Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

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“Clap along, if you feel like a room without a roof….”

“Everybody stares at me on the highway!”

The sun is shining, Pharrell Williams is singing, and I’m in a Volkswagen Beetle the colour of Fanta, sans roof. It could not be a more appropriate song for the moment, it could not be a more inappropriate car for any moment. And if that is a concern – this car isn’t for you.

If you’re the sort of person, who chimes “Hellooo!” on a Monday, and means it; if you’re the sort of person who thinks Christmas is magic; or who thoroughly enjoys your kid’s school play – this car is absolutely for you.

This car is for the happy shiny people. If you’re not one, stop reading now. Because this review will anger you.

I adore the Beetle. I always have, and I always will. Everything about it is fun and whimsical and makes your life happier.

“Oh, but there’s not very much rear seat room.” Whoopty-do! My seven-year-old daughter is still back there chortling like a toddler.

“It’s so hard to get into!” Big deal, that just makes it funnier.

“Everybody stares at me on the highway!” Um, durr. It’s a bright orange Beetle convertible.

What nobody can or will complain about is the way the Beetle drives. Underpinned by one of Volkswagen’s most successful platforms, the Beetle is easy to drive in 98 percent of situations and fun to drive in the other 2. VW’s 2.0T is a well-loved unit, and paired here with the faultless six-speed Tiptronic auto.

Fuel economy is strong, and I achieved a scant 8.1 L/100 km in a week of city snarl and lead-footed silliness. Official city/highway/combined ratings are 9.0/7.2/8.2 L/100 km. The 174 hp/185 lb-ft engine responds eagerly to throttle input, and zips about town with aplomb. It’s got enough pep to entertain the lead-foots among us, and enough grunt to match pace with traffic on even Toronto’s shortest and most poorly designed on-ramps.

I wished for a slightly better turning circle when parking, and it took me a day to acclimatize to the mirrors, which seemed to give a distorted view of the Beetle’s sculpted sides when used for reversing.

The rear-view camera is typically great, and still earns my praise for the neat tuck-away trick VW has pulled with all its vehicles. Here in snow- and salt-ravaged Canada, that tiny detail is a godsend.

Inside, the Beetle convertible is clean, high quality, and well executed. Volkswagen’s infotainment system, complete with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is one of the best on the market. Clear icons, large buttons, and a good mix of touchscreen/hard controls make it easy to use for all comers. I particularly appreciate the ability to decide if the steering wheel controls change presets or stations. Mostly because I’m a serial channel surfer. Fly – Coffee House and back, with a detour to 80s on 8, through 90s on 9, and regular stops are Classic Rewind, Turbo, and New Wave. I do use the manual tune to jump up to the comedy or NHL stations though.

The cute little rump is adorned with a flap door, which is useful for putting small things in the small trunk. You can fold the seats flat via a lever at the rear to increase the available cargo area. But at just 201 L, this is not a large space in standard configuration. Thankfully the roof intrudes only slightly into the trunk when retracted and stowed.

That roof increase visibility exponentially when it’s open, but with the roof closed, you will have a hard time seeing out the pillbox slot in the rear. Also, I experienced a bit of leakage when I took the Beetle through a carwash. Otherwise, the cream-coloured roof is fetching in either up or down configuration, and the ability to drop the top only adds to the Beetle’s immense charm.

I cannot speak highly enough of the light-coloured wood grain accent on the dash, nor the two-tone cloth seats. They set off this “Habanero Orange” Beetle in a fun way that is also fashion-forward. That’s before you get to the $1,970 style package – which despite its name includes more functional features than aesthetic upgrades. Chief among them – dual-zone automatic climate control, as well as LED running lights, tail lights, and fog lights, and an eight-speaker Fender Premium Auto System.

Now, the Beetle is on its way out. Mexican production will stop in the next year, and with it, Volkswagen’s whimsical side. It’s a shame, because the Golf has slowly sloughed off any semblance of personality, and the VW lineup in its austere handsomeness tweaks none of the emotional strings on my rack. The Beetle was Volkswagen’s way of reminding us that the German juggernaut has a wonderful, playful soul.

Sure, the flower pot on the dash is gone, but in its final iteration, the Beetle is still a charming, delightful, happy little rig, supported by excellent bones. Its loss is a loss for the entire industry, and all of our automotive souls.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 174 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Peak Torque 184 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
Fuel Economy 9.0/7.2/8.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 201 L
Model Tested 2018 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Coast Edition
Base Price $28,895
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,645
Price as Tested $32,610
Optional Equipment
$1,970 – Style Package $1,970