With the demise of the Cabriolet convertible, Volkswagen is left with a hole in their lineup. With no plans to redesign the Golf-based Cabriolet, the next logical choice must have been obvious. Take one oh-so-cute New Beetle, chop the top and place it on the showroom floor, complete with a nice daisy in the bud vaseand that's exactly what VW has done with the 2003 New Beetle convertible.
At first glance, the New Beetle convertible does not look much different than its hardtop brethrenthat is until you retract the soft black top. It's a credit to Volkswagen engineers that they were able to create a dome-shaped convertible top that so closely mimics the dearly departed sheet metal of the original car. Unlike the hardtop, the convertible's rear windows can be lowered all the way down, giving the little ragtop a clean, unbroken beltline. The top itself does not stow away, but rather gathers accordion-style behind the rear shelf. This is exactly how the original Beetle convertible was configured and the look works perfectly for the new car as well. The convertible's design allows the New Beetle to retain its full-sized rear seat as well as a small trunk. On base models, the top is manually operated and works easily, though unlike the smaller Miata, you cannot raise the roof from a sitting position; a power top is available, in case you're not that into nostalgia.
Whenever a manufacturer creates a convertible from an existing hardtop platform, they must make major modifications to the car's underside to compensate for the loss of rigidity caused by removing the car's top and rear pillars. To illustrate, think of a Styrofoam coffee cup with a hard plastic lid on top. So long as the lid remains in place, the cup maintains it shape and resists flexing; remove the lid and the slightest pressure from your hand causes the cup to go out of round. It's the same with a convertible. In the case of the New Beetle convertible, the engineers have performed an amazing feat; the car is as solid as a rock, exhibits little to no flex and its convertible top lines up perfectly with the reinforced windshield pillar every time. One other nice attribute of the New Beetle convertible is its triple-layer top and fixed glass rear window. When in place, the Beetle is nearly silent, with very little wind or road noise penetrating the thickly-padded top.
With the top down, you'll enjoy soaking up the sun without being beaten about the head and face by the wind. For the driver and front passenger, the interior is amazingly resistant to buffeting and the optional rear windscreen serves to protect the rear seat occupants equally well. The killer optional Monsoon sound system is more than capable of overcoming just about any exterior noise, including passing 18-wheelers. On the road, the New Beetle convertible feels solid and well grounded, exhibits some body roll (attributable to the soft suspension) and has excellent steering and braking response. In other words, it drives and rides just like a hardtop New Beetle.
On the safety front, Volkswagen is again way ahead of the pack. The New Beetle convertible not only comes standard with front and front-side impact airbags, it includes a safety-belt tensioning system and an advanced rollover protection device designed to protect the occupants in the event of an accident. The Automatic Rollover Support system employs sensors that can detect the pitch and angle of the car. Should the sensors detect an eminent roll over, two tubular supports behind the rear headrest pop-up and serve as a built-in roll bar. The system operates in just a fraction of a second and is active regardless of whether the top is up or down.
The New Beetle convertible is available in GL, GLS and GLX trim. Power for the base models comes from Volkswagen venerable 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which produces a comfortable 115-horsepower. GLS and GLX models get the gutsy 1.8T turbo that transforms the New Beetle convertible from a Sunday morning buggy ride to a thundering chariot; we recommend you remove your ball cap before accelerating. A 5-speed manual is standard with a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic as an option. The Tiptronic system allows you to shift gears without the need for a clutch pedal.
The New Beetle convertible starts at just a shade over $20K and comes standard with a long list of goodies, including air conditioning, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, power adjustable heated mirrors, power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, a 10-speaker audio system with cassette, cruise control and a rear-window defroster. Other trim levels offer such luxuries as leather seating, heated seats, trunk-mounted CD changer, rain-sensing wipers, auto dimming interior mirror, traction control, 17-inch alloy wheels and Xenon headlamps.