On the Road Review: VW Beetle Denim Convertible

Raise your hand, how many of you can tell a Beetle story from your youth? If you can’t, you really missed out on a fun car. I hope you don’t think that your Corolla or Datsun stories suffice because, let’s face it, nobody ever wrote poems or songs about Corollas.

VW is now on generation 2.1 of the Beetle. Using a water-cooled front-mounted engine — turbocharged here — this Beetle is way faster and easier to drive than any of those old wheezing air-cooled “Bugs.” And this car has mechanical air conditioning and a heater than you don’t fill up with propane.

OK, enough nostalgia. The new Beetle Ragtop is a slick 2+2 machine with room for four when you want and comfort for two to travel for weeks on end when you want that too. The cabin is roomy up front, with supportive seating, yet the trunk is kind of small because it must carry a tonneau cover to mask the lowered top and clean up the car’s profile as you smile behind the wheel. This is a pain in the neck; most other automakers ditched this nuisance long ago. The cover stayed in the trunk.

Power comes from a 1.8-liter turbo-four, the same motor used in the Golf, which should be no surprise, as these cars share a general platform. With 184 pound/feet of peak torque, the Beetle runs hard like most VWs do — smooth and efficient. Optional power is the Golf GTI’s 210-hp 2.0-liter turbo, a healthy 40-hp boost.

It was rare to wish for more acceleration, as the Beetle convertible is not a car that you wish to hasten to a destination — the journey is part of the experience, the wind in your hair and the dirt from the dump truck ahead flying in your face.

The top goes down while still in motion, which is handy if that traffic light changes before you have this exercise completed. There was more wind buffeting than expected with the side windows up; the cabin was actually quieter and less disrupted with all four side windows reclined. Visibility, of course, is excellent.

Either a six-speed stick shift or a six-speed automatic handles the shifting chores; our denim-trimmed tester featured the latter and returned a steady 31 mpg during the car’s visit. I found that I could maintain my economy rating operating the throttle at highway speeds; using cruise control resulted in lots of shifting up and down for grades and lower total mileage.

VW has always favored creating unique one-off Beetle trim packages — probably necessary for a line of cars that last for decades instead of the usual four-five-year cycles. Here in denim trim, the Beetle had stonewashed denim upholstery, a denim-like soft-top, plus white stitching on the seats and steering wheel that is supposed to mimic denim pants. Even the storage pocket on the seatbacks looks like a pair of your favorite jeans, right down to the red patch on the side that says — denim.

Even the paint color is Stonewashed Blue. Not Steel Blue, not blue-silver, not light gray, but Stonewashed Blue.

Driving the Beetle is an exercise in relaxation. The car just feels like it should travel at a more sedate pace. It handles fine, rides nice, and certainly can move along with the prevailing traffic. However, you get a sense of contentment moving along at a pace that lets you mentally separate from the pack, flow to the beat of a different drummer. This is a mood lamp without the power cord, a sunbeam chaser with a turbo-motor, a heater and a quiet cabin.

Pricing starts at $25,490 for the convertible, a healthy $5,000 premium over a coupe model. Gone is the flower vase, but you get efficient controls, dual glove boxes, heated upholstery, an eight-speaker sound system, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, heated mirrors, and a split-folding rear seatback that has release levers in the trunk. Opting for the Technology package adds Fender audio, keyless access and ignition, and auto-climate controls, while other options include a rear-view camera, satellite radio and blind-spot and lane change safety systems. VW also features a new Car-net portfolio that allows smartphone utility.

Beetle sales have been soft; they were down last year and continue to fall this year. The new Beetle Dune and several new convertible trims might help stem the tide, but VW needs to do more marketing and spread the news about the good cars it does have for sale, instead of reacting to the bad news about the cars it cannot sell.

In other VW news, this is the last year you can buy the Beetle Convertible’s sibling, the EOS, while the new Golf Sportwagen is arriving at dealerships as you read this. Starting at $21,625, the Sportwagen is meant to target the Subaru Outback as there will be an AWD version.

Also coming late this fall is a new three-row crossover wagon built in Tennessee that should calm anxious VW dealers stuck with 30 percent of their sales tied up in the diesel scandal.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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