2005 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Convertible

2005 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Convertible

I bought this little convertible in 2014 to commute to work while I was adding significant power modifications to my Mitsubishi Evo 8. I just needed something to get me to work while the Evo was in and out of the shop. I planned up front to own this car for 9-12 months and then be done with it. Not strictly a "beater," but I didn't want to invest a lot. But that didn't mean I had to get a boring car.

But a Beetle? Seriously?

I was looking for something cheap, fun and sporty that I wouldn't have to spend much money maintaining. Good fuel economy was a plus, but I had trouble finding VW TDIs in reasonable condition and old enough to fit my budget. A Golf or Passat TDI wagon would have been ideal, but they were infinitely more rare than the ubiquitous Beetle. A old V8 would have been nice, but RWD with a LSD would do. Miata is about the only RWD car out there new enough that anticipated restoration and maintenance wouldn't be a problem and I could still afford the initial purchase price. I'm not a convertible guy — a weak, flexible chassis and the extra weight in bracing to partially compensate for it don't make for fun driving dynamics — but as I was looking at little roadsters I came across the ad for this Beetle. It had already occurred to me that a two-seater was going to be a difficult sell to my kiddos who always enjoyed riding in Dad's car. (And, therefore, a difficult sell to my wife.) And I figured since it was just for the short term, it was a good opportunity to get the convertible experience. A Miata would have been a lot more fun (and potentially a track car later), but this one made more sense at the time.

The Good

As a temporary extra car, all the disadvantages worked out OK. And it was fun to put the top down for a slow cruise in cooler weather. I know the girls loved it. The top is well-engineered and sealed tightly against the windshield header and doesn't suffer the balloon effect older convertibles show on the highway. It's a top-stack 'cause, frankly, nothing is going inside that tiny trunk, but it stows rigidly with no shake even at 70 mph. Highway cruising is fairly quiet inside with the top up. Importantly, the car was in great shape, mechanically, with all maintenance brought up to date, a new clutch, new brake rotors and pads, new (crummy) tires, a tight, new-looking convertible top and a clean, leak-free engine compartment. Plus it was a turbo 5-speed.

So, yeah, it's a "girl car." Truly it got so vastly much more attention from the ladies than any prettier or far more capable car I had in the past. I was quite surprised (and, I will admit, a little disappointed). But as I was busy adding brawn to my "boy car," I figured concessions to the other half would be easy to make.

A piece of advice for young gentlemen bachelors: Get a girl car. You'll thank me later.

The Bad

It had some cosmetic blemishes including a dent on the right front fender, a pitted windshield, fogged headlight covers, some sun damage to the leather, sun damage to the paint and a few scratches inside and out. Not bad, actually, for a nine year old car approaching 90 kilomiles. Of course the convertible chassis is so twisty the wet noodle suspension has no chance of locating the wheels properly through mild corners and bumps. Even my wife (not a car person) commented how soft it is. And though it may sport VW's peppy little 1.8T motor, it's the 150 bhp Beetle-tuned 1.8T. The Turbo S model gets our old 2002 Passat Wagon's 180 bhp 1.8T and the first gen up-model Audi TT had the 225 bhp 1.8T. Clearly this motor has room to grow, but the point of this car was getting to point B reliably and cheaply, not getting there quickly. And power is wasted on FWD. The convertible top means extra gusseting through the chassis resulting in extra weight, further slowing it. I would have much preferred the 1.9TDI for its torque and fuel economy, but I kinda needed something sooner rather than later. At least the 5-speed manual transmission kept me happily involved in the driving. The clutch engagement was typically VW-easy even for beginners. I would definitely recommend VW for learning to drive stick.

Oh, but the retro-chic look makes the Beetle such a badly designed car. The round-for-a-reason roof line leads to inefficiencies in the cabin. You could land an F-14 on that carrier deck of a dashboard. The front seats are pushed so far back that the back seats are unfit for adults. The rounded ends leave almost no space for the engine compartment or cargo. (At least it had a spare tire.) But it's "cute" which apparently outsells the much smarter Golf using the same chassis and basic layout. What a pity.

The Cute

Naturally, the sale caught the attention of teenage girls almost exclusively. Each I met was instantly willing to learn how to drive the manual transmission to get it. After all, I had the cutest car. So I'm quite pleased to pass on a valuable skill.

Not sure why I'm sentimental about cars. They're more than just a financial investment. Who knows? Maybe I could do another convertible some day.