2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible TDI: Fun and fuel efficient.
Price: $29,195, which gives buyers a six-speed transmission, navigation package, heated leather seats and manual seats.
Marketer's pitch: "Let the outside in."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "iconic styling; powerful turbo or fuel-efficient diesel engines; well-made and stylish interior; lots of features" but warns of the "unrefined base engine; price tag can soar with options."
Reality: Definitely fun in the sun -- especially if you're not wedded to a manual transmission (more on that later).
Up to speed: Last week we put down the top and threw on the shades for a ride in the MX-5 Miata -- great fun, small, kind of thirsty. This week, we see if saving money on fuel while carrying a couple of extra passengers can be as cool.
Friends and stuff: In theory, the two-seater MX-5 Miata and four-seater Beetle aren't even a comparison. In reality, the back seat is not all that. The passengers sit close together, and fixed cupholders take up the middle. We attempted to carry Sturgis kids 1.0 and 4.0 plus a tall potted plant off to Grandma's, but gave up.
Trunk room, on the other hand, is not bad at all for a convertible.
Back in time: All is forgiven when the start button is pressed. The TDI in the Beetle plays from the same songbook as the old air-cooled version. It's so eerily similar I kept wondering why I heard it from in front, and not from behind. This is the first time Volkswagen has mated its sippy diesel engine to the convertible top. Great idea.
Peppy pullouts: The torque of the diesel engine also brings back memories of the air-cooled versions. It's not that slow, but it has a similar surge of movement in its sweet spot as my old '68 named Thunderbolt.
Shifty: The six-speed transmission is fun to shift. The dashboard display shows what gear you're in, and not just when to upshift -- a really nice touch.
But I spent a week with the Beetle and was disappointed that I never could get myself arranged with the pedals. I had to sit really close to accommodate the long clutch throws and my right foot ended up on ice from being bent up too far.
Stall city: In addition, the clutch was super touchy and the engine seemed to rev slowly, so I stalled this thing more times that I cared to count. (In contrast, I never stalled the Mazda6.)
Most buyers will opt for the shiftable automatic, and I'd encourage that.
On the curves: It is still fun to drive though. It's not quite MX-5 Miata level for fun of on country roads but it's still a treat, as most Volkswagens are.
Inside: Entry and exit are super easy when the top is down. With the top up, getting in the back seat of this two-door inflicts surprisingly little pain and embarrassment. Front-seat inhabitants almost face a bigger challenge, especially if the car is parked in a tight spot. Like the MX-5, passengers sit forward and must open the door fairly wide.
The seats are comfortable though.
The little cubby over the glovebox is a nice touch. Color coordinated dashboard panels harken back to the old days. A little storage under the armrest is just that.
Outside: It's a Beetle. Convertible. It's lovely. And mine came in robin's egg blue. Everyone notices.
Interface: The gauges are easy to see and easy to read. The radio has a few external buttons for ease of operation. Volkswagen's aim to simplify cockpit controls? Success.
Looking out: Visibility is good in most directions but rearward can be a little tough. With the top up, changing lanes and passing can be an adventure on par with the MX-5.
Slick weather: The soft top does an OK job of containing outside noises, like wind and rain. Handling in the rain can be tough to compare but this one seemed prone to wanderlust. I drove it a major downpour and was surprised at how much dancing around it did.
Fuel economy: Just under 39 mpg in a mix of highway and suburban driving. Score.
Where it's built: Puebla, Mexico.
How it's built: The 2013 Beetle joins the Mini Cooper S, Volvo C70 and Infiniti G convertible on Consumer Reports' least recommended sporty cars and convertibles.
In the end: If you like a toy that will last without breaking, the MX-5 Miata is the right choice. If fuel economy, more cold weather usefulness and a little more room are your thing, the Beetle TDI makes sense. (A gasoline version and a turbo also add different levels of power and fun.) Just make sure your legs fit into the cockpit before buying a stick.
Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at email@example.com.