With its lower, wider and more angular design, the third incarnation of the Volkswagen Beetle is the most overtly sporting, but it still looks joyously retro, in the same way that the latest Mini and Fiat 500 models are – so people will either love it or loathe it. Its protruding front wings and doe-eyed headlamps could only belong to one car. For the full-retro look you’ll want the alloy wheels which ape vintage hub caps, which come as standard on the special 50s and 60s versions. If that’s not your cup of Chai, the Beetle can be rebooted with a set of more modern rims. There are plenty of bright colours to choose from on the outside, and you get trim to match the exterior in the cabin too.
The only criticism normally levelled at VW’s interiors is their monotone colour scheme and the fit, finish and build quality the brand has trademarked it all present and correct. You can opt to have the dashboard finished in the exterior colour of the car, which both brightens things up and adds to its retro appeal. The instrument cluster is dominated by a huge speedometer, flanked by rev and fuel gauges, while the central console features a stereo or touchscreen depending on the trim level. The driving position is good and the seat is easy to adjust – but you sit much higher than you would in some other cabriolets. Everything feels solid and carefully thought through, and while its quality is on a par with the MINI, its practicality and sense of space is greater. One downside to the fabric roof though is the small rear window, making reversing tricky with it in place.
There are four proper individual seats in the Beetle Cabriolet, with good shoulder and headroom. Rear seat legroom is also entirely acceptable for this type of car, though not suited to longer motorway trips. The hood takes a brisk 9.5 seconds to stow and only 11 seconds to raise, and usefully this can be done on the move at speeds up to 31mph, saving blushes when the traffic lights turn green or the rain starts to pour. The boot hatch opens upwards but only has a small loading aperture, making accessing its 225 litres of space awkward with larger items. The boot is 24 litres bigger than the previous model’s and easily exceeds MINI’s 125-litres of storage though.
Ride and handling
While the lower-powered Beetle hatchback’s make do with a basic torsion beam rear suspension design, all Cabriolets get advanced independent rear suspension, thanks to its compact nature which intrudes less into the boot space. The result is a car which corners and rides better, and has nicely weighted and accurate steering. The ride quality suffers on models with larger wheels and heavier engines, as the weight of the roof and loss of stiffness from the open roof mean you get a noticeable bounce from the rear over speed humps. This Beetle is sweeter to drive with smaller petrol engines (especially the 1.2 and 1.4 TSI) and 16 or 17-inch alloy wheels. In this guise it feels nimble and less unsettled by bumps than the 2.0-litre Sport models. If handling is really important to you, the MINI is the more terrier-like car, but it’s also a more tiring cruiser.
As with all VW’s there is no shortage of choice here, from the surprisingly adept 1.2-litre petrol to the eco-warrior 1.6-litre diesel and GTI-in-drag 2.0-litre TSI with 197bhp. Unless you are a performance die hard, we favoured the smaller engines, which seem to rev more smoothly and suit the laid back nature of the Cabriolet. But, grown-up performance is there if you want it – even if we’d argue you’d be better off with the MINI Convertible Cooper S or a Golf GTI cabriolet if it’s a hot hatch you’re after. I you choose the DSG automatic gearbox, you won’t be disappointed. Changes are far quicker than any human could manage, and normally smoother too. For most owners the smallest engine will be plenty and if you haven’t tried a ‘downsized’ engine yet, you’ll be amazed. Refinement on these small petrols is also top notch, making them perfect for short trips around town. There’s a bit of buffeting from the wind in the cabin during roof-off motorway runs though, especially for those sat in the back.
The boffins in Wolfsburg have squeezed 62.8mpg out of the 1.6-litre diesel with BlueMotion Technology, despite the soft-top Beetle not having the most aerodynamic properties. It emits 118g/km of CO2, making it fairly cheap to tax too. The 1.2-litre TSI manages between 46 and 48mpg (it’s better with the DSG auto ‘box), and even the top performance model returns a respectable 37.7mpg. The Beetle is a little expensive to buy, but like its main rival the Mini cabriolet, it should hold onto its value really well, so you’ll get a good chunk of that money back when the time comes to sell it on.
From the fixtures and fittings to the way the hood silently appears over your head, the Beetle Cabriolet oozes quality. Its engine line-up is lightly modified from a myriad of other VW models being driven around the globe, so any issues should be few and far between. Having said all that, Volkswagens do not also prove as reliable as their reputation might imply, and Warranty Direct has the brand hovering in mid-table in its reliability index, well below its key rivals. The Beetle also comes with a standard, three-year, 60,000 mile warranty, rather than the longer term cover available elsewhere.
There’s an electronic safety net to help prevent skids on slippery roads, and a large number of airbags dotted around the cabin should the worst happen. Rollover hoops automatically pop up behind the rear seats if the car tilts over too far in the event of a serious crash, there are ISOFIX mounts for child seats in the second row, and Euro NCAP gave the hard-top Beetle a full five star rating back in 2011, which implies that the drop-top is a pretty safe place to be in the event of an accident too.
Standard trim levels are called Beetle, Design and Sport, with air-con, remote central locking, a CD player, DAB digital radio and a rear spoiler fitted as standard. Design adds 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, front fog lamps, alarm, an enhanced media system, leather accents and body-coloured interior trim. Sport ups the wheel size by a further inch and adds cruise control, sports seats, parking sensors, gloss black door mirrors and interior trim, dual-zone air-con and sports dials.
With few rivals, the Beetle Cabriolet will be a no-brainer for many fans seeking a fun car in time for summer. They’ll be mightily impressed with Volkswagens engines and technology too. For some, however, its looks will still be too obviously retro to swallow in the 21st Century, and this is definitely not a sports car, even equipped with a powerful engine.