The iconic Volkswagen Beetle convertible continues for 2015 in its latest iteration, with the biggest news the all-new version of the 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine – which brings improved highway fuel economy.
EPA ratings on the TDI automatic model are 30 mpg city/40 highway/34 combined, with the improvement coming on the highway side – up 3 mpg from last year’s Beetle TDI model.
Just two years ago, Volkswagen returned the convertible model to the lineup of the newest generation of the Beetle.
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, and I had a great time during my recent week behind the wheel of the new TDI version. Unfortunately, it rained a good part of the week, so I didn’t get to put the top down as much as I wanted to, but I got just enough open-air motoring in the Beetle to make me want more.
When Volkswagen redesigned the New Beetle coupe for 2012, the convertible version was initially left out. But it was put back into the mix after a year’s hiatus.
For 2015, convertible prices start at $25,345 (plus $820 freight) and run as high as $35,095 for the R-Line model with automatic transmission and the Sound and Navigation packages.
TDI models start at $29,095 with the six-speed manual gearbox, and $30,195 with the six-speed DSG automatic – the model we tested for this report. The TDI convertible models run as high as $31,395 with the Sound and Navigation packages, but neither was included on our tester.
With the redesign of the New Beetle, the “New” part was dropped from the name, so it’s 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.”
Last year, the base Beetle ditched the base 2.5-liter, normally aspirated inline five-cylinder gasoline engine for a new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The TDI engine cranks out 150 horsepower (up from last year’s 140) and 236 foot-pounds of torque, while the base gasoline engine has 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque.
Our TDI model came with the Toffee Brown Metallic exterior, Beige roof, and Beige Leatherette interior. Even with the top up, the car looked great.
With the top down, this is a really cool vehicle to look at and to drive. Surprisingly, though, even at highway speeds there wasn’t much wind intruding into the cabin of the car with its top down. With the top up, the car is almost completely quiet inside – enough to carry on a conversation at a normal tone of voice. And unlike many diesel engines of the past, the TDI in the Beetle isn’t noisy at all.
To help hold down wind and road noise, 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 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 $20,195 for the new-for-2015 Classic model with the automatic transmission and 1.8-liter gasoline engine. It’s very well equipped for a base model, with such extras as 17-inch “Circle” alloy wheels; unique seat fabric; comfort front seats with driver’s side lumbar support; and VW’s RNS 315 navigation system.
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, even without the navigation and premium audio system that comes with the Sound package. You don’t need those items to have a cool Beetle ragtop. Our smartphones have built-in navigation systems that work better than most of the in-car systems anyway.
The diesel offers the best fuel economy. We averaged about 32mpg 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.
If you opt for the Sound and Navigation packages, you’ll also get 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, the navigation system, and a Fender premium audio system.
Even without the Fender audio, we had great sound from Premium VIII touch-screen audio system included on our vehicle, which came with eight speakers, AM/FM/CD changer/HD/satellite, and had Bluetooth audio streaming and a USB/Aux ports.
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. Even at highway speeds with the top down, there was superb sound.
The R-line convertible, which starts at $30,895, 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.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 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. For 2015, there is a revised diesel engine for the TDI model.
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); 150 HP./236 foot-pounds (diesel), 210 HP./207 foot-pounds (2.0-liter gas, turbo).
Length: 168.4 inches.
Curb weight: 3,225-3,435 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); 30/40 (TDI, manual or automatic).
Major competitors: Mini Cooper convertible, Ford Mustang convertible.
Base price range: $25,345-$35,095, plus $820 freight.
Price as tested: $31,015, including freight (TDI automatic, no options).
On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.