VW bug converts wary chick-car drivers

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      Before the nasty e-mails start, I’ll come clean: my attitude regarding “chick” cars is out to lunch. Neanderthal. Obsolete. Stupid. I’ve even been accused of being a dinosaur a couple of times.

      But I can’t help it. There are just some cars that, as a beer-drinking, motorcycle-riding, red-blooded heterosexual male, I don’t want to be caught driving. Sorry, but there you go.

      How then to explain my fondness for the VW Beetle Convertible? Surely this is the quintessential chick car, the queen bee of soft-tops. Cute, practical, fun—it even comes with a vase! And yet”¦

      I recently had the opportunity to take a new Beetle Convertible on an extended road trip, and, all things considered, it might have been the perfect choice. Comfortable, powerful—well, powerful enough—roadworthy, reasonably thrifty, well-mannered. And a bonus: the roof comes down.

      Let’s get the numbers out of the way first. From driveway to driveway, there and back, the total distance I covered was just over 800 kilometres. Fuel consumed was about a tank and a half of regular-grade gas, or just over 82 litres. That works out to an average of roughly 10.3 litres per 100 kilometres by my calculations, or 23 miles per gallon for all you other math-challenged dinosaurs. I stress that these are extremely unofficial figures, by the way. Transport Canada’s numbers are definitely better: 11 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway. These are for the six-speed Tiptronic model, which is what I had, and the five-speed manual version is about the same.

      Power for the 2007 Beetle Convertible is provided by a 2.5-litre five-cylinder that is wedged in transversely and develops 150 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. If I have a criticism of the Beetle ragtop, it’s that this engine is not quite up to snuff when it comes to traversing long mountain passes with a full load of luggage and a 90-plus-kilogram caveman behind the wheel. It does the job, but seems to run out of steam fairly quickly. Overtaking 18-wheelers on the Coquihalla highway was more dramatic than it should have been, and I think I’d prefer a more free-revving engine. Nor is this power plant as refined as the four-cylinder that preceded it, and was rougher than I was expecting. This is a common problem with five-bangers, in my experience.

      On the other hand, what the Beetle Convert may lack in grunt, it more than makes up for in assembly quality, charm, and driveability. For such an ungainly-looking car, it’s remarkably stable on the highway, and shrugs off truck turbulence and cross-winds with ease. It has a nice wide road stance and is relatively close to the ground, both of which help its stability and cornering. Brakes are four-wheel discs all round, with ABS, and, like all VW products, one of the car’s strongest points. A vehicle stability-control system is standard issue, as are brake assist and an electronic differential lock.

      I also loved the fact that even at illegal speeds, wind and road noise were minimal. My test car had the 10-speaker MP3-compatible sound system that is standard equipment, and once I cleared the city, I cranked up the Allman Brothers and Ted Nugent as loud as I could stand, with the top up. Conventional tin-tops will have better sound quality, of course, but for a soft-top, this chick car ain’t half-bad. Once you put the top down, all bets are off, but that’s okay; the driving experience is so much more pleasant, it doesn’t really matter. Lowering the top is accomplished by unlocking the centre-mounted safety catch above the windscreen and then pressing a floor-mounted button. Takes no time at all. There’s also a windbreaker that you can put up in the back seat so your hair won’t get mussed up, but I’m drawing the line here. What’s the point of driving a convertible if you don’t like the wind in your hair?

      Another nice surprise was storage space. There is actually a 100-litre-capacity trunk behind the back seats, and you can stuff three or four soft bags in it. The tonneau is also stored there, which is where it stayed during my time with this car. I was amused to see that there is an emergency release lever inside the trunk, just in case you get locked inside. But that would be the least of your worries if you somehow found yourself shoehorned inside the trunk of this car—there isn’t enough room for a munchkin back there.

      Some other nice touches: heated seats, cruise control, a couple of handy front cup holders, one-touch power window on the driver’s side, and, on my car, nicely done leather upholstery. This last feature is part of the luxury package, which will run you an additional $2,995. It also includes alloy wheels, fog lights, and a few other interior bits and pieces. One minor quibble here: the fold-down sun visors are too small to be of any use whatsoever. Bring shades.

      And memo to self: maybe bring a new attitude next time you drive this car.