What is it?
The ‘new’ Beetle may not be as iconic as the original, and it may have struggled to match the success of rival modern interpretations from Mini and Fiat, but there’s no arguing that the main reason people buy it is for its looks. So much so, in fact, that Volkswagen design boss Klaus Bischoff describes it as a halo model for the brand, like a Golf GTI, but for very different reasons.
In many ways this cabrio is the ultimate expression of the Beetle: roof down, sun shining, it’s hard not to feel slightly carefree, even in traffic-clogged Los Angeles or fighting for space on the freeway. No question, the latest generation Beetle is good looking both inside and out, and that ensures a feel-good factor.
What is it like?
That glow does come at a price, however,because dynamically it isn’t as polished as you might hope. While the compromises arising from the chopped roof aren’t significant, the basis on which it started life was already lagging behind the best, especially by VW’s standards. Just as with the fixed roof car, you can’t escape the nagging suspicion that someone picked up on the sales success of Mini and tried to dial in a sporty set-up without refining it.
That said, at a gentle pace or on only mildly rippled surfaces, the ride is fine running on the standard 17-inch wheels that come with the mid-spec Design trim of our test car. But on rougher or pitted roads, and especially in town, it becomes fidgety and noticeably too firm. There’s no sense of connection from the electro-mechanical steering, either. While the platform and suspension set-up mean it would be unfair to hope for a top-spec Golf-rivalling driving experience, it’s still hard not to feel a whiff of disappointment.
Against that, though, you must balance the perky – although perhaps fractionally peaky – performance of the 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine. It provides ample shove for decent progress and, even with the slick six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, delivers official economy of more than 50mpg. With a measured right foot, its character suits the nature of the car well. Roof up or down it is refined and quiet, which is a particular achievement given how little wind buffeting and road noise there is.
The driving position and cabin ambience is also good. The high dash and close windscreen invoke memories of the original Beetle, while VW’s cabin material and fit and finish departments have delivered, as ever, an inviting if fractionally sterile interior. Standard kit is decent.
The cabrio is also noticeably more practical than the car it replaces, its roof coming down at speeds of up to 31mph in 9.5sec and back up again in 11sec. It stows well out of the way, too, so it doesn’t impinge on visibility. Boot space is also more than 10 per cent greater than before at 225 litres, while an an additional 12mm of headroom at least makes occasional trips in the back a possibility. The rear bench also folds.
Should I buy one?
The fact remains, though, that the Beetle is chiefly a purchase for people who like the looks. If you do, then this new cabrio makes a very decent case for itself; if not, then it’s hard to think of a compelling reason to buy it.
VW Beetle Cabriolet Design 2.0 TDI 140 DSG
Price: £24,635; 0-62mph: 9.9sec; Top speed: 120mph; Economy: 50.4mpg (combined); CO2: 145g/km; Kerb weight: 1505kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Power: 138bhp at 4200rpm; Torque: 236lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd dual-clutch automatic