California Dreamin’ in a Beetle Convertible

Volkswagen introduced the newest in a decades-long line of Beetle Convertibles at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show and they will be in Canadian showrooms this month.

Story and photos by Jim Robinson,
Metroland Media/ -

LOS ANGELES, Ca.: What better place to stage the world premiere of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible than in the drop-top capital of the world?

One of the highlights of this year’s LA Auto Show was the new Beetle Convertible with selected international autojournalists getting behind the wheel the day after the show and driving one of the great roads on the planet – the Pacific Coast Highway through places such as Santa Monica, Malibu and Zuma Beach.

It has always amazed me that cars in LA never seem to rot. Finding vintage Bugs in daily use over the decades by the same owner is normal. Rust, despite the onshore winds from the Pacific Ocean, is never a problem.

With a year-round climate more like the Mediterranean, you learn quickly La-La Land is actually a way of life not just an expression.

In Canada, we will start to get this taste of LA when the first Convertibles start arriving this month as 2013 models.

At first there will be one engine, a gasoline 2.5-litre inline DOHC five-cylinder producing 170 hp and 177 lb/ft of torque driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. There is no manual.

By the summer, we will start getting a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder again with the automatic and, at that time, both engine variants will start being badged as 2014 models.

In the U.S. and most other countries, there will also be a direct injection turbo diesel TDI. If Canada sees a demand for this third model, officials will make a decision to import it from the plant in Mexico where all North American Beetles are built.

The power roof of the Convertible does not intrude into the trunk that remains 70 litres as in the Coupe. This is a tonneau cover that fits over the folded roof for a retro look.

While it shares the same platform and drive train, the Convertible is more than a Coupe with the roof lopped off. Extensive re-enforcing and use of high-strength steel is used making the chassis 18 per cent stiffer than the previous model.

In a rollover, the frame around the windshield acts as a rollover bar and is strong enough to support the car even upside down. In that event, there are two pyrotechnic roll bars behind the backseat that deploy in an emergency for protection of passengers in the backseat.

Cargo volume remains the same at 70 litres while the 50/50 split back seat folds for additional storage.

Like the sedan, the dashboard of the Convertible has body-colour inserts and that colour coordination continues throughout the cabin.

On the higher of the two trim levels there is a Technology Package that includes a dash insert color to match a Fender guitar in brown with a yellowish swath along the centerline. It reflects the partnership with VW that sees Fender supplying the audio system.

The reason why cargo volume is the same as the sedan is that the convertible top was designed not to intrude into the trunk space. It goes up in about 11 seconds and down in a claimed 9.5 seconds.

I got plenty of time to test the top as it rained cats and dogs the day I drove it in and around Malibu. So much for sunny California!

I would be driving along the Pacific Coast Highway looking for a beach for a photo op. Every once and a while there was a let up in the rain, so I’d hit the beach, drop the top, and just as I started to aim the camera, down the rain came in another deluge.

The power top goes up in 11 seconds and down in just 9.5 seconds and can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 50 km/h.

It’s a good thing the top goes up and down at speeds up to 50 km/h because I had to do it more than once.

With the top up, it’s quite warm and cozy with Sirius/XM on the 60s channel for any possible Beach Boys or Jan and Dean songs.

With the top down, there was a very large, foldable wind blocker that certainly did the trick. There was some buffeting and road noise at highway speeds but the radio sound quality was hardly affected.

A nice touch is a tonneau cover for the top that slips on to give it a 1960s Beetle Convertible look.

The five-cylinder engine is a proven quantity and always pulls strongly and that’s good because the Convertible weighs in at 1,454 kg (3,206 lb)

At times riding in the front passenger seat, I was struck with the width of my side of the cabin. I always like to ride the seat all the way to the rear but that resulted in the door pull resting against my kneecap. Of course, moving up a notch eliminated it but I still would have preferred fully back.

Besides the harder steels and rollover bars, the Convertible is loaded with safety features starting with Volkswagen’s Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS), which unlocks the doors, turns on the hazard lights, and shuts down the fuel system in certain types of collisions.

Suspension is coil over struts at the front and independent links at the rear for a very smooth ride. While it does handle well, this car was meant for cruising, not the racetrack.

While Malibu has some of the most challenging canyon roads in the state, I didn’t try them preferring to drive the car in the environment it was made for – along a coastal highway.

Here’s an interesting comparison between a 2013 Beetle Convertible on the left and a 1952 model on the right. The 1952 is owned by Volkswagen Canada and normally sits in the front lobby of its head offices.

Pricing starts at $27,775 for the Comfortline trim model and $31,740 for the Highline. For Canada, the base Trendline is not being imported.

On hand at the press introduction were other trim levels, the most fun of which were the “generational” models. These took design cues such as paint combinations and wheels for the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. The coffee brown ‘70s model with the retro full chrome wheels looking like wheel covers was my favourite.

VW Canada says they have no plans to import these, but if the demand is there as there is for the diesel as well, we may see them here someday.
But until then, I’ll just keep California Dreamin.

Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 2013 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Four-seat convertible.
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 2.5-litre inline DOHC five-cylinder (170 hp, 177 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 9.9/7.3L/100 km city/highway
TOW RATING: Not recommended
PRICE: Comfortline $27,775; Highline $31,740.

The interior of the 2013 Beetle Convertible features body-colour trim that extends throughout the cabin.

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