LOS ANGELES | I’ll just get right to it. The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible is the only type of Beetle VW should make anymore.
That’s because the “people’s carmaker” has mastered the mass production of niche-market cars for too long now.
Consider your options for a two-door, four-passenger coupe. Looking for economy? Then you’re shopping for a Golf. Economy with a little style? Beetle coupe. More style, but willing to lose the roof and pay more than $30,000? Eos. Or loaded Beetle Convertible — you pick wholly dependent on price. Less style but a little more sport? Go to back to the Golf GTI. More sport than that? Golf again, but make it a Golf R.
The uniform tax code is the only thing I’m aware of with similar number of nuances than VW’s small-car lineup.
The Beetle Convertible is important for VW, specifically because it’ll account for 40 percent of all Beetle sales for the coming model years.
It’s just in my world, it would account for 100 percent.
Primarily because the Beetle Convertible is every bit as good as the coupe — structurally, powertrain, looks, the lot — and surpasses the coupe in several areas. Oh, and its roof is technically limited only by the troposphere, which is nice.
Unveiled at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show only a few weeks ago, the Beetle Convertible may be the newest addition to Volkswagen’s lineup, but in reality it’s a car that was born about 4 years ago.
When the third generation Beetle was developed (fourth, if you consider the original and Super Beetle to be two different generations) the Convertible version was already in the mix. That means structural rigidity is baked into the chassis from the get-go, which reduces any cowl shake, aerodynamic curiosities and physical deformities that can happen when you lop the roof off.
Aside: VW engineers say the new Beetle’s chassis is a superb blank canvas when it comes to creating one-off monsters, like the wicker-seat cladded Jolly, which I’ll bring popcorn to watch its concept unveiling.
Peeling the roof off takes 9 seconds down — 11 seconds to put it back up — transforming the little Beetle into a fair-weather road monster. There are no latches to unhook or preparation necessary in the convertible this time around, the system is wholly mechanized and can be operated up to 31 mph. (The tonneau cover to wrap the whole thing up in a very neat, very German package is still manual, but that’s really nitpicking there.)
Under the hood Volkswagen is offering for the first time stateside a diesel option in the Beetle, a 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder that produces 140 horsepower and 236 ft.-lbs. of torque. The base engine is VW’s 2.5-liter five cylinder that cranks 170 and 177 hp and torque respectively alongside a turbocharged gasoline engine that bumps those figures to 200 and 207. The first engine is the most curious here, and also, I believe, the best choice.
Taken on characteristics alone, the Beetle Convertible is a cruiser. It’s small, won’t haul lumber or tow a boat, and if you’re thinking that it’s a good idea to stuff your four friends for dinner in one, wait till you see the backseat. Depends on how much you like those friends.
While both gasoline engines are serviceable, neither return 41 mpg on the highway, which the diesel can. Cruising longer in a cruiser just seems like a win-win to me, but then again, I thought the same thing about Howard Dean.
Now, I’m aware that the words “diesel” and “convertible” sound as congruous as “in-laws” and “roommates,” but living with an oil burner for an engine and no top is the only one of the two scenarios that gets better with technology. The Volkswagen Auto Group (read: Audi, VW and Porsche) is looking to push diesel onto U.S. consumers harder than Oktoberfest. And we should consume.
I had the chance to drive the diesel Beetle shortly after the car’s unveiling in Los Angeles and can report that it makes less noise than your sleeping cat. No, really. It does. Even better, your passenger’s likely body odor is the only olfactory assault coming from the Beetle Convertible. No emissions reek either.
As a car, the Beetle Convertible is perceptibly a carbon clone of its coupe version. With the top up, wind noise is no more audible than the coupe and the Fender-tuned stereo (an option) is pants-wetting perfect during Jimi Hendrix solos.
In turbo trim, the Beetle Convertible is easily sportier, but with the hammer down, it feels like you should have purchased a Golf GTI if you were really in the mood for that anyway.
Which brings us to the base 2.5-liter engine in the Convertible. It’s a perfectly fine option — but only if the diesel didn’t exist. Considering the base price of $24,995 (oddly, there’s no way to get a plain jane manual, your only option is the automatic transmission) buyers will likely balk at the diesel, which is priced at nearly $4,000 more. But when compared apples-to-apples with similarly trimmed models, the diesel premium is halved. When compared to the turbo, the diesel winds up nearly $2,000 than the turbo. To my knowledge, the Beetle Convertible is the only car I know of with a “middle engine option” being a diesel.
VW spokespeople say the diesel may only account for 20 percent of the overall sales; the 2.5-liter base engine will take up about 50 percent.
What I’m saying isn’t that the diesel Beetle Convertible won’t be everyone’s option. But if you’re buying a Beetle, especially the convertible, it’s probably the best.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated automotive columnist. He knows he’s wrong, he’d just rather hear it from you. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at @ColeMeetsCars