Redesigning retro is a herculean task. You need to change the vehicle enough to be worth the effort, meanwhile maintaining an iconic retro theme. If you don’t change enough, shoppers won’t see a reason to trade in their old flashback for the new time capsule. Change it too much and you’re left with a caricature. The task is so daunting that few even attempt it. (Just look at the one-hit-wonders: PT Cruiser, HHR, SSR and Thunderbird.)VW on the other hand is different. After all they continued to build and sell the same Beetle with minor tweaks for 65 years straight. If anyone can tweak retro and convince people they need it, it’s VW. Sure enough, 2012 was the best Beetle sales year since 1973. As a chaser to VW’s revived retro-mojo, the Beetle is now offered sans-top and VW tossed us the keys to a brown-on-brown model for a week so we could get our 70s on. Can you dig it?
This Beetle, like the old “New Beetle,” sells on nostalgia and cutesy-bubbly good looks. In fact, the first words anyone utters upon seeing a Beetle are: “aww, its cute.” See the problem? How many guys buy “cute” cars? Recognizing the problem, VW set out to “butch things up” with the second generation FWD Beetle. The bubbly-fenders, round headlamps and “smiling” hood lines haven’t left but they have been joined by VW’s corporate “Gillette” grille, sharper corners and more “masculine” tail lamps. (Or so I’m told.) The redesign also adds an incredible 3.5 inches to the Bug’s width and 5 inches to the length. The extra length means the Bug’s side profile is no longer semi-circular, something of a loss for retro fans. The wider stance and crisper creases do make Herbie look meaner, but the ginormous fenders make him look fatter as well.
Sorry ’70s fans, our chocolate brown Bug didn’t come with a built-in CB radio. Burn! Instead shoppers will need to get hip with the 21st century, VW style. Base drop-tops get an AM/FM radio, single slot CD player, Bluetooth speaker phone/audio streaming and VW’s USB/iDevice interface (MDI). Working your way up the ladder, the next stop is the touchscreen audio system which adds HD Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and am MP3 compatible CD reader (why is there no 1990s edition?).
You won’t find a air-cooled engine in this Beetle, this isn’t the ’50s. Base Beetles (and the ’50s and ’70s edition models) use VW’s refreshed 2.5L inline 5-cylinder engine which gets a 20 HP bump to 170 at 5,700RPM while torque creeps up to 177 lb-ft at 4,250 RPM. VW mates the 5-banger to a 5-speed manual and for an extra $1,100 you can opt for the 6-speed automatic. If you need more shove, you can opt for VW’s ubiquitous 2.0L turbo, good for 200 ponies and 207 lb-ft of twist. A first for America (as far as I know), VW’s topless cruiser can now be had in oil-burning form with the same 140 HP 2.0L TDI powerplant as the Jetta. Both 2.0L mills are mated to VW’s slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission or for $1,100, VW’s latest 6-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission.
How well the Beetle accelerates and handles is unlikely to matter to prospective convertible shoppers. I’m not kidding. There isn’t a drop top I can think of that has better performance metrics than its hard-top donor car, that’s just the nature of the beast. Convertibles are all about open air motoring and style, something thee Beetle, despite all of its flaws, still has in spades. VW’s infotainment options feel like they are stuck in 1990, the lack of power front seats and automatic climate control irk me to no end, and the 2.0L engine needs a testosterone injection, yet the Beetle’s topless charm is enough for me to overlook its flaws. There is only one problem: Herbie’s still cute. Go figure.
Music by Kevin MacLeod
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