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NEW BEETLE CONVERTIBLE

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Tue, Jul 1, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

THE LOVE BUG

By DAVID GARDNER

IF you are expecting to read a meticulously unbiased, coldly analytical examination of the new Beetle soft-top I would advise you to look elsewhere right now. One sentence will pretty much explain my journalistic approach to the rest of this review. This car got me laid.

I could pretty much leave it at that and VW's Beetle sales should shoot through the roof. But as I'm contractually obligated to write more than a couple of sentences, I'll try and spell it out for those of you out there who still think Beetles are only good for geeks, old ladies and testes-challenged dictators. I'll put it this way: Herbie was not called the love bug for nothing.

My particular gift from the sex gods came at the end of a very trying week. It was the kids' last week at school and involved my wife running herself ragged keeping up with all those eve of summer break activities; my brother was visiting from England and sleeping on the couch so privacy was out the window; and I'd wrenched my back doing nothing more strenuous than getting older. Then on Friday night, moments before the wife arrived home from an exhausting visit looking after a dozen 10-year-old girls at Wild Rivers Water Park, the New Beetle arrived. To my jaundiced male eyes, it looked like a nice enough car and the convertible roof certainly transformed it from an ugly bug into a fun ride, particularly suited to the beach community where we live. To my wife, it was as if I'd brought Brad Pitt home for dinner.

I could hear the whoop as a friend dropped her off outside the house. "Is this for us?" she asked, conveniently forgetting that I was the car reviewer in the family. "It's so beautiful. I love it!" She was stroking the silver trim and practically having an orgasm in the street. I will assume that if you are reading this you probably know a fair bit about cars, but I am now going to tell you something you may not know about women and cars. I could have handed my wife the keys to a Porsche, a Ferrari - even a Lamborghini - and she still would have preferred the bug. Don't ask me to explain; I merely put this forward as a discussion point. What, you may ask, does she love about it? Well, it's not the engine, because she was flipping out before she had even switched on the ignition. As it happens, the GLS has a pugnacious 2.0 liter, 115 horsepower, 4 cylinder engine that, with front wheel drive egging it on, surges through the manual gears at a good clip. It also has a responsive power rack and pinion steering, and blows the bumpy ride in the old Beetle out of the water with independent strut front suspension and track correcting independent torsion beam rear suspension.

But this is all so much gobbledygook to my wife. The truth is she likes the way it looks - and that's why the new convertible is so great. The traditional rounded shape always looks like the driver and passengers are cooped up in a claustrophobic bumper car. Once you open it up with the roof down, you have an altogether better proposition with the shape now resembling a beach buggy from those old Beach Boys album covers. From buttoned up Berlin you get California dreamin'. I can't for the life of me understand why it took so long for VW to bring out the convertible version of the New Beetle it launched way back in 1998. For $24,180 - the price of the test GLS complete with leather seats (heatable in the front), the requisite Monsoon sound system and a wind blocker - you have got a head turner of a car. Without the extras, you can pick one up for $21,850.

What the wife did love about it was the metallic interior that matched the bodywork; she loved the way the roof closes easily and efficiently in 13 seconds with little silver wings lying electronically flush with the car; she loved being able to lay her mapquest directions on the looming black dashboard; she loved the flashing wing mirrors; she loved the funny little folding key; she even loved the annoying habit other Beetle drivers have of waving to you.

I swear there was a tear in her eye when I said we had to give it back. I realise it wasn't very ethical to promise to give this car a good review just because I thought it might help my chances with my wife, but it's a question of priorities. True, it is a little difficult to see in the rearview mirror because of the way the roof folds down and, yes, it is a little squashed in the back seats. Most cars of this size tend to have a third seat belt in the back, even if it only fits a dwarf. And if they could once get a whole darned engine in the back, couldn't VW's much-vaunted engineers find enough room for a trunk bigger than a shoebox? But who am I to quibble when there are so many pros. Quite apart from the sex, the Beetle boasts ABS, front and rear power assisted disc brakes, trendy little front foglights, 16 ins alloy wheels, front and side impact airbags, automatic rollover supports in case of tipping and an environmentally admirable CFC-free air conditioning system with odor and pollen filters. The high-quality strong, rigid chassis with the Beetle's numerous safety features are worth bearing in mind when considering it as a family run-around. The test car was Reflex Silver, but the New Beetle color choice resembles a Ben and Jerry's menu with choice of flavors including Sundown Orange, Chromaflair Silver/Green and Chromaflair Cyan/Purple. It does a reasonable 24 mpg in the city, with 30 mpg on the freeway, which I thought would be better. But there I go again, going back on the deal. I did once swear there was no way I would ever buy another Beetle. I owned one in my early twenties; it was white with black racing stripes and I almost asphyxiated myself every time I turned on the heating, which felt like it was routed through the exhaust. It didn't help that I had to put on waterproofs to drive it every time I had parked it on a hill because rainwater collected in the leaky sunroof and would pour on my head as soon as I lurched off down the road. One long road trip was spent with my nose glued to the flat, tiny windscreen when the windscreen wipers broke in a torrential rainstorm. Happy days. For all the Beetle addicts I suspect there are just as many ex-owners like me out there who have sworn off them for life. I am here to tell you this is not THAT Beetle. It is smooth and comfortable and yet has still retained the quirky VW trademark. So drivers can still smile and wave at one another as if they are the only ones in on some fabulous secret. With my hand on my heart (and my groin), I can say that I would buy this car tomorrow if I had a spare $20,000 or so. Just for my wife. And just in case you were wondering, I won't go into any detail about exactly how my wife showed her gratitude for my allowing her to "own" this bug for the weekend. But VW has a whole new meaning in our house..... Very Willing.

More Volkswagen product information is available at www.vw.com Specifications Engine type: 2.0 liter SOHC 4-cylinder, in-line, transverse-mounted, cast iron block with aluminum cross-flow head (ULEV-certified) Horsepower: 115 hp @ 5,200 rpm Torque: 122 lb-ft @ 2,600 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine/front-wheel drive Transmission type: 5-speed manual; optional 6-speed automatic Front suspension: Independent McPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, 23 mm stabilizer bar Rear suspension: Independent torsion beam axle, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, 18 mm stabilizer bar Wheels and tires: 6 1/2 J x 16" steel wheels P205/55 R 16 H all season tires Brakes: Power assisted, dual circuit, vented 280 mm x 22 mm front discs and 232 mm x 9 mm solid rear discs Overall length (inches): 161.1 Overall width: 67.9 Overall height: 59.1 Curb weight (lbs.): 3159 EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 24/31 mpg

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