Mountain Wheels: California dreaming with the convertible VW Beetle
January 5, 2013
San Diego – I believe I managed to out-weird the often strange and frequently homeless residents of permanently sunny Southern California by driving around at Christmas with the roof down in a new VW Beetle convertible.
Weather, as we know, is all pretty relative, and while 61 degrees is enough for most of those spoiled California folks to put on a parka, I dropped the roof and had a wonderful time rolling along in a vehicle that’s a far cry from Beetles of long (and not so long) ago. I even listened to Katy Perry. It was awesome, and pathetic, at the same time.
As you may have seen, the newest edition of the perennial Volkswagen classic, which dates back to 1949, has taken on a design that’s much less old-school Bug and more like its contemporary cousins, the Jetta and the Golf.
True, the Beetle’s still unmistakable, with its rounded (but now more angular) outline, its iconic round headlamps and that bustle of a roof when you drop the canvas top – a fully automatic procedure that’s easily done while waiting at a red light.
In its 2013 makeover, the third-generation machine also gets some tweaks that VW says makes it look more like the Beetle of yore, including a more upright windshield and a flatter roof; chrome trim and a large, sporty spoiler in the back also enhance the looks.
The whole car is longer, flatter and wider than the 1998 or 2003 New Beetle models, very comfortable up front and moderately so for a couple of rear-seat riders.
And the interior is upgraded and consistent with other members of the VW family, which is to say there’s a whole lot of black on black plastic.
My test vehicle was a double upgrade, a Fender Edition with the optional 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder producing 200 horsepower (the standard choice is a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder; you can also get a 140-HP 2.0-liter diesel that can get as much as 41 mpg on the highway).
Mine wasn’t quite as fuel efficient as that, though it will still get you about 30 mpg on the highway and the beefy torque was plenty to keep me rolling up some very steep stretches near Julian and back into San Diego on I-8 from the desert.
Ride does tend to be a little stiff but you can eke some reasonably sporty character and tight turns out of the little machine, and the optional, six-speed, direct-shift, double-clutch automatic gearbox becomes downright enthusiastic when dropped into sport mode.
The Fender Edition, as you might guess, imbues the Beetle with a 400-watt, high-fidelity, nine-speaker stereo system developed by the noted guitar maker and Panasonic – yep, even Katy Perry sounded pretty good.
You also get bi-xenon headlamps and LED daytime running lamps, plus a distinctive dark black paint job, special 18-inch alloy wheels and brushed chrome mirrors, in addition to an attractive dashboard insert that’s finished to look like one of those classic Sunburst guitar’s surfacing. Add some heated leatherette seats and it’s a pretty cool mix. You also get red brake calipers, aluminum pedals, shiny sill plates and an optional navigation system that left me befuddled when searching for destinations beyond my immediate location.
Despite the upgraded sound and looks, the new Beetle convertible is still more happy as a roof-down machine, as there are some amazingly large blind spots in the back with the roof up, as well as a very small rear window (though I found out later that the rear seats with their large headrests can be dropped flat for better visibility, a la the Mini Cooper convertible). In an accident, roll-over bars also pop up from a bar behind those headrests.
A stylized cluster of oil temperature, travel clock and turbo boost gauges also take up a fair chunk of real estate on top of the dash, more obvious with the roof up.
The extra-large doors also call out for some very large parking spots unless you want to do a uniquely ungracious Lambada-styled slither into some very deep-set seats. So it goes.
Those deep seats did produce a smidge of back pain when I spent an entire day on the road, but manual lumbar adjustments can help with that.
Could a Beetle convertible get you through the winter in Colorado? With good tires, I believe so: It’s front-wheel drive and the heater works like a charm.