No red-blooded male would be seen dead in the current version of the VW Beetle Cabrio. As masculine as a miniskirt and with less testosterone than a female kitten, it's the automotive equivalent of a make-up-packed handbag. And not a particularly great one, at that.
All of the original promise of it being a simple, fun convertible - a cheaper, more upright Porsche Speedster for the masses - was immediately washed away when we first saw and drove the thing. It is far too tall and pastel-coloured to be taken seriously; it has a cramped, vase-equipped interior that can only just hold two normal-sized people. And it is boring to drive, with almost instant understeer and bodyroll only a sailor would find acceptable.
That doesn't matter to the skirt-wearing people who buy them, as the roof goes up and down electronically on all but the most budget of versions, it is absolutely undemanding to own and it's a VW, so it can be bought and serviced easily (if a little expensively) too. VW sells plenty of them, and they hold their value extremely well, so whatever we say, it works, and there is no reason to change it massively.
Unless, like the VW management, you one day decide that you want to try to sell it to men, too. In that case, a proper root-and-branch reworking of the whole car would be required, to tone down
the lipstick factor and increase the bloke appeal. It would need to be lower, longer, and wider to make it look a little more athletic. It would need an interior on a par with or better than a Golf's, perhaps with a manly brand name thrown in to add guy appeal. And it would need to go, stop and steer way better than ever before.
Which is precisely what the company has done for the 2013 model year. A lot of the new Cabrio's newfound upgrades come courtesy of the recently launched MkVII Golf that provides all the engines and other oily bits you hopefully will never see. With the world fainting with praise over the new everyman car, it's a prime parts bin for the Beetle to plunder. And it shows right from the off, the 2013 Beetle being a better-handling car in every way than the outgoing model.
But before we get into the moving bits, we have first to deal with the styling tweaks. If those don't work, the thing could have a Lamborghini drivetrain in it and it wouldn't sell much to a male audience. And the good news here is that - by making the car lower and wider, lengthening and lowering the roofline, so it now apes the 1949 original Beetle, and adding a spoiler to all cars - the
VW designers have managed to shift the gender of the car from purely female to slap bang in the middle of both sexes.
This masculine tilt continues with the interior. Gone are the rubbish high-concept Mini-like dials and flower-holders, replaced by a fabulously clear no-nonsense dash and centre console. Essential for any proper cabrio, there's a big stereo, including an even bigger one by Fender, along with a Stratocaster-alike starburst wood option for the dash, which, against all normal taste tests, looks cool. The front seats are fine; the rear seats - which fold down so you can get more than a few bags of shopping in the boot - are now acceptable for children.
There are a few problems, though. All the plastics used aren't fantastic, the fabric strip across the door in lieu of a proper door pocket is a little feeble, and the pedals are almost shockingly Alfa Romeo-style in their offset (more about this in a minute), but it's a light year better than
the current model.
As is the chassis and drivetrain. There is the usual broad range of options here, à la Golf, stretching from the titchy 1.2-litre TSI all the way to the 2.0-litre 200bhp TSI unit nicked from
the GTI. The two options we got to try on this launch were the range-topping 2.0 Turbo and the 2.0 TDI diesel. While the petrol-powered car was infinitely more entertaining - good seats, rapid enough to be fun, good ride and handling - it's the diesel we are going to focus on here, as that'll be the biggest-seller.
And it isn't half bad at all. Mated with the DSG gearbox, the whole car feels well sorted, not over- or underpowered, quick enough to please and steady enough in the corners not to cause sickness. There's very little body shake, even over badly cut up surfaces, and, with the windjammer in place, virtually no air swirl in the cabin at all. The roof clears off in 9.5 seconds, with no levers to release, and reinstalls itself in 11.5 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph. It's not exceptional in any way, but not shoddy in many, either.
The only issues we encountered, on a very British-like foggy and rainy test day, was that the roof collects water when it's stowed. Lots of water. Water that falls into the cabin in two strong, crotch-soaking jets when you put the roof up. This is poor. What is also poor is the offset on the pedals in the manual version. It's there in the two-pedal cars, of course, but much more noticeable and irritating in the manuals, as there's less space. You can solve the first issue by being careful when and where you open/close the roof. The only way to cure the second is to get the DSG version.
Which, if you choose your colours and options carefully - and feel secure in your masculinity - VW is now hoping you might feel OK doing, even if you are a man.
1968cc, 4cyl, FWD, 138bhp, 236lb ft, 50.0mpg, 145g/km CO2, 0-62mph in 9.9secs, 120mph, 1505kg
Massive improvements over current car broaden the Cabrio's appeal. Avoid the manuals and putting the roof down in the rain