Machine Design

2004 VW Beetle Convertible GLS 1.8T

Approaching this car, it's hard to not like it.

The bulbous silver Beetle with black ragtop is a head turner, no doubt about it. And once you begin driving the car, it's even harder not to like.

Unfortunately, spring in Cleveland does not afford many opportunities to drive sans the top, unless I wanted to turn into a human Popsicle. The New Beetle Convertible GLS 1.8T, as the name implies, boasts a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine, which puts out 150 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. Cutting in and out of traffic was a breeze, and there's no hesitation when the gas pedal is engaged. This is a zippy little automobile that handles well without too much fuss and not a lot of drag.

The five-speed manual transmission was a breeze to shift, catching without pause on every gear. The 1.8T is also available with a six-speed automatic transmission with Triptronic, which lets drivers move back and forth between automatic and manual.

The front suspension houses independent MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, and a 23-mm stabilizer bar. The same setup is in back, with the addition of an independent torsion beam axle and an 18-mm stabilizer bar.

For safety purposes, new on all Beetles are seat-mounted side air bags, as well as active head restraints to help minimize whiplash. Also, Automatic Rollover Supports (ARS) provide added overhead support in the event of a rollover. Sensors in the car indicate whether it is in a rollover situation, causing the ARS to deploy behind the rear seats, whether the convertible top is up or down.

And while the weather was a little cold for a topless spin, for the sake of the test drive, I did put the top down. It was an easy operation that took a little over 10 seconds to perform. A handle above the dash comes down and releases the top, the top then automatically goes up and back, and snaps into place in the rear. If there's an unexpected sunburst, the top can be put down in seconds or back up in record time in case of rain.

If I were in the market for this car, one big sticking point is the measly amount of trunk space — 5 ft 3 to be exact. A week's worth of groceries just fit. Also, the back seat is only for looks, as there is barely any legroom. And, while there's not room for much else than a weekend bag and two passengers, the car we tested came equipped with a special ski sack for a trip to the slopes.

Our test vehicle was outfitted with a leather package, which included heated leather seats, a leather shift knob, steering wheel, and hand brake. This adds $900 to the ticket. A wind blocker was also included (worth the $250). The 10-speaker Monsoon stereo, which used to be optional, is standard on all GLS models. Base price for the GLS 1.8T is $24,820. This, plus destination and options, brings the price to $26,730.

With the Mini Cooper and the PT Cruiser coming out with convertibles this year, the Beetle will have some competition. But, if I were in the market for a convertible, this would be my top choice. And I would spring for the turbocharged engine — it's worth every extra penny.

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