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SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Although the normally convertible-friendly California weather refused to co-operate, a test of the new Beetle Convertible proved it has been obviously improved in many areas.
The design team was tasked to give the vehicle a broader, more masculine appeal. Now based on the new Jetta platform instead of the Golf, the 2013 Convertible is 187 millimetres longer, 84 mm wider, 29 mm lower and weighs 19 kilograms less than the previous generation. The larger footprint allowed designers to flatten the roof, providing more rear headroom and extend the rear-seat legroom.
The rear seat is still quite cramped, as inner trim panels thicken toward the back of the vehicle, leaving less lateral room. The seatback angle is quite upright and can be tolerated by adults for only short periods of time.
The trunk offers 7.1 cubic feet of storage regardless of whether the roof is raised or lowered. Usable space is hampered by a small opening, but split rear folding seats increase utility and potential storage.
The dash and instrument cluster stand out as a clean and functional design, using rotary knobs and flat buttons for most functions. The flower vase has, thankfully, been removed. Turbocharged models come with a chrono-sport package that includes a boost indicator, timer and temperature gauge.
Some of the vehicles driven were fitted with the optional Fender audio system integrated with a dash-mounted Navigation system. The eight-speaker audio system not only sounds great but comes with Bluetooth media streaming. The navigation system is clean and intuitive due to its nifty touchscreen functionality.
In Canada, all 2013 Convertibles will be offered with a 2.5-litre engine producing 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic. Buyers will be able to choose between Comfortline and Highline trim levels.
Comfortline models include, among other things, Bluetooth phone connectivity, air conditioning, heated leatherette seats, 16-inch alloy wheels and an AM/FM/CD eight-speaker audio system. Notable upgrades on the Highline trim include leather adjustable sport seats, exterior chrome trim, 17-inch alloy wheels and fog lights.
The 2.5L Comfortline will be offered at $28,775 and the Highline $31,740. For the 2014 model year, a 2.0L turbo gasoline engine (200 hp and 207 lb.-ft.) with a six-speed twin-clutch transmission will be available.
When the 2013 Convertible launches in the United States, it will also be offered with an optional 2.0L turbo diesel producing 140 hp and 236 lb.-ft. and a slew of special-edition models not available in Canada.
The Pacific Coast Highway in California is normally as good as it gets for testing a convertible, but the weather did not co-operate. A combination of mist, sprinkles and driving rain hampered the West Coast topless-driving experience.
Dodging the rain did give ample opportunity to test the speed of the convertible soft-top roof. The cycle takes roughly 10 seconds to open, slightly longer to close. The electrically powered roof will operate at vehicle speeds up to 50 kilometres an hour.
When the weather did grant an opportunity, driving with the top down was a rather pleasant experience. Wind flowed unobtrusively around the occupants while travelling at normal city and suburban speeds. On the freeway, an optional mesh foldable back screen mounts over the rear seating area and provides protection against buffeting wind for front-seat occupants.
The shortcoming is it renders the ride a two-seater. This unit stows neatly in a dedicated storage area at the top of the trunk. A heavy vinyl boot cover manually installs over the folded roof, but given the time and effort required to manipulate the unit, many owners may opt to leave it at home.
With the roof up, the Beetle Convertible remains comfortably quiet and only slightly noisier than the hardtop version. Visibility with the roof up was quite good, as the fabric sections have been kept clear of the normal blind-spot areas.
Extra reinforcing with high-strength steel has fortified the A pillars and other key sections of the body. The rigid platform all but eliminates the cowl shake found in droptops. In lieu of a built-in rollover bar, pyrotechnically deployed rollover protection sits hidden behind the rear-seat occupants.
The 2.5L engine is a good match for the leisurely character of the convertible. The 2.0L turbo does have more power and comes with a sport suspension that is noticeably firmer. The extra power comes after some turbo lag and the added urgency seems out of place in this city cruiser.
I suspect the biggest appeal of the new Beetle Convertible may be the increased functionality in what has long been considered a niche vehicle. All Beetles sold worldwide will be built in the Puebla Manufacturing plant in Mexico and will go on sale in Canada around Valentines Day 2013.
-- Postmedia News