The Beetle might seem like an odd place for a high-mpg, turquey diesel engine, but its appearance is part of VW's strategy to grow its Beetle buyer base away from the cutesy image that has kept it merely a niche product.
It worked decades ago, back when Beetles populated every parking lot in the country. Can it happen again?
What is it?
A Beetle hardtop with its roof removed, the Beetle Convertible - don't call it a cabriolet - arrived about a year after its steel-topped sibling. Squatter and more planted-looking than their predecessors, both Beetle siblings have taken a more masculine aim.
Underneath their retro bodies sits essentially the Volkswagen Jetta's chassis, a respectable platform that errs just the right side of sporty for enthusiast buyers.
Three engines are on offer - a base 2.5-liter five-cylinder and a pair of 2.0-liter turbos in either gasoline or, as tested, diesel flavors.
Opt for the roofless diesel Beetle and you have a choice of transmissions - six-speed manual (as tested) or six-speed dual clutch automatic. Our tester was further loaded up with the only option on offer, a Fender audio system with a navigation head unit.
What's it up against?
Diesel convertibles are a class of one, but we think it's fair to pit the Beetle Convertible range against the MINI Cooper Convertible and the V6-powered Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro covertibles, plus maybe the automaker's own, more expensive Volkswagen Eos.
What's it look like?
Like someone took the old "New Beetle" that was introduced in the late 1990s and let it melt in the summer sun for a few minutes, the Beetle Convertible has some more Porsche-like elements to it. By that we hardly mean that it's a cut-price 911, but students of history can appreciate the Porsche 356-influenced hunchback shape.
Of course, unlike the original Beetle and the 356, the current Beetle's engine and drive wheels are up front.
Aside from its cloth roof, the Convertible benefits from a thin aluminum band running around its belt-line that suits it like a crisply-tailored suit plus a mini ducktail spoiler on its trunk lid.
And on the inside?
Loaded with retro chic, the Beetle's interior is a study in how to make car reviewers almost look beyond cheap plastics and plethora of switch blanks.
Identical to its hardtop sibling - aside from its ability to let the sun really shine in - the Beetle Convertible's vertical dashboard and exposed body-color plastic trim appear adventurous and whimsical without being as frustrating to operate as the MINI Cooper. With the exception of the ability to actually pan across the navigation map's screen, the Beetle's controls and switches are are logically-arrayed and easy to operate. Even the trip computer located in the gauge cluster was a cinch to sort through.
Still, whiz-bang high-tech features are in short order compared to the more lavishly-optionable MINI range since the Beetle is more of a mainstreamer. Don't look for goodies like power seats, automatic wipers or self-dimming rearview mirrors here.
We liked our tester's firm carbon fiber print vinyl-covered front seats, but we'd really like to see a more breathable option for hot weather climates - fake cow is the only trim you'll find on this model. Back seat riders aren't treated to much room, but at least the seatback folds to help extend the Beetle Convertible's cargo-carrying capacity.
Look up and you'll find a well-insulated cloth roof that stows away even at low speeds. The thick cloth roof and glass rear window helped keep noise at bay - even at highway velocities, we had no problem with Bluetooth phone conversations.
But does it go?
VW's 2.0-liter, 140-horsepower, 263 lb-ft. of torque four-cylinder diesel motor has become so prevalent in its lineup that we can rattle off its details without having to look them up. With familiarity does not come mere complacency, however.
This quiet little turbo unit is a sweet mill in just about any car. Few Beetle TDI Convertibles will be optioned with our tester's six-speed manual (in fact, VW.com's national dealer inventory search shows not one in stock as of press time). Those buyers are missing out on this precise and direct gearbox and its pleasantly light clutch pedal.
The six-speed helped us make the most of the Beetle's robust torque curve. Get on the skinny pedal above about 2,000 rpm and you'll be rewarded with solid acceleration.
Despite all that skinny pedal action, we averaged as much as 44 mpg on highway jaunts and never saw below 31 mpg in the city. For the record, the Beetle TDI Convertible six-speed is rated at 29/41 mpg.
Slicing the Beetle's roof inevitably reduced body rigidity, which the automaker countered with some fairly extensive bracing and a pair of pop-up rollover. We only encountered some limited cowl shake over really rutted terrain. The ambitiously flat-bottomed steering wheel doesn't dial in a huge amount of road feel, but it is precise and nicely weighted, which helps put the droptop on the sportier side of things.
Add in a firm but thoroughly livable ride quality and limited body lean and the Beetle TDI Convertible proved to be vastly more fun to hurtle through the twisties than we expected. A sporting car it is not, but it is polished and capable.
Leftlane's bottom line
It's hard to wipe your smile off with this one - you're bound to grin whether you're looking at it, piloting it through a curvy road or simply passing by gas stations thanks to its stellar fuel economy.
We're smitten with the Volkswagen Beetle TDI Convertible and its just-right combination of features and options.
2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Convertible base price, $27,895. As tested, $29,990.
Navigation/Fender audio, $1,300; Destination, $795.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.