When Volkswagen brought back the Beetle Coupe for 1998, Americans once again succumbed to another dose of ‘‘Beetlemania’‘. The return of the world’s most lovable car was a success with both baby boomers and generation dot-comers alike. But something was missing. We missed the feeling of wind in our thinning hair. Well, now a cure has been found with the second installment of Bug nostalgia: the 2003 New Beetle Convertible. Now, life is complete.
At least it is if you’re a sun worshiper with a passion for cute, memorable car designs! Because the 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible delivers the same fun-and-free spirit as the 1949 original. A spirit reflected in the Convertible’s styling, which is that of the popular hardtop Beetle, but with a fully-lined 3-layer soft top that precisely follows the steel top’s lines. The outer skin is tightly stretched to a stout frame to keep it from bulging and bunching even at speed.
The convertible top features a glass rear window with defroster, and is available with both manual and power operation. Side and rear visibility are good for a convertible. Power windows, front and rear, are standard. And we found the blind spots to be manageable, even with the somewhat smallish rear window. Lowering our GLS-grade test car’s power top is a simple matter of releasing one header latch and pushing one button, and then waiting only 13 seconds. A flexible boot cover is easily fitted, giving the whole assembly the same bulky, but authentic, profile as the original Beetle drop top.
One that hides modern safety features like Volkswagen’s Automatic Rollover Supports, that pop up from behind the rear seats in about a quarter of a second if this bug starts to turn on its back. While the top’s appearance is very authentic, it does compromise your view of people chasing the New Beetle Convertible for a closer look. Another modern feature is the removable wind blocker, which substantially cuts buffeting and wind noise inside the cockpit.
Driving the New Beetle Convertible into the wind is either our car’s standard 2.0-liter single-overhead-cam 4-cylinder engine that makes 115 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, or the New Beetle Turbo’s 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam boosted four, that pumps out 150 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are available with either this 5-speed manual transmission, or a new 6-speed Tiptronic automatic.
Even with the manual, the 2.0-liter Convertible posted a very leisurely 11 second 0-to-60 time. The 1/4 mile ran out in 18 seconds at 71 miles-per-hour. That’s actually only a few tenths slower than a hardtop Beetle, despite the Convertible’s 265 pound weight increase. Power delivery was smooth and even, while both the clutch and shifter exhibited a soft feel, but precise engagement.
The beefed up Convertible chassis exhibited little body flex in delivering the crisp handling that we expect from a Volkswagen. There was quite a bit of body roll, but never a lack of traction or feedback from the independent front, twist beam rear axle suspension, even near its adhesion limits. And the optional Electronic Stability Control produced almost seamless assistance, when the car was pushed too hard. Braking is by standard anti-lock equipped 4-wheel discs that stopped the Beetle Convertible from 60 in an average distance of 125 feet. Nose dive is significant, but stability, clamping power and pedal feel all measure up to VW’s reputation.
Interior design is also standard Volkswagen. The cockpit, lifted directly from the hardtop Beetle, is clean and well organized, with one large gauge pod. The rotary controlled climate system is a snap to use and powerful enough to let you drive top down in spring and fall. The center console is new, with armrest, more useful cupholders and a storage area big enough to house an optional CD-changer. Front seat room is naturally plentiful, and side airbags are standard. But the roof mechanism forced engineers to narrow the rear seat, making it an intimate experience for an adult couple. But the center does fold to gain trunk access and carry long items, which is good since at only 5 cubic feet , less than half of the coupe’s , luggage space in the New Beetle Convertible is at a premium.
Pricing numbers are something of a premium, too. Base price for a 2.0-liter GL is $21,025. That’s a $4,500 hike over the hardtop! GLS-grade cars start at $22,425, and $24,675 with the turbo. Move up to the top GLX turbo, and $26,125 is the starting sticker. Premium prices by Beetle standards, that is. But, we must note, thanks in part to economical Mexican assembly, the drop top bug is over $15,000 less than any other German designed convertible.
And cuter as well! The 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible is the car that both baby boomers, and their babies, have been waiting for since the Beetle’s 1998 return. The world’s most lovable car is back, and with all the style, fun, and now wind in your hair, as the original. So, yes! For Beetle fans, life really is complete!
Engine: 2.0-Liter Sohc 4-Cylinder
Torque: 125 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 11.0 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 18.0 Seconds @ 71 MPH
60-0 MPH: 125 Feet
EPA Mileage: 24 MPG City 30 MPG Highway