The autumn Saturday came with unexpected sun and warmth: perfect convertible weather. I wasted none of that light. I was in and out of the shower, out of the house, and into the 2003 New Beetle GLS convertible before the honey-do-honey-let's lists could be posted. You learn certain things in marriage. Plausible deniability is one of them.

"Honey, I didn't know . . ."

Oh, but I did. I knew exactly what I was doing, where I was going and why, and it had nothing to do with all of those leaves in the yard or that stuff in the back of the driveway that had to be moved somewhere else. It had nothing to do with familial consensus. Waiting for the family council to decide on a course of action is worse than waiting for Congress.

No, sir! I snuck out of the house so quickly and quietly, it would've made roaches applaud. "You the man, Warren!" Yes, sir!

But I was nearly foiled by the New Beetle's three-layer cloth convertible top. I hadn't read the owner's manual. Mistake. To operate a new vehicle correctly, regardless of how much you think you know, reading is fundamental. So, in my eager ignorance, I fumbled and fretted with the top's twist-release latch before I got it to disconnect. Then I sat there like a dunce trying to figure out what button to push to raise the semi-automatic top and drop it into its boot.

Had I dallied a few moments more, my lawn-obsessed neighbors would have given me away. These good folks don't believe in sleeping in. They get up early on a pretty day and start their lawn mowers and leaf blowers. That noise awakens and excites my wife, gives her ideas, makes her want to fool around in the yard.

I dropped that top. I cranked the New Beetle's standard 115-horsepower, 2-liter inline four-cylinder engine and scooted out of the driveway en route to Interstate 66 and Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, my favorite destination in the region.

There is something about driving a convertible on a fresh Saturday morning that speaks to the spirit of freedom. It feels so good, as if everything real or imagined that stood in your way just vanished. It's an illusion, of course, but we need our illusions as much as we need the money to support them. Considering that the New Beetle convertible starts at $20,450, the price of this particular dream is at least close to affordable.

That is part of the glory of the little car. Beetle convertibles sold briskly in the United States in the 1950s through the early 1970s because you didn't have to be rich to buy them. They were the convertibles for everyone who wanted to drop the top, gather the sun and run without running out of cash.

My hunch is that the New Beetle convertible will sell just as well. It's an immensely drivable front-wheel-drive car. Its standard five-speed manual transmission shifts effortlessly. The clutch neither challenges nor hinders you. The car handles with grace.

Yet, there is nothing particularly zoom-zoom about the tested 2-liter GLS version of the convertible. It's not designed to leave other drivers in the dust. It's just a nice, happy ride.

But Volkswagen wants to placate recalcitrant throttle jockeys -- and take their money in the process. Thus, probably in the spring of 2003, the company will introduce its 150-horsepower GLX 1.8T (turbo) convertible.

I'll drive that one, too. What the heck. My spouse enjoys going to home-improvement and gardening shops in the spring, usually on Saturdays -- bright, beautiful Saturdays that could be better spent on the road to someplace wonderful. Who knows? Maybe VW could deliver the GLX 1.8T on a nice Friday in April. Please.