Is it more than a motorised fashion accessory?
If your heart isn’t involved in the buying decision for a new car, then your head is never going to choose a VW Beetle Carbiolet. But, despite the chi-chi looks and the image, the convertible has quite a lot to offer in the background.
However, let’s not kid ourselves, this is not Baja Bug capable of tackling some serious terrain or even serious corners at any pace. The steering is very competent, but what it’s steering is a bit of a barge. It feels quite heavy and the nose tends to push out fairly easily. At that point the steering stops telling you what’s going on, so a more relaxed approach is called for if you want to enjoy the drive.
That weight you feel is of course part of the price you pay for taking off the roof, with extra strengthening in the chassis. The disappointment is that you can still feel flex in the body, with some shudders coming through the cabin in waves, like a ferry hitting some big rollers.
Ride isn’t too bad, but that’s with the proviso that you aren’t tempted to try to fill the arches with big wheels and tyres. Stick with the 17-inch rims and you’ll be fine, but go up in size or, even worse, specify the sports suspension and you’ll find the ride seriously uncomfortable on rough roads.
If you’re in full masochist mode, you’d fit the sports suspension, big rims and a diesel engine. You can have a 2.0-litre oil-burner with either 108 or 148bhp. The grunt is nice to have, particularly in the more powerful version, but the diesel is noisy and not very refined. It also adds some vibrations all of its own to join the chassis vibrations. These are not the good vibrations the Beach Boys were talking about with their Vee Dubs.
The petrol engines work much better in the Cabriolet. There’s a choice of 1.2 or 1.4-litre units, both turbocharged, working with a six-speed manual gearbox that is pretty slick. Both the petrol engines are smooth and refined, and rev freely. Which one is better is really more about your budget. The 1.4-litre is better to drive and has more punch, but the 1.2-litre is cheaper to buy and run and gives enough go for most situations.
If you want to drive with the roof up – as you would for most days in the UK – it’s actually quite a quiet cabin to be in without too much noise. Put the roof down and you’ll want to put up the fairly basic but effective wind deflector. That goes behind you and means you can’t carry any rear passengers – or if you do, be prepared for quite a lot of buffeting.
The only issue with the roof up is that visibility is really quite restricted. Seeing what is behind is quite an issue and can make lane changes a nervous manoeuvre. You get parking sensors on the two top trim levels but if you’re going for a lesser trim we’d definitely specify the sensors for peace of mind.
Otherwise the cabin works well for the driver. It’s not as funky as a Mini cabin but it’s still got some personality to it and things like the 6.5-inch colour infotainment screen works well – better without the sun shining directly on it.
Behind the driver things aren’t so good. It’s really quite cramped back there for a pair of adults, and it’s made worse with the roof up. Surprisingly, there’s actually more room in the rear of the Mini Convertible, but the Beetle definitely has the bigger boot, a space which isn’t compromised by having the roof down.
All the Beetle Cabriolets seem fairly expensive for what you get but the R-Line or Dune models at the top are hard to justify. Equally, we’d avoid the entry-level model as you don’t even get alloys or an alarm. Design seems a sensible trim level since that gives you air con, the 6.5-inch screen, DAB radio and so on – although, as mentioned, we’d option in the parking sensors for peace of mind. We’d also consider adding the pack that gives lane-change and blindspot assistance since the Cabriolet needs assistance with both.
Whichever model you go for, depreciation is going to hurt, more so than in a Mini Convertible. You should be able to haggle a discount down to about Mini Convertible prices, but if you’re looking at the top models then you’re getting into Audi A3 Cabriolet levels and, frankly, the Beetle Cabriolet can’t match that sort of competition.