When Volkswagen debuted the new convertible version of its popular Beetle last fall, it touted the "spiritual connections" of this latest model of the mythical "people's car." That's not just hype. The Beetle Convertible manages to strike the
perfect emotional chord, especially for baby boomers who fondly remember the old robin's-egg blue or beige original Beetle convertibles. Best of all, the new Beetle Convertible manages to be both authentic and affordable -- the best of all possible
scenarios for a retro ride. We tested a "Sundown Orange" GLS 2.0 model with a semi-automatic power top priced at $25,440. She: For the past several months, I've been keeping up a running e-mail correspondence with a reader named Kathy who just
bought a New Beetle Convertible. All along in the process, she kept referring to her new "baby."There was such a sense of anticipation -- just like talking to an expectant mom. I'm a little disappointed she didn't have a baby shower for her car. I
certainly would have understood, and attended. My point is that this car is not just transportation. It's all about a new connection with a bygone era and emotions. If a car can do that to a person, it's an automatic winner to me. He: Nuts! Why do
women always have to anthropomorphize their cars? Don't they understand - it's all about nuts and bolts. But I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I felt a tug back to childhood when I saw the new Beetle Convertible for the first time with the top down.
I also felt extremely cold since it was the middle of December here in Michigan. She: We've owned four Beetles between us. My favorite was my old silver Beetle that I named Flora after the mother of my schnauzer Sparky -- they were both silver, you
see. I'll bet you named yours, too. He: I had two old Beetles, a '65 and a '66. One was Ugly and the other was Uglier. She: But at least they had names. And unlike the primitive Beetles of the past, this new Beetle is loaded with modern
amenities. Our test model was outfitted with the new optional six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, or clutchless manual shifting. It's a perfect fun compliment to the car's personality. Nobody else in the segment has that, either. And even
though the Beetle is one of the smallest cars on the road today, it has good standard safety equipment, including side air bags and anti-lock brakes. Readers tell me they are disappointed that they have to pay extra for a CD player -- one of the few
oversights on an otherwise top-rated car. He: I like all the same things about the Beetle Convertible that I liked about the hardtop Beetle that we just traded in last year. Namely, the fact that it shares an exceptional chassis with other Volkswagen
products, such as the Golf and Jetta as well as the Audi TT. As always, I'm impressed with the level of fit and finish quality, particularly in the cabin, which has a great personality
of its own. This is one of those rare vehicles that is just as much fun to drive as it looks. Even in the middle of winter, it was still entertaining to drop the top and take a quick spin through the neighborhood. I can only imagine what a summer drive
will be like. She: I drove it in the Florida Keys last fall and it was a hoot -- plus it got lots of attention wherever we went -- from an alligator farm to a ritzy hotel. Oddly enough, the Beetle is the rare convertible whose visibility is worse
with the top down than the top up. The canopy doesn't fold completely into the frame -- a plus in terms of its looks, especially in side profile, but the bulkiness hampers rear visibility, especially when backing up. Trunk space has also shrunk due to the
convertible top. But otherwise, the canopy, which can be ordered in black, beige or gray, is finished with an attractive woven fabric that makes it look like a real coupe from the cabin. And there's lots of headroom. He:
I was surprised that the Beetle Convertible felt so comfortable in a winter drive. The top is lined, so the cabin stays pretty warm and quiet, and there's a glass rear window with a built-in defroster. This is one of the few convertibles that you probably
wouldn't mind driving through the winter. For the money, I'm not sure how baby boomers and nostalgia buffs could improve on the package. 2003 VW Beetle Convertible GLS Paul's rating: 5 - world class Anita's rating: 5 - world class
Likes: Classic, nostalgic styling. Difficult to improve on this package for the price. Easy-to-operate soft top. Smooth automatic transmission. Good all-season convertible with lined top, glass rear window.Dislikes: Virtually no trunk space.
Center console pinches driver's knee. No standard CD player.Likes: Perfect retro colors like Aquarius Blue and Mellow Yellow. Strikes the right emotional chord, especially for baby boomers. Jaunty jalopy-style convertible top looks great when down.
Great seats. Sliding cup holder. Decent four-year/50,000-mile warranty. Peppy engine. Standard side air bags.Dislikes: Lousy rear visibility. Novelty may wear off quickly.By the numbersType: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger
convertible.Price: $23,025; as tested, $25,440.Engine: 2.0-liter I-4; 115-hp; 125 lb-ft torque.EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway.Key competitors: Chrysler Sebring Convertible, Ford Mustang Convertible, Mazda Miata, Mitsubishi
Eclipse Spyder, Toyota Camry Solara Convertible, Toyota MR2 Spyder.12-month insurance cost: $1,148Where built: MexicoIncludes $575 destination charge.Estimated by AAA Michigan. Rates may vary depending on coverage and driving record.