It's been nearly 5 years since the New Beetle began turning heads with its smile-inducing looks. To this day, it still gathers appreciative glances wherever it goes. It's almost Pavlovian the way people react to the car: See a New Beetle; break into a smile. That reaction is about to change, however, from a learned response to one even more automatic, one that runs much deeper, down into the genetic level. Why? The New Beetle Convertible is finally here.
Obviously based on the New Beetle coupe, the Convertible sports a cloth-lined three-layered top that comes in either manual or semi-automatic mode. The power version opens or closes in just 13 sec. after the release of the opening/closing latch. The top rests on the rear deck where the C-pillar would be--if it had one--without impeding trunk access. Had the retracted top been placed inside the Convertible's body, either the trunk or back-seat space would have been compromised. Volkswagen choose neither, opting instead for an above-waistline placement that evokes the look of the original Beetle convertible.
A tonneau cover, which matches the vehicle's interior color, comes standard and is relatively easy to install (two people can place the cover quickly). It is highly recommended, as the uncovered top has a tendency to flap in the breeze at higher speeds.
Other visual distinctions include the exterior chrome accent surround, side mirrors with integrated turn signals and a redesigned trunk lid with an integrated third brake light. On the inside, the center console has been redesigned and features an armrest and lockable storage compartment. A ten-speaker sound system with two 220mm subwoofers, two 160mm woofers, four tweeters and two mid-range speakers is standard, as are three 12-volt power points--front, rear and trunk.
The New Beetle Convertible is offered in four configurations, the GL 2.0, GLS 2.0, GLS 1.8T and GLX 1.8T (the 1.8T versions will be offered later in 2003). All are equipped with a five-speed manual transmission; a new six-speed Tiptronic is optional. The 2.0 iterations are powered by VW's tried and true four banger, producing 115 bhp at 5200 rpm and 126 lb-ft of torque. The turbocharged 1.8s output 150 hp at 5800 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque. Neither engine makes the Convertible an autobahn blaster, but both provide enough grunt to get you going in a timely fashion.
The semi-independent suspension setup is the same as the coupe's: MacPherson strut design with control arms, stabilizer bar and coil spring struts are in the front. The rear uses a "V" profile torsion beam axle with integral sway bar and trailing arms. The resulting ride is comfortable without being too soft. The handling is what one has come to expect from Volkswagen: solid with good road-holding ability.
As also expected, the Convertible boasts myriad safety features, beginning with an enhanced body for chassis rigidity. Automatic rollover supports behind the rear seats are deployed--top down or up--in the case of an accident, as are front and side airbags. ABS, daytime running lights, a collapsible steering column, seatbelt tensioners, an emergency trunk release handle and child-safety-seat rear-seat tether anchorage points are also incorporated into the overall safety system.
The GLS and GLX models come standard with the powered roof, 6.5x16-in. alloy wheels (17s are optional), anti-theft wheel locks and foglights. There is a bevy of options, including heated front seats, sport seats (requires the GLS leather package: leather shift knob, handbrake grip, perforated leather seating, three-spoke padded leather wrapped steering wheel), a Monsoon sound system and six-disc CD changer that is vertically installed in the center armrest. The top of the line GLX 1.8T has all of the aforementioned (excepting the sport seats and the CD changer) as standard equipment. A windblocker, ski sack and xenon headlamps are options on all four models. There are three exclusive colors as well, which recall the paint schemes of the first Beetle pop-top: Harvest Moon, Mellow Yellow and Aquarius Blue.
For 2003, the New Beetle Convertible (as do all VWs) have a standard 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, covering wear-and-tear items and adjustments during the initial 12 months or 12,000 miles of ownership. Additional coverage includes a 5-year/60,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.
Watch what happens when you see the New Beetle Convertible; I predict ear-to-ear grins will appear. And those grins will turn to outright laughs when the price is discovered. The GL 2.0 starts at $20,450; the upper-end GLX 1.8T, $25,550. Are you smiling yet? You know you won't be able to help yourself, as it's now encoded in your DNA. You will simply intuit, all the way down to your mitochondria, that the New Beetle Convertible is a fun car. Fun to look at, fun to be seen in and fun to drive.