When I had picked the Beetle up, I jumped in with some trepidation, worried my hard-won masculine image would be dented for ever. Roof down, big daisy in the dashboard-mounted vase, I cruised out of the car park, feeling extremely self-conscious and rather feminine.
But then I switched on the CD player and the music placed there by the cunning PR people hit me – the Beach Boys' Surfin' USA – and it was like some sunny apotheosis. It might have been Milton Keynes but it might as well have been Malibu Beach. Hazy sun-drenched summer memories of flip-flops and ice cream, Frisbees in the park and wasps came flooding back. Happy days, apart from the wasps.
The Beetle Cabriolet will not be a logical car for fleets, but for users-choosers, and in particular female ones, it has captured the essence of the carefree idylls of the generation who grew up with the sixties Beetle.
Predicted sales volumes are about 3,000 a year and prices start at £15,395 on-the-road for the 100bhp 1.6-litre model.
The 113bhp 2.0-litre that I got to drive starts at £17,515, although mine came with alloy wheels, heated leather seats and six-CD autochanger as optional extras. The heated seats and strong heater were essential to recreate that California dream in the East Midlands.
Later in the year will come a 74bhp 1.4-litre petrol and a 98bhp 1.9-litre TDI PD diesel model. All will be Euro IV compliant, including the diesel which will avoid the 3% benefit-in-kind tax penalty, with CO2 figures of 187g/km and 211g/km for the models on sale now.
I cannot admit to being a fan of the hardtop Beetle, because to put the trademark body shell shape on a Golf chassis results in some weird interior packaging. But in Cabriolet form (and soft-tops in general), where space and practicality are often put to death at the sword of style and swagger, the Beetle works really well.
With the roof up, it still looks better than the hardtop and the chrome strip running around the window line adds a touch of class. Roof down, it's even better, even though the hood perches atop the rear boot as it has since time immemorial and hinders the rear view.
Most of the hood operation is electro-hydraulic, taking 13 seconds to open, apart from the final twist and pull of the single handle to locate it in place. That takes a bit of effort, but is worth it for the reactions top-down Beetling provokes.
Behind the wheel
I mentioned at the start what it's like behind the wheel of the Beetle Cabriolet, and to reiterate: it's groovy, baby.
Four can sit with enough space in the front and the rear, although the surfboard might struggle, and the boot is small, especially by the time you have stored the tonneau cover there. But no matter, this car is all about sun and fun.
Inside, everything is close to hand with all the usual Volkswagen kit in place, and the dark interior is lightened up by light door plastics and the body colour wrapped over the top of the doors.
There is a lockable armrest compartment which is handy for this type of car, if you forgo the optional six CD player that would reside there.
As for performance, well, it's not fast, doing 0-62mph in 11.7 seconds, but it cruises along happily. Although Volkswagen claims best-in-class rigidity, comparable to more expensive, larger cars, I cannot agree.
The car I had shook like a rock and roller from the decade of the first Beetle Cabriolet, and it made the handling woolly and the low speed ride feel unsettled over lumpy roads. But I don't believe it actually matters. This car is one of the few on the road that can claim to have real character and head-turning ability. The Beetle Cabriolet is designed to deliver a smile to faces, to bring out people's sunny side, and it does it fantastically well.
It might be a car for the ladies, but for a surfin' safari on a hot summer's day, I can't think of anything I'd rather be driving - if I were a girl.
|VW Beetle Cabriolet|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||100/5,600||112/5,400|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rom):||109/3,800||127/3,200|
|Max speed (mph):||110||115|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||36.2||32.1|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||187||211|
|Fuel tank capacity (l):||55|
|Service interval (miles):||variable|
|Prices (OTR):||from £15,395|