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2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
The new Volkswagen Beetle Convertible provides a nostalgic trip to the past

Prices: $24,995-$32,395

Many new automakers often held out making a convertible version of their standard  hardtop models, but Volkswagen began building Beetle convertibles in 1949, very soon after its first rear-engine, four-seat hardtop model was built.

The Beetle convertible was a good move. The rear-engine model was gobbled up, with more than 330,000 made over a 32-year span. Another 234,619 redesigned front-engine New Beetle convertibles, which strongly resembled the old rear-drive soft-top models, were built in an eight-year period. All were four-seaters with tight back seats, as is the 2013 model.

Volkswagen said the front-drive New Beetle convertible was “a reinterpretation and development of the original rear-drive Beetle soft top.” Quite a bit, I’d say, but both had a strong physical resemblance. In 1979, the Beetle convertible was the last rear-drive Beetle model sold in America.

The much-improved New Beetle convertible soon followed the New Beetle hardtop. Volkswagen also began building a pricey front-drive Eos convertible with a folding metal hardtop. But it lacks the charm of the 2013 Beetle convertible, which has a soft top that lowers in 9.5 seconds and can be operated at speeds up to 31 m.p.h. Its heatable rear window is made of tempered safety glass.

Volkswagen sold no 2011 Beetle in America (did you notice?). But it significantly redid the Beetle for 2012, when it dropped the “New” part of the car’s name.  This model had the classic Beetle silhouette, but looked sportier and more dynamic because Volkswagen made its 2012 coupe longer, lower and wider to attract more male buyers.

And now, finally, Volkswagen has added a convertible to the 2013 Beetle line. Top up, the Beetle convertible has an even lower roofline than the coupe’s. It reminds me of a classic 1950s Porsche Speedster.

Nostalgic? There are three special edition Beetle convertibles that evoke distinct decades in American cultural history—the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

The $26,095 1950s Edition has items including a black exterior and beige leather seating surfaces. The $32,395 1960s Edition has a turbo engine, denim blue exterior and dash and leather black-and-blue sport seats. The $28,595 1970s Edition has a toffee brown exterior, beige leatherette seating and a rear spoiler.

Of course, there also are conventional 2013 Beetle convertible models, starting with the base $24,995 six-speed automatic transmission version. It has a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder 170-horsepower engine that provides lively performance in town and acceleration that’s a little better than average during 65-75 mph passing. You get more equipment, including a push-button start, for $26,695.

The five-cylinder delivers an estimated 21 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on highways.

All Beetle convertibles are well-equipped. Even the base model has an eight-speaker sound system, cruise control and heatable front seats. Safety features for all Beetle convertibles include a Automatic Rollover Support System.

Moving from the base model gets you up to a $28,495 version with the same 170-horsepower engine but more equipment, including larger (18-inch vs. 17-inch) wheels and a navigation system. That’s the version I tested.

A fuel-stingy stingy 140-horsepower “clean” four-cylinder turbocharged diesel with lots of torque powers the $27,895 version with a six-speed manual transmission and such things as a touchscreen radio. It’s a good bet, especially for stop-go-traffic driving, delivering 28 miles per gallon in the city and 41 on highways.

For $28,995, you can get the diesel with a six-speed DSG manual/automatic transmission. The ultimate diesel price runs up to $30,295, thanks to even more features.

The sportiest Beetle convertible is the $27,795 version with Volkswagen’s venerable turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine generating 200 horsepower. This version features a sport suspension, six-speed manual transmission and sexy cosmetic touches. It comes with the six-speed DSG automatic for $28,895. Estimated fuel economy is 21 city, 29 highway.

Then there’s the turbo convertible with a premium sound system and either the manual or automatic, priced from $29,195 with a manual gearbox to $30,295 with the automatic. Winding up the line is the turbo convertible with sound and navigation system, sport seats and other items. It costs $31,195 (manual) to $32,295 (DSG automatic).

But a $30,000-plus seems to be an awful lot for any Beetle. For many, the $24,995 base model will do just fine, although diesel engines are making a strong comeback in America and the turbocharged 2-liter engine is a gem.

The rigidly built Beetle convertible I drove had no rattles, and the top closed tightly and helped create a quiet interior, except for some wind noise with the top up. Close a door and the window pops up a fraction of an inch to create a tight seat.

Despite sub-20-degree weather, I drove with the top down for several miles and felt considerable wind in my face, despite a windless day. Manually lowering the seat may have taken me out of the windstream.

All versions have wide-opening doors, but the tight rear seat isn’t easy for adults to reach. Front seats are generally comfortable, but could use more thigh support. Gauges are easily read, and controls are simple to use. The glove box has two levels, but door pockets are too thin to be of much use. However, there’s a fold out dashboard tray near the steering wheel that can handle toll road change or other small items. Front-console cupholders are well-placed.

Rear visibility is poor, but the outside mirrors are fairly large. They fold against the door window glass to prevent parking lot damage.

The moderately large (for a small convertible) trunk has an opening that’s high and  narrow, but lowering the top doesn’t much affect trunk space. The 50/50 split rear folding seatbacks have trunk releases but don’t sit entirely flat when folded forward. And the pass-through from the trunk to the rear-seat area is rather small.

The rather light steering is quick, and the anti-lock brakes feel fine. The Beetle convertible is no sports car, but my test car had secure handling, especially on decreasing radius expressway off-ramps. The ride was a little firm, but supple.

The  2.5-liter four-cylinder sounded a bit gruff at wide-open throttle, but otherwise was fine. Incidentally, my experiences with Volkswagen’s turbo 2-liter gas engine and its diesel motor have been quite good.  

The heavy hood is held open by a prop rod, but fluid-filler areas are easily reached in the crowded front-engine compartment.

Some folks wouldn’t have anything but a convertible. And who can tell how many Volkswagen Beetle convertibles will help take them back to their youth?