LA Auto Show: Beetle Convertible Makes Triumphant Return

The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible made its on-road debut at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

When Volkswagen – the world’s largest automaker – debuts a new Beetle, it’s a big deal.

For the average auto buyer, the iconic Beetle is Volkswagen – THE Volkswagen. There’s a very limited circle of original car designs that earn that “iconic” tag because they are historic and easy to identify. If I say Ford Mustang, Aston Martin DB5, E-Type Jaguar, Porsche 911, Land Rover Defender, or Chevrolet Corvette, anyone can immediately generate a mental image of the vehicle.

While VW also makes, Golfs, GTIs, Jettas, Tiguans, etc., but the uninitiated might not spot those unless they also saw their badge, when a Beetle drives by, everybody knows it’s a Volkswagen because it’s easily one of the most famous and successful economy cars ever built.

For 2014, VW is debuting a new convertible version of that Beetle – the first time such a new model has been introduced since the Beetle returned to the VW line in 1998 after being out of production for almost 20 years. Volkswagen invited automotive journalists from around the world to try the new convertible Beetle in Santa Monica and Malibu during the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show.

The original Beetle and its convertible version hold an affectionate place in both motoring and pop culture circles. Though the classic Beetle debuted in 1938, it’s really a child of the 1960s. It’s easy to envision an old Beetle with a surf board wedged in the back seat – or racing, Disney “Love Bug” style, with a 53 painted on its door. Affordable, generally reliable and playfully styled, the Beetle became a popular choice for economy minded drivers in Europe and the U.S.

When the larger, modern Beetle returned in time for the 21st Century, it immediately became an en vogue pick for both older drivers reaching for some nostalgia and younger drivers who wanted a cuter car that steered away from more aggressively stylized rides. The 2014 Beetle Convertible keeps much of the re-created Beetle’s appearance while adding the option of letting the wind whip through your hair.

The convertible will arrive in show rooms with a 2.5 liter 170 horsepower five-cylinder engine. If you’re a little more ambitious, you can snatch up the 200 horsepower turbo four-cylinder. While I doubt it’ll sell significantly in the U.S., there’s also a 140 horsepower TDI turbo diesel. It’s unfortunate that many American drivers avoid diesel engines, but it’s not VW’s job to fix that trend.

As for features, buyers can choose from a mix of modern options like touchscreen navigation and satellite radio, as well as classic flares like heritage VW wheel covers. For Volkswagen enthusiasts who want to salute the eras of ragtop Beetles long since past, the company is offering limited edition trim packages saluting designs from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

As for the driving experience, VW officials chose the sunny stretches of Santa Monica, Malibu and California’s Pacific Coast Highway to offer perfect photo opps of the Beetle Convertible against a back drop of rolling seas and frolicking surfers. Of course, that December week turned out to be one of the rainiest in about a year in LA. Unfortunately, the weather made it difficult for the test drivers to enjoy a ride with the top down.

Aside from that setback, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible is a pleasure to drive with adequate speed and efficient handling. Just for fun, VW execs had 1950s and 1960s VW Bugs on the scene for comparison sake – demonstrating how far we’ve come in engine design, safety and riding comfort.

This VW Beetle is not the most affordable “economy car” on the market, starting at $24,000. But, the 2013 Convertible model has evolved far behind its cheap ancestor.