Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible TDI

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible TDI at the beach

I might as well just get it out of the way: The Beetle Convertible is not the manliest car on the road. While I don’t subscribe to the whole “chick car” thing with most vehicles, I will go as far as to say that looking at the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible, it isn’t a testosterone-injected man-mobile. In fact, I got so much shit from my co-workers about this car. Comments like, “Do you need me to stop and get some flowers for the bud vase?” (No bud vase on the Beetles anymore, by the way), or “Do you get a lot of attention from guys while driving it?” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fine. I totally expected this kind of reaction. But what about if you threw in an engine that made 236 ft./lbs. of torque? What if I said that torque came courtesy of a turbocharged diesel engine? What if I said it can also has a six-speed manual transmission? That might make some people think twice about this cute convertible, me included.

The VW Beetle was redesigned for 2012, and this year the drop-top Bug makes its debut. And while it can be had with the 2.5-liter five-cylinder or the 2.0-liter turbo gas engine, it’s the availability of Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter TDI (turbo direct injection) engine that’s noteworthy, as it become the one and only diesel convertible on the U.S. market.

If you’ve never driven a VW TDI engine, you should. It’s one of the great modern engines available on American shores. It’s got gobs of torque, is quiet, and still performs admirably. And no, it doesn’t smoke and it starts easily. Most of the usable power is below 3,000 RPM. There’s a learning curve to driving one, though. You can cruse at 40 MPH in sixth gear. Yes, it’s got that much torque. There is a little icon on the dash that tells you which gear to be in. I’d normally find such things annoying, but with this engine, it was useful. Somewhat embarrassingly, I stalled the car countless times at stoplights and stop signs. It takes a bit of finesse to learn to drive, but once you get it, it’s fantastic. In town, the car drives effortlessly and has more than enough power. With all that torque, it’s easy to spin the front tires. And while it isn’t what most people would call “fast,” it briskly gets up to speed.

Driving the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible with the TDI engine

On the highway, there’s ample passing power, although a downshift to fourth or fifth gear is a requisite. Revving the TDI doesn’t get you much. By the way, according to the boost gauge, this thing easily pumps out 35 PSI of boost. The shifter feel was very good, too. Don’t want it with a manual transmission (what’s wrong with you?)? It is available with VW’s dual-clutch DSG transmission, too.

On the highway, the ride is very good. It’s on the softer side, but is supple, devoid of sharp kickbacks, and unsettled feelings (I wish I could say the same thing for me). There is very good steering feel, although the car can feel heavy at times, especially during enthusiastic cornering. But at no time does it feel sloppy; everything remains in check the whole time. Remember: This isn’t a GTI or Beetle Turbo with a stiff, sporty suspension. This is the diesel.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle with the top up

The car is pretty quiet when traveling at highway speeds. Certainly you don’t hear the engine much. Wind noise isn’t bad for a convertible, and road noise is kept to a minimum. With the top up, I did experience squeaks from the driver’s side window when it was up. It didn’t seem to seat well in the convertible top’s rubber weather stripping, and it produced a creaking, especially over bumps.

Top-down fun is really where it’s at with the Beetle. Speaking of, the soft top is effortless to operate. There are no latches or locks to undo. Simply hold the button down, and the top opens up, even at speeds of up to 30 MPH. Once that top is down, you’ve got some choices. You can have the door windows up or down as well as small windows for the back seat areas. You have the option to fit a cover over the convertible top giving it that retro Beetle Convertible look. Finally, our Beetle had the optional $500 windscreen that is stored in the trunk. This multi-folding mesh and plastic unit comes out of a tray in the back, then unfolds and snaps into place over the rear seats. Flip up a panel and it acts as a wind buffer. It works well, at least up to about 60 MPH, at which point our screen would slam down making a loud SNAP. The first time this happened, we thought the whole thing had flown out of the car. Whether this is a failsafe so it doesn’t break or if it’s simply a defective part I don’t know. I do know when it works, it keeps the wind down nicely in the cabin.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible interior

Speaking of the cabin, I love the interior on this car. It has some interior bits that are color coordinated to the exterior finish, such as door and dash trim. No, there isn’t a bud vase anymore. There is a boost gauge, oil temperature and, well, a stopwatch, although we never really figured out why it was there. All three of the gauges are located in a small pod in the center of the dashboard. Traditional tachometer and speedometer gauges are located in front of the driver, as well as a multi-function trip computer.

My wife and I both found the convertible’s interior comfortable, even on our long trip to the coast. She did complain a bit about lack of lumbar support, and I would say the leather seats could be a bit more bolstered, but overall they were comfortable. If things do get chilly, the front seats have excellent heaters with three levels of warmth. Yes, there is a back seat to this drop top, but it’s best occupied by children or cargo as there isn’t a ton of room there. Also, if you do plan on taking a road trip, you’ll need to be careful with the amount of luggage you bring, as the trunk is pretty tiny, what with the windscreen holder in there.

Other notable interior bits include a rich sounding stereo system with satellite, navigation, and Bluetooth connectivity; easy-to-use buttons on the steering wheel (trip computer functions, stereo control, and phone control); and finally, a noticeable blind spot with the top up. Look twice before merging!

Of course, one of the main reason people buy a TDI-equipped VW is the fuel economy. This car is rated at 28 city, 32 combined, and 41 highway. We got a very good 41.3 MPG combined. The best part about it was we didn't even have to try that hard. It's been my experience than many vehicles, especially hybrids, tend to require a lot of babying in order to get close to those EPA-estimated numbers. That was not the case with this vehicle. The 41.3 MPG number was easily achievable. Also, the range is fantastic at over 400 miles per tank.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible rear shot

The 2013 Beetle Convertible with a TDI engine and six-speed manual transmission starts at a twinge over $29,000, with our model rounding out at $29,695. If you want a diesel convertible, this is it. No really, this is your only choice. And while I would personally prefer a Golf TDI, the Beetle TDI has its own charm to it, but if you’re a dude, don’t expect to earn much cred with your buddies. Then again, if you let them drive it, they too might be able to see past the “chick car” thing.

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