Friday, July 5, 2013

2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Convertible test drive review. Herbie's long, lost cousin

As a child of the ‘70s, Herbie the Love Bug was part of my cultural upbringing.  Disney’s plucky Volkswagen kind of gave every Beetle a little more personality.  So when I recently got the chance to spend a week behind the wheel of a 2013 Beetle TDI convertible, I thought that sounded like a good deal.  This latest iteration of the Beetle draws even more design cues from the original than the previous generation, and my persona could use an infusion of cuteness.

I will say that before I took the keys, I didn’t consider the Beetle a very serious car. I just thought it was a bubbly little novelty vehicle meant to satisfy the driving standards of high school girls.  But I can now tell you that this car is much more than that.  No, it’s not a Corvette.  But the way it handles and drives is quite surprising.

You hear this description so much it has become cliché, but the Beetle really does remind me of driving a go-kart.  That short wheelbase helps it dart wherever you point the electronic steering, and a stiff but not punishing suspension keeps you flat in the curves.  Plus, it’s not super powerful, so you often find yourself dropping to a lower gear or otherwise thrashing it to eek out more speed.  If you’re in the right frame of mind, this set-up can be pretty fun.

The relaxed power delivery on this particular car comes from the “TDI” designation.  That tells you it is a turbo-diesel. The 2.0-liter four is only good for 120-hp, but it churns out a generous 236-lb/ft. of torque @ 1,750-RPM.  That means it’ll pack a wallop off the line, but grows some pretty long legs once you’re cruising.  The big advantage to this, of course, is fuel mileage.  Volkswagen claims MPG numbers of 28/city, 41/highway, and 32/combined.  And I’ve read reports of even better mileage (probably from people who were not driving it like a go-kart). 

For a small, economy-type car, the Beetle can be equipped with lots of high-tech equipment.  This one had a touch-screen navigation system that actually says “please” when telling you where to turn, keyless entry, and Sirius Satellite Radio.  That radio was broadcast through eight lovely-sounding Fender speakers. 

The strangest feature was a stopwatch right in the middle of the dashboard.  I know some old sports cars had these, but it just wasn’t something I expected to see here.  You can either run it manually, or there’s a setting where it’ll start when you begin accelerating.  I suppose the idea is to check your lap times, but I used it more to see how long it took me to drive home from work.

I have to mention the convertible top.  This is one of the nicest rag top setups I’ve ever seen.  The whole thing fits together tight with little-to-no wind noise.  It even has a nice, finished headliner.  You don’t have to unlatch or latch anything.  Just hold down one button for a few seconds, and the top and all the windows go down.  Hold it again, and they all come back up.  There’s a fabric top boot that’s kind of a nuisance, so we just didn’t use it, and a wind deflector that blocks off the back seat, but for instant roof-to-no-roof action, this thing would be tough to beat.

We decided to take advantage of that slick top by taking a road trip to Atchison.  We looked at some historic homes and rooted through some antique stores.  That picture at the very beginning of this article is actually the garage behind the house that Amelia Earhart grew up in.  We also found this 1/25th-scale diecast for a quarter at one of the thrift shops, so that seemed like something that needed to come home with us.

At one point, I met another Beetle on the road, and my test car jumped up on its back wheels, skeetered around, and started chasing the other car while opening and closing its hood, flashing its lights, and honking its horn (which was disappointingly normal sounding and not very “peepy” at all).   I think it was in love.  OK, I made all of that up (except the part about the sound of the horn).  But when you look at it, you think it could happen.  Unfortunately, the fun eventually came to an end, and all we are left with are pictures.  As usual, you can see them below, or click this link for a better version.


  1. I like this story. Never considered the Beetle to be very serious either, but interesting that you liked driving it so much.

    Atchison is a nice day trip. Lots of history there.

  2. I drive a TDI Beetle, 2003 model. I've put 278k on it so far. Doesn't use oil, doesn't leak and doesn't smoke. When driven sedately I still get 46 mpg. I fully expect the car to last 500k, at least. I'm 6'5" tall and weigh 330. I fit comfortably in the Beetle, more so than most cars I've owned. I think it is a serious commute car. One of my best car purchases.