission delay by sticking to lower gears, but it comes at the expense of fuel efficiency.

The Beetle Turbo and its 200-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder may be the better choice for the convertible, which weighs some 200 pounds more than its hardtop sibling. Volkswagen says it hits 60 mph in 7 seconds with its automatic or in 6.9 seconds with an available six-speed manual. Both are considerably quicker than the five-cylinder version's 8.6 seconds. The weaker engine earns little reward in gas mileage, with EPA numbers (21/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined) that are closer to the V-6 Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro convertibles than to Fiat's and Mini's figures.

The Beetle Turbo convertible gets better mileage, with either transmission fetching an EPA-estimated 24 mpg combined, but it erases those gains by recommending premium gas.

The Beetle TDI, meanwhile, comes with a manual or automatic, both of which fall in the 9-second range for zero-to-60 sprints. It boasts EPA-estimated combined mileage in the low 30s. But that's on diesel fuel, which has averaged 38 cents, or 10 percent, more per gallon over the past 12 months than regular unleaded. (Differences between diesel and gas prices vary by region.)

Sloppy at Speed

It's ironic that Volkswagen would name some of the Beetle convertible's trim levels after decades, offering '50s, '60s and '70s editions. The oversized steering wheel starts out heavy with little power assist, but get up to highway speeds and it lightens into a sloppy, meandering helm — the sort you'd get in a bygone era. Insulation, too, seems yesteryear-bad. The soft-top keeps wind noise at bay, but adjacent traffic howls away; you'll keep checking to see if the windows are shut.

Instant body roll accompanies any quick steering motions, but if you find a sustained bend, the Beetle hunkers down and corners well — surprising, given the ungainliness heading in. Beetle Turbos get a sport-tuned suspension with thicker front stabilizer bars as well as a limited-slip differential to improve corner-carving.

Turbos also have larger front disc brakes, which I can only hope improve on our test car's disappointing setup. It's hard to know where the blame goes — to the smallish disc brakes or to the low-tech, three-channel antilock system — but the squishy pedal lends underwhelming stopping power. The five-cylinder and diesel-powered Beetle TDI have the same braking hardware.

The clumsiness carries through to ride quality. Despite numerous reinforcements versus the hardtop Beetle and a claimed 20 percent improvement in rigidity over the last Beetle convertible, the car creaks and flexes over manhole covers and expansion joints, with a busy, undulating ride in between. It's curious, given the Beetle convertible has an independent rear suspension versus the base hardtop Beetle's low-tech, semi-independent rear.

Pesky Interior

Given the Beetle convertible's price — around $25,500 including the destination charge — the interior feels higher on gimmicks than quality. Glossy paint covers the dash and upper door panels, and there are real metal accents around the glove compartment and door handles. But a sea of cheap, black plastics greets elbows and forearms elsewhere, and the car's flimsy climate controls recall the cost-cut Jetta's. Despite the starting price, the convertible lacks important conveniences like vanity-mirror lights or extending sun visors. Our car lacked the optional center armrest, drawing complaints galore. C'mon, VW — a $15,340 Hyundai Accent has a standard armrest.

The bungles continue. The grab handles along the doors sit too far forward to easily reach or use as leverage to close the doors, and editors found the steering wheel too far away, despite good range for the telescoping adjustment. If you pull the seat forward for a comfortable steering reach, the pedals are too close. Both front seats return to their original positions if you let someone in back — nice — but they employ slow crank knobs to adjust the recline. If you plan to share the car, it's a drag.

Visibility is another problem. The low roofline hurts sightlines out front, and the tiny rear window — most of which is obstructed by two massive head restraints in back — leaves too much traffic to the imagination. Typical of a convertible, the Beetle's soft-top requires massive C-pillars that swallow much of your over-the-shoulder view. Put the top down, and the folded riggings take up much of the view straight back. It's vexing, given many convertibles with bad top-up visibility improve on that when the top is down.

Similar to the hardtop Beetle, the convertible's backseat is passable for adults. One advantage: If you go over a big bump, your head hits the canvas roof — a more forgiving surface than the glass hatch over the hardtop's backseat.

Safety, Features & Pricing

The Beetle convertible has not been crash-tested; because of its structural differences, ratings for the coupe do not carry over. Standard safety features include the required antilock brakes and electronic stability system , plus front and side-impact airbags; the latter extend upward to offer head protection. Standard rollover bars behind the rear seats deploy automatically if the car tips.

Since its redesign, the Beetle's reliability has been awful, with predicted new-car reliability much worse than average. Given our test car's incipient noises, it's hard to see that improving.

The Beetle convertible comes well-equipped, with standard heated leatherette (imitation leather) seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels and a pretty good base stereo with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and iPod/USB integration. Curiously, a center armrest and steering-wheel audio controls are optional. Those features come in various option packages, as does a Fender stereo, keyless access with push-button start and a navigation system . The '50s, '60s and '70s editions add unique colors, side mirrors, wheels and interior themes. The '60s edition serves as a sort of range-topper, running into the low $30,000s. That's not so groovy — similar money buys a well-equipped V-6 Mustang convertible.

Beetle Convertible in the Market

Through the first few months of 2013, Beetle sales are up a handsome 114 percent; in fact, the car now outsells Volkswagen's Golf/GTI hatchback. Shoppers should have no trouble finding a Beetle convertible: Cars.com new-car inventory shows the convertible makes up 42 percent of all Beetles. But shop the competition first; the last Beetle convertible prioritized looks over drivability and practicality. Its successor improves on the latter, but the pretty face still asks for too many compromises.

Photo Courtesy of Volkswagen

Like the redesigned Beetle hardtop, the Beetle convertible has a lower, wider shape than its predecessor; it's also 7.3 inches longer. At some point, Beetle Turbo models (inset) will receive a more aggressive bumper with new fog lights and framed reflectors. As of this writing, Turbo convertibles listed in dealer inventories are still the base design.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Like before, the convertible top accordions behind the rear seats, with a leatherette boot (not shown) to tidy the look. Unfortunately, the whole contraption blocks a lot of rear visibility. A trunk spoiler is standard; Beetle Turbo models have separate dual tailpipes (not shown).

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Editors were split on the Beetle convertible's top-up appearance; some found the low roofline awkward, while others liked how it preserved the hardtop's elongated profile. Unfortunately, visibility takes a big hit. That's to be expected in a convertible, but it's drastic even considering that. The rear head restraints take up most of the tiny rear window, and the cloth top makes for humongous C-pillars.

Photo Courtesy of Volkswagen

Gluttons for nostalgia can commemorate the first-gen Beetle convertible's long history, which dates back to 1949, with 1950s (1), 1960s (2) and 1970s (3) editions. All three come with unique wheels and interior accents, with one paint choice apiece: black for the '50s, Denim Blue for the '60s and Toffee Brown for the '70s.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Like the Beetle coupe, the convertible's interior has a lot of eye candy. Painted trim covers the dash and upper doors, with real metal along the door and glove-box handles. Unfortunately, cabin materials drop off below that, with plenty of harsh, cheap plastics along the doors and lower dash. Given the Beetle convertible starts north of $25,000, the quality could improve.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Heated leatherette (imitation leather) seats are standard, and real leather is optional. The seats employ an awkward crank knob to recline, and two editors found the driving position — despite a telescoping steering wheel — either too far from the wheel or too close to the pedals. Backseat legroom is tight, but headroom is good.

Photo Courtesy of Volkswagen

A touch-screen stereo with steering-wheel audio controls is optional; Turbo and TDI cars get auxiliary gauges atop the dash that show oil temperature, turbo boost and a chronometer. Base models lack the optional center armrest, which is stingy in a car in this price range.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The current Beetle reprises the original's kaeferfach, or ''Beetle bin.'' You'll need it; storage is meager elsewhere.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

The Beetle's door pulls sit far ahead and are difficult to reach — an inconvenient location to pull the doors shut, given how long they are.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

Trunk volume is 7.1 cubic feet, up from 5.0 cubic feet in the prior Beetle convertible. Unfortunately, the opening is quite small, and the lid dumps rainwater from the spoiler directly into the trunk.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Sears

A new 50/50-split folding backseat replaces the prior setup, which had only a center pass-through.

Photo Courtesy of Volkswagen

The base Beetle convertible gets a 170-hp, 2.5-liter five-cylinder (1), while the Beetle Turbo convertible has a 200-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder; it also gets a limited-slip differential to improve handling. The Beetle TDI (not shown) has a higher-mpg, turbo-diesel four-cylinder.

Photo Courtesy of Volkswagen

Five-cylinder cars get a standard six-speed automatic (1), while Beetle Turbo and TDI models get an available six-speed manual (2).

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