Jumat, 06 Juni 2008

Volkswagen Triple White New Beetle Convertible Review

By Megan Benoit

There are only two reasons why anyone would buy a New Beetle convertible: a craving for cute or a need for nostalgia. Once you rule out these emotional drivers (so to speak), you're far better off in any number of more economical and practical machines. But that's OK, isn't it? Acquiring a Ferrari isn't exactly a rational decision. So analyzing the New Beetle's desirability comes down to this: does it suck enough to put off the retro- fashionistas?

The New Beetle's (NB) exterior remains unchanged since the model's '06 refresh. Pedants will immediately note that our Triple White special edition tester has a black convertible top. The top's cover– a fundamentally useless bag that encloses the lid when it's in the open pram position– justifies the moniker.

Drop-top notwithstanding, the NB remains as perkily rounded as ever. As the design approaches its tenth anniversary, I'm sure its admirers are ready to pronounce it iconic. Me? Not so much. At best, the NB is inoffensively attractive in a boy-band-loving heart-doodling sweet-sixteen sort of way.

Unlike the re-Germanized VW Rabbit/Golf, the NB remains resolutely ‘hecho en Mexico.' Its interior offers occupants the usual low rent mariachi medley of nice looking, cheap feeling plastic. In fact, the NB's materials and fit and finish are to the GTI/Rabbit's what a wool scarf is to a cashmere Pashmina. How much does this car cost again?

The NB's price may not be out of reach for its target market, but its switchgear is. Thanks to a disproportionately large dash, no matter what control my fingers sought, I had to stretch that extra uncomfortable inch to attain it. And when my digits arrived at their destination, the NB's nasty switch snickery and imprecise button pokery played like a toy piano.

Though lacking in lumbar adjustment, the NB's seats are comfy and supportive. Unfortunately, with the lid flipped, the warm leatherette seems to melt on your burning flesh. (Back sweat. Gack!) With the top up, and the flattened roofline renders the backseat inaccessible to all but masochistic Romanian gymnasts. On the positive side, the NB's backseat doubles as cargo space, and the trunk is larger than you'll find in most convertibles.

Fire-up the NB's engine and savor the roar of the diesel… wait… gas-fired 2.5-liter five. Lidless at low to moderate speeds, the powerplant's sonic strain eclipses any chance of blissing with the birds and bees. With an erected hood, the NB packs silence all around.

All that noise provides very little in the way of motivation. Pitted against 3200 lbs., the mill's 150hp and 170 ft.-lbs. of torque isn't… enough… to… get a move on. Whacking the NB's six-speed manumatic tranny helps the hunt for power, but even at full chat, the New Beetle Convertible remains irredeemably fat and obstinately lazy.

Guide the NB onto a twisty piece of tarmac and the drop top's lofty price tag begins to make some kind of sense. The Beetle's superb suspension, touchy yet powerful brakes and safe, predictable handling bring on the happy whilst carving corners. Punch the NB's throttle and the fun stops– if indeed it ever got started. Unless you're driving downhill, all the McPherson struts and stabilizer bars in the world can't make this A-platformed bug boogie.

Like many German cabrios, the NB's thick A-pillars serve as a roll-bar– which is just as well given their effect on visibility. Should the emergency braking assist, ABS, traction control and safety-oriented handling fail, a pop-up roll bar and a slew of airbags will save your Speck.

Minus a few hundred pounds, plus a few ponies, the NB would provide serious hoonage. Or, if we're being demographically correct, a little extra oomph would summon more of that traditional VW virtue called "fun." A brief look at the engine compartment reveals a stunning amount of unused space. Why VW hasn't thrown a bigger engine in the NB's nose is beyond me.

Did I say bigger? How about "more powerful and efficient." If you consider the fact that the similarly priced current gen GTI's four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbo stables more horse AND gets better mileage than the NB's miserable lump, you gotta wonder if the NBTW should have been called the NBMFW (New Beetle Miami Fashion Victim).

At $26,630, the Triple White New Beetle Convertible is no bargain. For less money, a style-conscious sun seeker could purchase a better driver's car (Mazda MX-5), a genuine show stopper (Pontiac Solstice) or split the difference (MINI convertible). This is, of course, exactly what tens of thousands of sensible American car buyers have done, and will continue to do– especially when they consider VW's atrocious reliability record.

In fact, the only buyer who'd be happy in a NBTW is someone who really, really wants one. While it's hard to understand the urge, you gotta admire their dedication.