Volkswagen's third take on the Beetle theme might just be at its best with a roof that folds back. This improved model line-up also now features a trendy Dune version too. Jonathan Crouch reports.
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 improved third generation Beetle Cabriolet we look at here is strong on style and looks a really great ownership proposition. If you want to make a statement, the fashionable Dune version will be tempting.
Oscar Wilde tells us that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. And if you're amongst those who've always promised themselves a modern, affordable yet nostalgically styled new convertible, then what you might well be thinking of yielding to is something like this, the improved third generation Beetle Cabriolet. This car's been on sale since 2013 and has proved to be a big step forward from its predecessor, bigger, better equipped, with superior engineware and much-improved quality. It also remains the most affordable route into Volkswagen soft-top ownership, which might make you feel better about stretching up to the trendest 'Dune' version lately added to the range. The Beetle Cabriolet is also rather unique in the affordable drop-top segment, offering the kind of character you simply don't get in soft-top versions of ordinary family hatchbacks, the kind of rear seat space you'd never find in a convertible MINI and the sort of proper 'wind-in-the-hair' experience that can't be fully replicated by cars like the Fiat 500C and the Citroen DS3 Cabrio that aren't fully-fledged convertibles. A new kind of nostalgia then - in an appealing kind of Beetle. Let's put it to the test.
Let's start with the roof, a beautifully tailored multi-layered piece of heavy duty fabric that at the press of a button rises up in 11 seconds, folds away in 9.5s and is operable at speeds of up to 31mph. That's in contrast to the similar soft-top fitted to the Golf Cabriolet that requires you to slow right down to 18mph before the electrics will work. Like all proper convertibles, you'll find it a bit blustery when driving al fresco unless you put the windows up, but with the optional wind deflector in place across the rear seats, things improve considerably. As for engines, well they're all borrowed from the older MK6 model Golf - so in other words, a couple of generations more modern than those supplied in the previous generation version of this car. The most popular version has an eager 1.2-litre TSI petrol unt offering 105PS and capable of making 62mph in 10.9s en route to 112mph. If you've a little more in the budget though and wouldn't mind a little extra punch, then don't ignore the 160PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol unit, which manages 9.1s and 125mph and could very well be the prime pick in the range. There are also 110 and 150PS version of VW's familiar 2.0 TDI diesel powerplant. Around the bends, you notice that this generation Beetle Cabrio is an awful lot stiffer than much older versions, thanks to copious body strengthening across the floor and thicker A-pillars, which is why it won't judder about so much over the bumps. Most small soft-tops need vibration dampers to try and take care of that but this Beetle doesn't need them.
Design and Build
We'll start with the styling changes made to these lightly improved Cabriolet models; to be frank, they're not particularly significant. There are sharpened lines for the front bumpers, while larger openings around the indicator and fog light surrounds give extra depth to the car's appearance. Go for top 'R-Line' trim and there's a sportier bumper design. Go for the 'Dune' version and there's a 10mm ride height increase, with more rugged looks enhanced via 18-inch 'Mythos' alloy wheels, front and rear wheelarch extensions and bolder bumper designs. Otherwse, things are much as before. One of the advantages of the way the fabric roof sits proud of the passenger compartment just above the integral rear spoiler is that it doesn't take up bootspace, which is pretty reasonable for this class of car at 225-litres, enough (if you can negotiate the narrow loading bay) for a couple of small suitcases and about double what you'd get in an open-top Fiat 500 or MINI. If that's not enough, you can fold down the rear seatbacks using two neat levers, freeing up a lot more space. That's assuming you're not using the back seats of course. Unlike many of its rivals in the small convertible sector, this car has a big enough cabin to comfortably take four adults - for short to medium journeys anyway, provided the occupants aren't excessively tall. At the wheel, you're seated behind a traditional upright dashboard with a set of three traditional dials visible through a sporty three-spoke thin-rimmed wheel. Unfortunately, the plastics are traditional too, so no Golf-like soft-touch surfaces. Still, the quality seems good even if the Mexican factory doesn't seem to screw things together quite up to German-fabricated Golf standards. Interior updates with this improved model include brighter instrument panel lighting, plush smarter upholstery materials and revised dials and dash styling for the Design and R-Line models. Classic Beetle touches include the upwards-opening glovebox, natty elastic straps instead of door pockets and the optional auxiliary instruments you can specify to sit above the infotainment controls. You'll look in vain for the MK2 Beetle Cabriolet's dash-mounted flower vase though. Good.
Market and Model
Compared to what you'd pay for a fixed-top Beetle, there's a model-for-model premium of just over £3,000 to find for this soft-top version, leading to pricing mainly pitched in the £20,000 to £28,500 bracket. There's also the option of a trendier-looking 'Dune' version with a higher ride height. That's based on the 'Design' trim level and is priced from around £24,500. If, having considered all of this, you conclude that it is a Beetle Cabriolet that you really, really want, then whichever engine you settle upon - 1.2 or 1.4-litre TSI petrol or 2.0 TDI diesel - you're going to want a decent level of standard equipment to be fitted before you get into the inevitable realms of personalisation. And, by and large, you should be reasonably happy with what's on offer. Apart from the electric hood and tonneau cover that's part and parcel of the Beetle Cabriolet package, all models get Climatic semi-automatic air conditioning that also cools the glovebox, a trip computer, power heated mirrors, electric windows, an 8-speaker MP3-compatible CD stereo with aux-in point and a hill-holder clutch to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Go for the sporty 'R-Line' variants and you can expect to find 18-inch 'Twister' alloy wheels, 'Sports' instrument dials, aluminium pedals and scuff plates featuring the 'R-Line' logo. Inside, 'R-Line' buyers get a leather-trimmed three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, which has an R-Line badge insert and coloured stitching too. The seats are finished in 'Kyalami' cloth and the R-Line badge is resplendent in the headrests.
Cost of Ownership
If running costs are a key concern, then you'll naturally gravitate towards the 2.0-litre TDI 110PS diesel Cabriolet variant. Thanks to a Stop/Start system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck at the lights or waiting in traffic, this model is able to return 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and put out 113g/km of CO2. And to put that in perspective? Well, it's some way off the standards set by a smaller rival MINI Convertible Cooper D but potential Beetle owners will be looking at pretty much the same kind of returns as they'd get from a base diesel Golf Cabriolet. Elsewhere in the Beetle Cabriolet range, the story's very similar. Yes, you can get lower running costs from a smaller soft top like a MINI or a Fiat 500C but if your search is centring on affordable convertible that can actually take four people and more than a token amount of luggage, then you'll find that this Volkswagen's returns are pretty par for the course. Choose, for example, for the pokier 2.0 TDI 150 diesel and you're looking at putting out just 119g/km of CO2. Opt for this top diesel Beetle with a 6-speed DSG auto gearbox and your returns will be hit by about 10%.
Like the idea of a Beetle Cabriolet? Then you like this one very much indeed. If you don't, then nothing your local Volkswagen sales person will say about the efficient engines, the engaging driving experience and the better-than-average bootspace is likely to convince you. Retro design is like that - which is why Volkswagen also offers a soft-top Golf for those who can't really see the point. That's arguably a more sensible choice, but then who ever bought a small convertible for sensible reasons? A car like this is - and should be - an indulgence, a bit of fun. Exactly like soft-top Beetles always have been. And, after years of being viewed as a novelty car whose appeal had long worn off, this Volkswagen's back as a hot ticket in this segment. 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. Perhaps the best part about this Bug though, is that even if the novelty does wear off, you're left with a very good car. And that's a very welcome Plan B.