Test Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

I’m not the sort of fella who is particularly fabulous. Or the sort of guy who likes a convertible, or the sort of dude particularly concerned with colour-coordinated seat accents to match my convertible roof, or colour-coordinated interior trim to match my paint. All of these are key offerings that define the Volkswagen Beetle’s new Classic Convertible model variant.

Nobody who got close to the tester left unaffected. Everyone stops and looks, and most say they love it.

Volkswagen says the interior colour accents and palette intend to appeal to the fashionista, and although I’m mocked, often and vigorously, for ownership of a pair of sunglasses colour-matched to my car, and a suspect-looking pair of blue sneakers, I don’t consider myself one of those, either.

The Beetle Classic Convertible has a special paint colour, repeated on the interior accents. A special brown fabric top. Specially styled cloth seats with brown leather trim, accent stitching, and a faint checkerboard cloth pattern. And, perhaps the Beetle Classic’s most eyeball-snatching party favor, it’s got a fantastic looking set of retro-dish heritage wheels that call the original Beetle to mind and make nearby tuner-kids do a quadruple take. They look like the cabbage-shredding attachment on my food processor, and I think they’re neat.

Nobody who got close to the tester left unaffected. Everyone stops and looks, and most say they love it. Others expressed surprise when your writer, not a middle-age lady wielding a purse-dog, got out.

Looks aside, there’s something sort of magical about convertible motoring in the fall, with the beautiful colours out on the trees, accenting the beautiful colours of the car. I had a ton of fun photographing it against the mid-October backdrop. It’s a pleasing drive, too. And throughout this attention-grabbing variant of an already attention-grabbing car, you see numerous VW traits employed towards that promise.

The new 1.8L turbocharged four-banger behind the bug’s beaming bumper provides drivers with 170 hp and even more torque. In signature TSI style, the engine is quiet, remarkably effortless at low revs, remarkably smooth at high revs, and never feels or sounds like it’s working – though it flings the Beetle along via its front wheels with authority when you get it breathing. The tester got a six-speed automatic that proves smooth and responsive, once it gets used to your driving habits after a few kilometres at the wheel.

Steering, handling and ride quality are in a similar refinement ballpark. The suspension is a touch stiff on occasion, but packs plenty of softness around the edges, supporting a relaxing and comfortable drive at all times, without eliminating any and all responsiveness. Steering is heavy at high speed, light at low speed, and feels just about perfect at all times. Feather-light wheel effort and an amusingly tight turning circle make parking a cinch. Ditto the backup camera, which hides behind the trunk-mounted badge, so it stays clean and clear. Even the brakes are that little more precise than they probably need to be. It all adds up to a car that demonstrates a little extra attention to detail, in the way that it feels, to the driver.

When a top-down highway drive is the order of the day, perhaps between scattered October showers, the roof system adds to the enjoyment. Drivers needn’t pull over and stop – simply slow to 50 km/h or so, pull the switch for 10 seconds, and the roof comes and goes on a whim. Accelerating back up to speed happens in short order. This is one of the quickest convertible roofs I’ve ever used, plus, thanks to tensioning wires, it fits snug, and doesn’t sound like a giant tent when you’re cruising top-up on the highway.

Notably, there’s no change to trunk space in relation to the roof’s position – since that roof has its own hiding space just behind the rear seats. To facilitate said roof, those seats are smaller, thinner, more rigid and more upright than you’ll find in the standard car. Adults of average leg-length will fit for short trips, though leggier individuals will become well acquainted with their knees. Leave the back seats to the kids.

Roof up or down, there’s plenty to love going on inside. Storage is abundant: a deep console bin, covered armrest compartment, door bins and the like all aid in keeping your things organized, secure and out of sight on the go. The dash features a shallow bin on top to keep your snacks secure, and the typically wasted space below the airbag on the passenger side dash has been turned into a storage compartment, too.

The central command system is another major bonus, sure to give modern gadget buffs a bit of a tech-gasm. It includes proximity sensors to activate selected icons only when you reach for the screen, and the absolutely fantastic Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems are on board, effectively upscaling major elements of your Smartphone display into the main screen. You see and manipulate media, contact and navigation functions as you would on your phone, and a tap on the steering wheel–mounted voice button calls Siri or Talk to Google into action. Very slick stuff. Want to know a sports score, to text your mom, or to check tomorrow’s agenda, action items, or bases you need to touch? Just touch the button and ask, and forget glancing at your phone and getting a ticket.

Mileage on my watch landed at 8.4 L/100 km, with plenty of speedy browsing of major highways. It’s a decent figure, given the available punch from the little engine, and your writer’s heavy foot.

Further, the jiggle inherent in many convertible cars is present here, though admirably minimized. Hit a bump, pothole array or set of train tracks, and it’s detected mostly by watching the rear of the car flex, out of sync with the front, via the rearview mirror. It’s minimal though, and nearly undetectable from the driver’s seat. Most drivers won’t even notice it.

Complaints? Interior plastics won’t give soft-touch aficionados anything to write home about, the climate and seat heater controls are starting to look outdated, and whether it was my phone, the Android Auto App, or the interface in the Beetle’s dash, initial setup of the system took about 10 frustrating attempts. Further, headlight low-beam performance after dark is just adequate, though the high-beams shine far and wide.

End of the day, here’s a $28,550 car that attracts attention, curiosity and reactions like it costs five times more. Everyone stops and looks at the Beetle Classic Cabriolet, perhaps mostly at its wheels, with most saying they love it, and nobody going away without a reaction. As a unique, cute, functional and pleasing-to-drive convertible that’s comfortable for hours and hours of efficient, top-down cruising, it hits the mark for both feel and pricing.

Warranty:
4 years/100,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 7 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/100,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
Fiat 500c
Ford Mustang Convertible
Mazda MX-5
Smart Fortwo Cabriolet
Volkswagen Eos

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Classic Convertible
2016 Volkswagen Beetle Classic Convertible
Base Price $28,550
Optional Equipment None
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,605
Price as Tested $30,255
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
8 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
6 Interior
8 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy