Latest Beetle ragtop not as cuddly

Larry Printz / The Virginian-Pilot /

Published Jul 7, 2013 at 05:00AM

Fashion always costs more. Because it's more stylish, you'll pay more for, say, a men's dress shirt without a chest pocket than for one that has one, even though it takes less time and material to make.

It's not logical, but fashion is about sensibility, not sense.

This brings us to the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle, which is little more than a Volkswagen Golf draped in different sheet metal.

But is it worth a premium over a Golf? Well, if you like the way it looks, yes.

The Beetle Convertible is the ragtop rendition of the Beetle coupe, which was redesigned for 2012 with an eye toward attracting those with a y chromosome. Its looks are no longer as cuddly as a baby kitten.

For 2013, the Beetle droptop gets the same treatment.

Thanks to its revised dimensions, the new Beetle has the look of the sportier VWs. Compared with the 2006 version, the latest Beetle Convertible is 3.3 inches wider, 1.1 inches lower and 6 inches longer.

And if you're sensitive to automotive gender issues, the Convertible just looks meaner, thanks to a roofline that doesn't resemble a bubble. In fact, VW says its shape is closer to that of the 1949 Type 15. This reduces front noggin space by 1.4 inches, but adds it in the rear, making the second row usable for something other than a padded luggage shelf.

As for the roof itself, its outer shell is made from three layers. Beneath that, another three layers insulate the cabin from exterior noise. It's noticeable. This is a quiet car for a ragtop.

The top is power-operated and lowers in 9.5 seconds. Raising it takes 11 seconds; the difference comes from the extra time it takes to latch the roof's header to the windshield. Thoughtfully, the top can be raised and lowered at speeds of up to 31 mph. When lowered, the top's compact design no longer blocks the rear view and allows for a larger trunk, which has grown by 2 cubic feet.

For those familiar with the Golf, Jetta and Audi A3, the Beetle's engine line-up will give you a distinct sense of deja vu.

The standard engine is VW's 2.5-liter five-cylinder, producing 170 horsepower and an EPA rating of 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. This is a power plant bereft of grace, charm or efficiency. Better to opt for the VW's widely used turbocharged 2.0-liter four. At 210 horsepower, it offers far more thrills. Better yet, despite the extra oomph it offers, fuel economy improves by 2 mpg. If fuel economy is of paramount concern, choose the turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel engine, also known as the TDI. It produces 236 pound-feet of torque and EPA ratings of 28 mpg city, 41 mpg highway when equipped with the manual transmission.

Speaking of transmissions, a six-speed automatic is standard with the five-cylinder model. Other Beetles have a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. A dual clutch is a manual transmission whose two clutches are operated by the engine. One clutch handles odd gears, the other even. When one gear is selected, the transmission preselects the next one, allowing for quicker shifts and greater efficiency.

In addition to the three models mentioned, Volkswagen is offering three special editions for 2013. The first, the '50s Edition, is black with a beige interior and uses the 2.5-liter engine. The '60s Edition gets the turbocharged gas engine and employs a denim blue color scheme. The '70s Edition also uses the five-cylinder engine and is - surprise - brown. All Special Editions have automatic transmissions.

Given the engine lineup, a Beetle with the 2.0-liter turbo gas engine seems the ideal setup. Lively yet fuel-efficient, this mill will fulfill every expectation you would have from this car. The turbo engine makes this car very quick, while its handling is as good as most Golfs, thanks to the fully independent suspension. It's used on all convertibles as well as the turbocharged Beetle Coupe. Yes, there's some body lean during cornering, but the bug's grip is tenacious.

The bottom line? For you fast and furious types, only a Turbo will do, even if it's not quite set up for a day at the track.

That said, choosing performance over the pedestrian pushes the price up markedly. The base Beetle Convertible starts at $24,995. A Beetle TDI Convertible starts at $27,895. Turbo models start at $28,470, although the test vehicle was a top-of-the-line model, which explains its hefty $32,295 base price. So, it pays to be careful with options.

Yes, this ragtop Beetle is a bit more buff, ready to do battle with those other stylish retro rides, the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang Convertible, Mini Cooper S Convertible and Fiat 500C. But whether this car is worth it over those iconic droptops is up to you.

After all, when it comes to fashion, one size does not fit all.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

Base price: $24,995

As tested: Not available

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder

Mileage: 23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway