Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet review

12 June 2013

2013 VW Beetle Cabriolet front view, hood open

VW Beetle Cabriolet
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: Snug roof, good looks, high fun factor
Bad: Cramped back seats, poor rear visibility
Price: From £18,405
The soft-top version of Volkswagen’s latest Beetle arrived in the UK this April, to a typically British welcome of freezing wet weather. Even on the midsummer day of my test drive the weather was far from obliging, with only brief snatches of sun appearing between bouts of hammering rain and grey drizzle.

As a result I can attest that the new Beetle Cabriolet’s fully automatic roof can go from closed to open and back again in about 20 seconds flat – 9.5 seconds on the way down and 11 on the way up. It also works at speeds up to 31mph, which is always handy.

Those times are just for the roof, mind you, not from watertight to back again. The side windows have to drop a little to make way for the moving roof and they will pause, half-open, for another couple of seconds after the roof is fully latched or entirely open. Keep your finger on the button if you want them to pop back up. Those extra moments matter in a blustery sideways shower.

2013 VW Beetle Cabriolet rear view, hood closed

Closed, the car feels cosy and secure and not much worse than the fixed-head Beetle for visibility – by which I mean both rear and over-the-shoulder vision is abysmal. Parking sensors will tend to be a wise investment. Forward and lateral vision is excellent, though, with the screen pillars not getting in the way at junctions as much as in the new Golf, for example.

The closed roof does bring a fair amount of wind noise at speed, which is to be expected. Once open, the folded canvas sits in a slightly untidy pile on the rear deck but does squash down far enough to give a clear rear view and a properly open feel. Buffeting didn’t feel too bad in the front seats, with or without the four side windows raised, while owners with carefully arranged hairstyles may want to plump for the optional rear deflector.

2013 VW Beetle Cabriolet wind deflector

The windbreak is a somewhat tricky piece of spring-loaded plastic and netting that snaps down to a quarter of its open size – hopefully without removing too many fingers – before sliding away into a sort of shelf suspended from the roof of the boot. Deployed, it covers the rear seats and generally has the air of a pointless waste of space at £275.

That said, the rear seats aren’t the most accommodating even without the deflector. Getting in and out is surprisingly easy, even with the roof up, but once seated adults will find little in the way of wiggle room for legs or elbows. Worse, the angle of the seat back will remind you of being told to sit up straight as a child. The convertible Beetle is a four seater, but not comfortably so.

2013 VW Beetle Cabriolet interior

Presumably the upright rear seating is needed to keep heads well clear of the pop-up rear rollover supports, which are triggered if the car’s electronic brain thinks things are about to go horribly wrong. You can see where the pair of struts would sprout from at the back, marked “do not cover”.

This admirable safety system does eat into the luggage compartment, and narrows the slot between boot and cabin when the rear seats are flopped forward. With a seats-up capacity of 225 litres, accessed via a letterbox bootlid, the stowage area may be 24 litres bigger than the previous generation’s boot, but it’s also 85 less than the hatchback Beetle. As cabriolets go the boot isn’t half bad, however. It’s much bigger than the Mini Convertible’s 125-litre shoebox, for example.

2013 VW Beetle Cabriolet rear view, hood open

On the move, the new convertible Beetle is quite a lot of fun to drive. The body is clearly not as stiff as the standard Beetle, but it’s not hopelessly wobbly either. The electrically assisted steering is precise and it’s easy to swing accurately through the six-speed manual gearbox. Roadholding and cornering poise on bumpy roads are both helped by multi-link rear suspension, which is superior to the torsion beam arrangement found in lower-powered versions of the tin-top Beetle. I’d class it as an extremely likeable car to chuck about.

I tested a pair of special edition Beetle Cabriolets, both powered by the same 160PS 1.4-litre petrol engine. It yields a 0-62mph time of 8.6 seconds and promises 41.5mpg and 158g/km of CO2 on the combined cycle test. The Cabriolet costs about £2,800 more than the equivalent fixed-roof Beetle, though seems to offer marginally better value for money than a current Golf Cabriolet in equivalent trim.

The black car in my photos is the “50s” edition Beetle costing from £24,895 while the baby blue version is the “60s” model, starting at £26,115. Both are based on the mid-spec Design trim level. There’s also a “70s” edition that sits between the two in price and way out on its own in taste terms, featuring a brown and beige colour scheme that is ill advised due to severe windscreen reflections, if nothing else.

2013 VW Beetle Cabriolet cockpit

While the two cars I tested offered different levels of equipment, they both demonstrated that the 1.4 TSI engine is an eager, free-revving unit. Power is boosted by a supercharger at low revs and a turbocharger at higher revs, blending together in the middle – though it’s still obvious when the turbo starts to come on song.

Both cars boasted a trio of additional sports instruments sprouting from the dashboard, giving oil temperature, turbo boost level and a stopwatch. They look nice enough but might also be classed as pointless tat, depending on your perspective.

2013 VW Beetle Cabriolet sports gauges

An eco gauge might be more useful, especially as the petrol engine isn’t especially efficient. My two tests returned nothing better than 30-something miles per gallon, even when driven at a relatively modest pace and following the gearshift hints offered by the instrument panel.

Fortunately there are other options for those who prefer to get more miles from their fuel. A 1.6-litre TDI diesel with BlueMotion Technology boasts combined cycle economy of 62.8mpg and 118g/km of CO2. It’s only 12kg heavier than the 1.4-litre petrol-powered car and £95 cheaper, though of course not nearly as sprightly. Developing a modest 105PS it needs 12.1 seconds to get to 62mph.

In summary, the Beetle Cabriolet is a good looking car that offers bags of fun for two, with occasional space for four. It suffers all the usual compromises of a full convertible, but does make up for many of them with a big dose of charm.

2013 VW Beetle Cabriolet front view, roof closed

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