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CALL ME A CAB
Published on Saturday 25 May 2013 07:25
Ten Second Review
Let's face it, you don't buy a Volkswagen Beetle if practicality is at the top of your agenda, so why not go the whole hog and opt for a soft top? The latest Beetle Cabriolet turns the style right up and looks a really great ownership proposition. It's everything its predecessor needed to be.
Here's something to chew over. It took Volkswagen 41 years of production to sell 330,000 examples of the original soft top Beetle. That's a smidge more than 8,000 cars per year. Yet the 'New' Beetle Cabriolet, introduced in 2002, racked up 230,000 registrations in just eight years. That's a rate of nearly 29,000 cars per annum. Nostalgia eh? It's not what it was.
Volkswagen's hoping to continue that trend with the third instalment in the Beetle Cabriolet story. Bigger, better equipped, with far superior engines and much-improved quality, the latest car has taken a step upmarket. It might no longer be the car that everybody can afford but it's one that has once again become stylish, desirable and, Volkswagen hopes, popular.
One of the biggest changes between this version of the Beetle Cabriolet and its predecessor is the sheer range and quality of engines and transmissions now on offer. Back at the original 'New Beetle' Cabriolet's launch just after the New Millennium, then, your choices were strictly limited. Now there's a selection of five engines and four gearboxes. When that old car was launched, the entry-level engine was a 115bhp 2.0-litre petrol unit. Nowadays, we get a 104bhp 1.2-litre TSI. Next up is the 158bhp 1.4-litre TSI and the range-topper is the 197bhp 2.0 TSI, which uses the same engine seen in the Golf GTI. There's a pair of diesel engines too, starting with a 104bhp 1.6-litre with BlueMotion Technology and topping out with a torquey 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI.
Gearboxes? The 1.6 diesel is offered with the choice of a five-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG twin clutcher, whereas the 2.0-litre diesel gets the option of a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG. Petrol engines? Try the 1.2 TSI with six-speed manual or 7 speed DSG, whereas the rest of the engines get six-speed manuals or DSGs. In addition, the range-topping powerplant, the 2.0-litre 197bhp unit, features a standard XDS electronic differential lock as fitted to the Golf GTI. This guarantees strong traction out of corners. Volkswagen claims 0-60mph in less than eight seconds for the 2.0-litre TSI, which is pretty quick for a car of this type. I think I'd be happy just burbling around in a modest diesel.
Design and Build
In many regards, the hands of Volkswagen's design team are a little tied when it comes to styling a Beetle Cabriolet, but in this instance the design has been teased into a sportier and more dynamic silhouette while still retaining the characteristic look and feel. At 1,473mm tall, 4,278mm long and 1,808mm wide (excluding mirrors), the latest Beetle Cabriolet is 29mm lower, 152mm longer and 84mm wider than its predecessor.
The easing of the belt a little has resulted in a more planted stance and genuine benefits on both interior and luggage space. At 225-litres, the boot is 24-litres larger than that in the previous model, while the rear seat bench can also be folded. The windscreen is also moved back, changing the contours of the roof and creating 12mm more headroom in the rear. The multi-layer hood with glass rear screen folds automatically in just 9.5 seconds - even while driving at up to 31mph - and can be raised in 11.0 seconds. A tonneau is provided to cover the roof when folded. The interior also feels more akin to the original Beetle, especially the slab-fronted glove box and the neat colour accent panels.
Market and Model
With a premium of just under £3,000 over its hard top sibling at the entry level point of the range, the choice of a soft top on your Bug will need to be very earnestly considered. Or alternatively you've seen one and just have to have it. That's usually the emotional basis on which most drop top cars are built and you'll make your own assessment of the value proposition. Prices start at just over £18,000 and three mainstream trim levels are available - Beetle, Design and Sport - and each is endowed with its own individual character and features. A wide range of innovative optional equipment is also available, ranging from Keyless Access through satellite navigation systems and a panoramic sunroof to bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights - all of which are available for the first time on a Beetle.
There are also three launch trims that could prove popular. My personal favourite is the '50s' model, finished in black with old-school black-painted 'Orbit' 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome door mirrors, a black hood and black or beige leather upholstery. The '60s' is available with Denim Blue or Candy White bodywork, a black hood and blue-and-black or red-and-black leather. The '70s' model has beige leather upholstery and a beige hood to match, along with chrome door mirrors and Java Brown Metallic paint. These launch models are sold with the 1.4-litre TSI engine and six-speed manual gearbox.
Cost of Ownership
With a pair of diesel engines on offer, the Beetle Cabriolet isn't going to break the bank on terms of day to day running costs. The manual version of the 1.6 TDI returns 62.8mpg while the 2.0-litre TDI isn't that far behind, registering a combined fuel economy figure of 55.4mpg. Don't overlook the petrol engines either, as the 1.2 TSI can return up to 47.9mpg and the 1.4-litre 41.5mpg. Emissions are held in check too with the 1.6 TDI scoring just 118g/km.
Industry watchers suggest that early adopters of the Beetle will be rewarded with a car that's sure to hold its value well. As with any vehicle of this type, the used market is hungry for metal, so residual values will be nicely propped up.
Volkswagen has improved this Beetle Cabriolet in all manner of ways. The engines are more efficient. There's a lot more boot space. The cars are better to drive. There's more safety equipment. None of this really matters though. The main thing is that the Beetle Cabriolet looks good. After years where it was viewed as a novelty car whose appeal had long worn off, the drop top Bug is back as a hot ticket. Will that last? Who knows?
MINI has shown that retro styling can have durable appeal and this Beetle Cabriolet seems to have embraced its heritage a lot more cleverly than its predecessor. The best part about this Volkswagen is that even if the novelty does wear off, you're left with a very good car. That's a very welcome Plan B.