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January 02, 2013

The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Takes Off its Top By Sue Mead

IMG_0257Santa Monica, California: The Beetle is a model that needs no introduction; it’s not simply that the “bug” is known around the globe- it’s unique and carries with  it a rich history of fun motoring.

Volkswagen brought its latest iteration, a convertible version of the updated Beetle, to the Los Angeles International Auto Show for the global debut of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible. Although Beetle isn’t the best seller in this German automaker’s lineup, it is definitely the ‘halo’ for the brand and there was no better place than trend-setting LA to take the top off of the halo and also to talk about VW’s increased sales momentum in the U.S. and around the world. VW also brought a group of auto writers to the show and to the sunny and fun California coastal region that runs from Santa Monica to Malibu for a day of top-down motoring in the new Beetle Convertible. It is priced starting at $24,995, with its high-level version priced at $31,195. What defines the new Beetle is an updated sleek, redesigned exterior and reworked interior. Volkswagen’s convertible bug is an airy, cute and clever version of the car that once redefined the very term “automobile” in the U.S.. Introduced in 1949 as the ‘type 15’ and reinvented in 2003 after a hiatus from the mainstream, the Beetle is an icon of the internal combustion engine, with seating for four adults and a happy-go-lucky character. This year’s model looks both more modern and more retro at the same time, with a flattened-out, aerodynamic stance that juxtaposes design elements like plain button wheels.

P1010530The 2013 Beetle is 7.4 inches longer than “New Beetle,” the model introduced with a ballyhoo and a budvase in 2003. It has modernized, U-shaped taillamps that give an edge to the previous rounded design. VW’s designers carfted this generation model to appeal to more male buyers, who have, in fact, purchased more Beetles, and especially like the turbo-powered versions. Turbo models (TDI) sport a rear spoiler into the liftgate in the back; 17-inch wheels are standard, but 18-inchers come on TDI models. Slipping inside, you’ll find a spare, sleek and somewhat futuristic space that features angular edges and soft circles, with muted metal accents and some convenient technology features. Inner door panels, dash and center console surfaces are soft to the touch, while neatly placed buttons, gauges and switches evoke modern handheld electronics. If Apple were to go into the car business, their first prototype might look a bit like the 2013 Beetle. You might think the roofline looks lower, but headroom has actually grown by 0.4 inches in the convertible Beetle – although, of course, headroom is a non-issue when the folding soft-top is retracted, which takes less than 10 seconds.

Beetles 1Seating for four makes room becomes extra cargo thanks to split-folding rear seats that make way into the trunk space; additional stowage is also in the double glove box in the front. Faux leather upholstery is standard, but real leather wraps the steering wheel on even basic models. Bluetooth connectivity, an auxiliary input for audio devices and heated front seats also are among the standard equipment.Under the hood breathes one of three engine options. The entry-level powerplant is a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine making 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission (the automatic is optional on regular Beetles). Also available is a 2.0-liter TDI four-cylinder diesel engine delivering 140 hp, 236 lb.-ft. and EPA estimated fuel economy of 41 mpg on the highway with the six-speed manual transmission – the six-speed automatic also is available with the TDI. At the top of the ladder is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which pounds out 200 hp. and 207 lb.-ft. The turbo gas motor also can be ordered with either the manual or the automatic tranny.

We drove all models of the new Beetle Convertible along a drive route from Santa Monica to Malibu, California, which gave us plenty of opportunity to let the sunshine in and try out the fast-acting drop top technology. It was easy to fall in love with this icon again, that has impressive German engineering and handles well in all of its variations, but truly shines as a performance car, when you drive the TDI manual. While the base Beetle competes with the Fiat 500 and the MINI Cooper Convertible, its turbo-charged models compete with the Cooper S and even larger and more potent fast cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro. Of note are the three Special Edition trims: the 50’s edition (with Heritage wheels), the 60’s edition (Toffee Metallic Brown) and a 70’s edition (Denim Blue and two-tone seats). Front struts and anti-roll bars are standard on all Beetles; sportier models like the Turbo also have an independent rear multi-link suspension. Four-wheel discs with ABS and EBD appear on every model in the lineup, including convertibles, with Turbo Beetles adding larger front discs (12.3 vs. 11.3 inches) and hot red calipers. For the convertible, Volkswagen changed the design to have a more “rearward A-pillar” (this strengthens the front top of the car in a rollover crash) and designed a rollover protection system that includes rollover bars that, most of the time, are concealed behind the back seats. Like airbags, they deploy instantaneously in a crash situation.

IMG_0256The Beetle Convertible lineup mirrors that of the regular Beetle stable, with the exception of models with sunroofs, of course. The Beetle Convertible 2.5L ($24,995) comes standard with 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, power windows with one-touch up/down, six-way manual adjustable seats with lumbar, the ‘kaeferfach’ additional glovebox, heatable front seats, leatherette seating surfaces, a split folding rear seat, aux-in for portable audio players, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an eight-speaker audio system. Bluetooth connectivity is standard, along with a Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod cable and three-color ambient lighting. Up a level is the 2.5 w/ Technology ($26,895) with leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel; a front center console with armrest; keyless access with push-button start; and a premium audio system with three-month Sirius XM satellite radio subscription. It adds 18-inch disc aluminum-alloy wheels; navigation and the Fender premium audio system. The Beetle Convertible TDI ($27,895) comes with standard 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, all the equipment listed above, and an interior and exterior chrome package. The standard audio system has an AM/FM radio, CD player, Bluetooth, and eight speakers. TDI customers also can opt for a version that has a full-color touchscreen display, a six-disc CD changer, and an SD card reader. The top-of-the-line TDI features a navigation system with five-inch touchscreen display, Fender Premium Audio System and an additional subwoofer. The Beetle Convertible Turbo adds the 200-hp TSI turbocharged engine, a six-speed manual transmission ($28, 195), 18-inch aluminum-alloy “Twister” wheels, front foglights, gloss black exterior mirror housings, and a rear spoiler. Inside are alloy pedals and a leather- wrapped shifter knob and brake lever. The six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission is an $1100 option. Up a level, the Turbo has a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, keyless access with push-button start, the Fender premium audio system, and a highline trip computer. An automatic version starts at $30,295.

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