Newest ‘Bug’ is more refined but just as much fun

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2014 Volkswagen Beetle convertible

The package: Compact, two-door, four-passenger, four- or five-cylinder, gasoline or diesel-powered, front-wheel-drive, retro-styled convertible.

Highlights: The Volkswagen Beetle got a convertible version for 2013 after a complete makeover of the coupe for 2012. It’s stylish, well equipped, and quite fun to drive, even in the base version.

Negatives: Back seat is a tight fit for adults or larger kids.

Engine: Turbocharged 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline (base); 2.0-liter TDI inline four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel (optional); 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, turbocharged, gasoline (optional).

Transmission: Six-speed automatic (optional); six-speed manual (standard).

Power/torque: 170 HP./184 foot-pounds (1.8, gas); 140 HP./236 foot-pounds (diesel), 210 HP./207 foot-pounds (2.0-liter gas, turbo).

Length: 168.4 inches.

Curb weight: 3,206-3,230 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Trunk volume: 7.1 cubic feet.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted, standard.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Fuel capacity/type: 14.5 gallons/unleaded regular (1.8); low-sulfur diesel (2.0 TDI); unleaded premium (2.0 turbo).

EPA fuel economy range: 24 mpg city/32 highway (1.8-liter, automatic); 23/31 (2.0 gas turbo, manual); 23/29 (2.0 gas turbo, automatic); 28/41 (TDI, manual); 28/37 (TDI, automatic).

Major competitors: Mini Cooper convertible, Ford Mustang convertible.

Base price range: $25,170-$33,795, plus $820 freight.

Price as tested: $32,015, including freight (TDI automatic with Sound and Navi).

On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.

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One of the most popular convertible models ever, the Volkswagen Beetle ragtop, is alive and well in its latest iteration, which is a lot more refined, but still just as much fun, as the original from half-a-century ago.

Last year, Volkswagen returned the convertible model to the lineup of the newest generation the Beetle, and it’s ready for some summertime open-air motoring, Volkswagen-style.

Despite the debate in some circles over whether the Beetle convertible is too feminine for men to drive, it’s really a car anyone can enjoy.

After Volkswagen redesigned the New Beetle coupe for 2012, the convertible version was initially left out. But it was put back into the mix last year after a year’s hiatus, and it continues on for 2014 with prices ranging from $25,170-$33,795 (plus $820 freight).

With the redesign of the coupe two years ago, the “New” part was dropped from the name, so this is now simply the “Beetle.” Despite having been known as a Beetle for most of its life, well back into the middle of the 20th century, this style of Volkswagen never officially carried that name until the New Beetle debuted for 1998. It’s just what everybody always called it – that or the “Bug.”

This year, the Beetle ditches the base 2.5-liter, normally aspirated inline five-cylinder engine for the new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. But our test vehicle had the optional engine I would choose – the 2.0-liter turbo-charged diesel, or as Volkswagen calls it, the TDI.

Base price of our TDI convertible was $31,195, but it also included the six-speed automatic transmission and the Sound and Navi options; without those, you can get the TDI ragtop starting at $28,895 with a six-speed manual gearbox, or $29,995 with the automatic.

The Beetle turbo coupe I tested earlier was certainly nothing that a real car guy would turn his nose up at, and neither was the TDI convertible. It came with a Moonrock Silver Metallic exterior, Beige roof, and Beige Leatherette interior, and looked great.

Weather permitting, it’s fun to put the top down on a sporty car like the Beetle and roar off onto some curvy country roads, enjoying the driving experience, the scenery, and the wind in your face. Surprisingly, though, even at highway speeds, there wasn’t much wind intruding into the cabin of the Beetle convertible with its top down.

And even with the top up, the car is very quiet, leading even my 16-year-old passenger to remark spontaneously about that point.

The top’s outer shell has three layers: an outer one of poly-acrylic woven fabric; a middle layer of synthetic rubber; and an inner lining of polyester. Under all of that, there’s a three-layer insulating headliner. The convertible is just as quiet as the coupe when the top is up.

One cool thing about a convertible is that you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the scenery around you when you have the top down.

With the optional turbo-diesel engine and the sport-oriented suspension, my tester handled hills with ease, and as the case with Volkswagens in general, this little charmer took the curves with confidence, like a sports car.

Beetle coupes are priced much lower – they start at $20,295 for one equipped with the 1.8-liter gasoline turbo engine and manual gearbox. But if you can afford the extra money, you can upgrade to the convertible, and have lots more fun – besides getting more attention. This car really turns heads with the top down.

Our tester was quite well equipped, with the navigation and premium audio systems. But you don’t need those items to have a cool Beetle ragtop. I always carry a portable GPS that works better than most of the in-car systems anyway.

The TDI engine cranks out 140 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque. The base gasoline engine has 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque.

The diesel offers the best fuel economy: 28 mpg city/41 highway/32 combined with the manual gearbox, and 28/37/31 with the automatic. That compares with 24/32/27 for the base 1.8-liter and automatic. We averaged about 30 mpg during our week of testing, with an even mix of city and highway driving.

Standard on the base convertible are a leather-wrapped steering wheel; manual air conditioning; three-color adjustable ambient lighting; Bluetooth connectivity; heated front seats; V-Tex “leatherette” seating surfaces; 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; an eight-speaker sound system, with auxiliary input and iPod adapter; cruise control; and power adjustable/heated outside mirrors.

Our vehicle came with a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and keyless access with pushbutton start.

We also had the Sound and Navigation packages, which tacked on 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, the navigation system, and a Fender premium audio system.

The Fender audio was a fun addition to the convertible. Even at highway speeds with the top down, there was superb sound.

We had an iPhone connected to the provided plug inside the glovebox, and had our own tunes coming out of the great speakers of this stereo.

The R-line convertible, which starts at $29,395, pumps up the performance a bit with its 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine, rated at 210 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque.

The Beetle has a flat dashboard top that’s not as deep as before – so nothing can slide forward and be out of reach. There’s a completely flat windshield, as well, and in the middle of the dash top is a recessed storage area large enough to hold three or four mobile devices or even a Happy Meal.

With the redesign, the Beetle is 3.3 inches wider, six inches longer, and a half-inch lower than the New Beetle it replaced. Passenger space in the convertible is 81.4 cubic feet, compared with 85 cubic feet for the coupe. Trunk space is less, too – 7.1 cubic feet versus 15.4 cubic feet for the coupe.

Some of the trunk space is used by the convertible mechanism, but the top itself folds back and sits on top of the rear deck. Trunk space is the same whether the top is up or down. There is a heated glass rear window.

The top is electrically operated by an overhead switch. Pressing it down opens the top in 11 seconds; pulling on it closes the top in 9.5 seconds. There are no latches to fool with – it latches and unlatches itself. It also automatically lowers the windows when the top is opening, and raises them after the top is closed. It can be raised or lowered with the car moving up to 31 mph.

While the high-domed roof of the New Beetle has been lowered for the Beetle, there is more headroom for rear passengers because the roof isn’t as steeply arched as before, convertible or coupe.

There is seating for up to four, but with just two passenger doors, those riding in the back seat have to climb in through the front. There is a seatback release on the top outside corner of each of the front seats, however, so it’s fairly easy to get into and out of the back. But the rear seat is a tight fit for adults or larger children.

Three retro-style round gauges are directly in front of the driver -- tachometer, speedometer and fuel indicator. There also is a multifunction display in the speedometer, which is in middle position.

For safety, two roll bars are hidden behind the rear seatback, and are activated by the same onboard computer that deploys the air bags in the case of a crash. Along with the reinforced, fixed front pillars, the roll bars “help to provide effective protection for the occupants of all four seats within milliseconds,” Volkswagen says. Front seat-mounted side air bags are also standard.

Included on all models is Volkswagen’s Intelligent Crash Response System, which automatically shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard flashers if the car is involved in a serious collision. Electronic stability control and antilock brakes are standard, as well.

While the new model is still clearly recognizable as a Beetle, it looks like a vehicle that has been chopped and lowered, giving it a somewhat squashed look. But the windshield is more like the original Bug, more vertical than that of the New Beetle.

Volkswagen sold nearly 5 million of the original Beetle in the United States from 1949-78, and then sold 477,347 of the New Beetle, which ran from 1998-2010. There was no 2011 model.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at .

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