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
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
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,
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.