The fastest version of Volkswagen's endearing Beetle Cabriolet, the Golf GTI-engined 2.0 TSI, is a tempting package. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
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. And it's a surprisingly tempting package in top 2.0 TSI petrol form.
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. Let's try it in its most desirable form, with a 200PS 2.0TSI petrol engine beneath the bonnet.
This Beetle Cabriolet shares almost nothing with its predecessor. As a driver, you're sat properly forward rather than somewhere vaguely near the middle of the thing. Over bumps the car doesn't shake and rattle about as if it's about to fall to pieces. Put your foot down and you actually make meaningful progress forward. And there's no ridiculous bud vase in the centre of the dash to make the whole design so annoyingly gender-specific. I musn't get carried away of course. Despite a 20% improvement in body stiffness, there's none of the go kart eagerness of a MINI Convertible - but then in this Volkswagen, you also do without the MINI's awful ride ride, wobbly body and cramped cabin. That's a trade I think most will be quite happy to make. Especially now that this Beetle is so much more dynamically adept - and so impressively refined roof-up. There's decent power on offer for those who really want it. I tried the top petrol model which has a 220PS 2.0-litre TSI petrol unit from the Golf GTI that makes 62mph in 6.9s on the way to 143mph. Push the thing along and the steering's still a bit vaguer than I would like, but at least the car now feels more willing to change direction when you ask it to, especially in the pokier petrol guises like the 2.0 TSI that get the XDS electronic differential lock system that was developed for the last generation Golf GTI.
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 £19,000, but I tried the top 2.0 TSI petrol model priced from around £28,000 and offered in either manual or DSG auto guises. Apart from the electric hood and tonneau cover that's part and parcel of the Beetle Cabriolet package, all models get a rear spoiler, power windows and mirrors, air conditioning that also cools the glovebox, a trip computer, a decent quality iPod-compatible eight-speaker stereo with an aux-in socket and digital radio, plus a hill holder clutch to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. This top 2.0 TSI petrol engine also get the XDS differential lock system that improves handling through fast bends. Beyond that of course, it depends upon your choice from the wide range of charismatic trim levels and the lengthy options list. Colour choice will be important and on certain trim levels, your choice of shade can be extended inside the car to allow for matching body-coloured dash and door panels, something you can then nicely set off with optional three-colour ambient lighting. And beyond that? Well I'd certainly want the wind deflector which makes a big difference to in-car turbulance when you're not using the back seats.
Cost of Ownership
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. Like most open-topped cars this one weighs more than the tin-top version upon which it's based, with the extra body reinforcement and rollover protection adding 114kgs to the kerb weight. Obviously, that has an effect on fuel and CO2 figures, but in this case it's not too great, increasing these by around 5% over those of the fixed-top Beetle model that Volkswagen insist we should call the 'Coupe' version. The top 2.0 TSI 220 variant I tried returns 42.2mpg and 154g/km in manual form - or 41.5mpg and 159g/km as a DSG automatic. At least you should be able to keep maintenance costs in check fairly easily. Volkswagen offers a choice between 'Fixed' servicing for low mileage cars and a 'Flexible' servicing programme for those covering more than 10,000 miles a year. Using the latter programme, it's possible to drive for up to 20,000 miles or 24 months without a major service. That leaves insurance groupings that are pitched at 31 for the 2.0 TSI petrol.
Volkswagen has improved this Beetle Cabriolet in all manner of ways. Engines like the 2.0 TSI unit we tried 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.