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2003 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

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San Francisco:  It is hard to believe that it has been nearly five years since I drove my first New Beetle. Long awaited and gleefully received, the revived corporate icon has been a hit for VW and its dealers, and now for 2003, the New Beetle Convertible is back!

The lovable Beetle's presence in the showroom has helped boost sales of the other Volkswagen products as well. However, ever since its debut, folks have clamored for a droptop version. The old Beetle came as a convertible model up to 1979. Its rudimentary top folded back and sat there like a jaunty high collar. You could really hear the noisy air-cooled engine with that top down.

Well, for 2003 the Beetle convertible is back, with some brand new colors, and all the qualities that have made the hardtop model a hit. It comes in four trim levels: GL 2.0, GLS 2.0, GLS 1.8 T, and GLX 1.8 T. The GL 2.0 is the base model, with the familiar 115 horsepower four-cylinder engine, which it shares with the hardtop. This engine moves the 3,100-pound car along surprisingly briskly, as I discovered in freeway travel and on pleasantly curving country roads. Fuel mileage is 24 city and 30 highway.

The 1.8 T is a 150-horsepower turbocharged engine that has already seen duty in the hardtop. It was impressive during a weeklong test in 1999. It will be available later this year in the convertible, and is worth waiting for if higher performance is essential.

The New Beetle convertible comes standard with a smooth shifting five-speed manual transmission, and you can order a new six-speed automatic with Tiptronic control if you so desire. This sequential shifter, also found in Porsches and Audis, lets you select your own gears, but dispenses with the clutch. Or, you can trust its computer chip to make the right choice for maximum fun and fuel economy.

Configured to resemble the shape of the hardtop, the Beetle's folding top is made of three layers and has an attractive cloth lining. Inside the cabin it is easy to forget that it is a soft top, because it looks finished and road noise, even at freeway speeds, is minimal.

The top drops manually in the GL 2.0 model and electrically in the other models. It takes just a turn of a center-mounted handle and the press of a button and in 13 seconds you can let the sun shine in. With the power top the windows automatically lower slightly when the top is operating, and then automatically seal up again.

A handsome chrome strip outlines the door tops, adding a little upscale touch whether the top is up or down. The mirrors feature integrated turn signals. The Beetle Convertible is the first VW to offer them, but this safety feature will spread throughout the line. Lastly, the trunk has been successfully redesigned to accommodate the changes made when the top was removed.

VW has given the convertible a few unique colors. Only the topless car comes in Harvest Moon, Mellow Yellow, or Aquarius Blue. If those are too groovy, you can also order up Sundown Orange, Galactic Blue, Black, or Reflex Silver, the color of my test car. I think silver gives the car a metallic, high tech look.

My test car's 140-mph speedometer was a bit optimistic, especially with the 2.0-liter standard engine, but speed isn't what Beetles are about anyway. The official zero to 60 time is 11.4 seconds with the manual, 11.8 with the automatic. But remember - the original Beetle convertible probably took 22 seconds to do it with the wind at its back. Zero to 60 dash numbers for the turbo are not available yet, but the hardtop New Beetle with the same powerplant does it in a substantially quicker 8.2 seconds with a manual transmission.

All New Beetle convertibles come with a long list of practical and pleasant features. These include power locks and windows, four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS, air conditioning with a pollen filter, a ten-speaker stereo with AM, FM, and a cassette deck, and central remote locking. You even get luxury features like heated outside mirrors, lighted and covered vanity mirrors, and a defroster in the glass rear window. Obviously, there is no "base" VW New Beetle convertible.

Step up to a GLS and you get the power top and fog lights. The top level GLX has standard leather seats (the other models wear attractive and serviceable leatherette), a self-dimming inside rearview mirror, leather on the steering wheel, shift knob, and brake handle, the Monsoon Audio System, and a cold weather package. My test car had the Monsoon system as an option, and it delivered the wonderfully balanced sound I have enjoyed in other vehicles.

For safety, the New Beetle convertible features Automatic Rollover Supports. If sensor data determine that the car is about to roll over, they pop up automatically behind the rear seats, serving as a roll bar. New Beetle convertibles get lots of other safety features typical of a 2003 automobile, including front and side airbags for front passengers, an emergency trunk release handle, and child seat anchors, among others.

Prices start at $21,025 for the GL 2.0 with manual transmission, including destination charge. Sampling the price list, the GLS with manual transmission and turbo engine runs $24,675, and at the height of the price curve is the GLX with 6-speed automatic at $27,155.

Regardless of which one you buy, the 2003 New Beetle convertible is the lowest priced European convertible in America. And even with modest power, it is a real hoot to drive. By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  The Beetle Convertible is Back!
Topic:  2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible
Word Count:   998
Photo Caption:  2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible
Photo Credits:  Volkswage Internet Media
Series #:   2003 - 18

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible

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