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2003 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

Volkswagen has completed the New Beetle family with the launch of an iconic convertible that recalls the classic drop-top Bugs, complete with its thick, folded-top bustle and huggable personality.

With the top up, the car maintains the hardtop’s distinct semi-circle profile. The arching shape preserves generous headroom, lending a spacious feel uncommon in convertibles. Sharing materials with the Audi A4 Cabriolet, the three-layer headliner has an upscale look and contributes to the low wind noise at speed.

The optional power top on our test models lived up to the VW boast of raising or lowering in 13 seconds. The efficient transformation begins with a single, manual release at the windshield header center and is executed with a power button located near the parking brake. The power windows lower slightly to prevent binding, and the cloth top folds onto the rear wheel arches like an overstuffed garment bag. We’re told its shape acts as a functional spoiler; we found it limited rearward visibility and compromised the typical, panoramic views offered by convertibles. For the New Beetle, this carries a nostalgic charm and seems a natural resolution to an engineering challenge, but it would not be so easily forgiven on any other vehicle.

Relatively quiet on the highway, our test cars had minor wind noise at the A-pillar with the top up, but this was handily neutralized by the standard 10-speaker stereo with two subwoofers. With the top down, the optional wind blocker fitted behind the front bucket seats significantly reduced buffeting, but it does limit the usefulness of the rear seat.

Tipping the scales at 350 pounds heavier than the coupe, due to the top and structural reinforcement, the convertible offers modest performance with the base 2.0-liter/115-horse I-4. (Volkswagen claims an 11.4 second 0-60 mph time.) The familiar engine has been enhanced for the convertible, with two balance shafts to reduce vibration and a twin-path intake manifold to broaden the torque band. We noted that the five-speed manual shifter and clutch action seem smoother and more precise than on previous New Beetles. The available six-speed Tiptronic automatic ($1175) makes the most of the 2.0L’s power with a sport mode that does invigorate the Beetle while earning respectable fuel economy. A 1.8-liter/150-horsepower turbocharged engine will be offered summer 2003.

Proud of its Woodstock roots, Volkswagen adds three 1960s-inspired pastel colors for the convertible: Harvest Moon, Mellow Yellow, and Aquarius Blue. Not to worry, more traditional colors are also avaliable. The top is initially offered in black, with gray and cream joining the palette later in the model year.

Pricing starts at $20,450 for the base GL model, with the turbocharged GLS expected to be $24,100. Offered at a palatable base price, this flower-powered convertible offers premium features, impressive overall finish, and high fun quotient.


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