We take…[sigh]…the new convertible Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet for a spin. Stop laughing…
|Inline 4cyl, TSI, 1984cc
|207bhp @ 5300rpm
|207lb ft @ 1700rpm
|As a convertible, the Beetle drips character and just works
|Unless you’re in the Middle East
There’s no way of breaking this gently, so I’ll just come out and say it: my latest test drive…is a Volkswagen Beetle cabriolet. A bright red one.
What’s to be done? Nothing really, besides sport a poker face, remind myself that this is essentially a Golf with funky styling, and try to ignore the bemused looks of motorists as they watch a rather large, 40-something old man drive past topless. No, I mean the roof.
Once on the road though, things are a little different. With a 2-litre TSI four-cylinder that produces 207bhp and the Golf’s outstanding chassis, suspension and steering, the Beetle is quite the toy. Turns are handled with German efficiency and the gearbox is surprisingly rapid. You should not expect a GT-R’s off-the-line performance either but this lil’ Herbie has teeth, and bites. Funnily enough, I drove the hard-top Beetle a couple of days later and found no difference whatsoever in dynamic capabilities so in sunny Middle East, the cabriolet is a no-brainer.
Despite the knock to your dignity, how does the Beetle drive?
It is a bit surprising how nimble and playful the car is though. A heavy and low-powered cabriolet tends to be sedated but in this case, rather than the typical A-to-B conveyor, the Beetle seems to demand rough treatment, with ups and downs, turns and apexes: it’s really asking for a B-road, but because it is a convertible, it’s asking for a B-road in Mallorca (Middle East highways don’t exactly cut it). As an extra detail, Volkswagen has kept the ‘droplet’ feature in this model, namely that little purr the GTI makes when shifting ratios.
And then comes the interior, where the design detail borders on ridiculous, including the dashboard, which is the same eye-bleeding Tornado Red as the exterior. Take the audio system of instance. I would have been fine with a Sony, a Blaupunkt or a Panasonic since the car is a cabriolet, and sound quality is therefore gone with the wind. But no, VW has included a Fender system, meaning Stratocaster all the way, connectivity for two Bluetooth devices (although one is only for audio), and the increasingly popular Apple CarPlay. But that’s not the clever bit: when did the Beetle start production? Sometime around 1946. And Fender? Hmm… in 1946.
Certainly then the Beetle Cabriolet is more advanced and more premium than either of its predecessors, meaning driving one isn’t quite the head-in-a-paper-bag experience it once was. You now have leather seats that support and welcome you rather than the ‘springs that can be used for ejection’ of yore, and a roof that closes in a not-too-shabby 11 seconds, all put together with refinement albeit with some retro touches that seem to fit the Beetle’s character so well: to move the seats requires pulling a lever under the seat while using one’s leg muscles to adjust the distance.
So, overall verdict?
All in all, this is a car I very much like. The only two things I would have a concern with is the Bluetooth not connecting two devices fully, and the back seats being a tad too small for a fully grown human. That also brings us to the price, a cool $34,800. It’s not exactly cheap but, looking at the convertible landscape of today, there really aren’t that many options available at that price point, especially since the Mazda MX-5 hasn’t even arrived in the region yet.
What I’d expected to be a drive more punishing to my dignity than my spinal column then has done the unthinkable: changed my mind. While this new, more premium Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet is properly grounded in 2016, it nevertheless offers a glimpse into its 70-year history, a remarkable feat considering how much technology has evolved.
And c’mon, it’s Herbie. Everybody loves Herbie