There are days when shake my head in disbelief towards the natives of Southern California who, when a cool chill blows inland, bringing temperatures to the mid-50s as the sun sets, they’re dressed as though they’re being exiled to Siberia.
Back east, we called that shorts weather.
Southern California is the perpetually weatherless wonderland of great beaches and people who keep their convertible tops up in winter, disregarding the need for Vitamin D or the fact that it often breaches 70 during the “cold” months. I, on the other hand, went straight for that button right above the rearview mirror, dropping the top on the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo convertible as soon as I started it. Just before spring over a weekend of more than 150 miles of driving, I drove just eight with the top up.
And that was partly due to the fact that washing a convertible with the top down isn’t recommended.
At first, I was skeptical of the Beetle. I had driven the previous generation dozens of times. I didn’t mind so much at the time because I was being paid $8 an hour to do so at an Enterprise Rent-a-Car during college. At Automotive.com a few months back we had the yellow 2012 Bug with a 2.5-liter engine that associate editor Trevor Dorchies reviewed. It looked like an egg yolk that only a high school cheerleader could love, but I didn’t mind it too much, either. I only had it for two hours before the sun went down.
Then, we happened upon this triple-black Beetle convertible, sitting on 18-inch wheels shod with wide tires. With very little noticeably brightwork, the only chrome piece that stood out to me besides the brand badges was “Turbo” scripted into its trunk lid, modeled after Porsche’s. Between its front fenders lay a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine borrowed from the Volkswagen GTI; its rear fenders housed its canvas soft top.
Getting the car’s turbo engine going was six-speed dual-clutch automatic changed gears with a quick “thunk” in sport mode, not unlike what you’d hear in an Audi S4. Its exhaust sounds as though it were modeled after Barry White’s voice, with a light turbo whistle behind it. And its brakes clinched its steel rotors like they were being held hostage.
This, surely, wasn’t the flower-power chick car I’ve always thought the Beetle to be. This was a GTI convertible with a costume change. And for the first time, I drove a Beetle not because I had to, but because it was that enjoyable of a car to drive.
Starting Friday evening as I set out for the beach for a quick photo of the Beetle, I had the car’s 400-watt Fender audio system pounding out everything from ’90s alternative rock to death metal. It’s easily one of the best stereos we’ve tested, even considering that’s it’s among the cheaper ones compared to some $5,000 Bang & Olufsen out there. And I never felt the need to stop being that obnoxious guy with the stereo turned all the way up and the top down in Southern California. It was 25 degrees in my native Ohio; I figured might as well enjoy the 65 degrees we had here. Being a mobile jukebox had its perks.
“I love that song!” a punk-looking girl with blue hair yelled over to me when I was playing Blind Melon’s “No Rain.” I should have gotten her number. I wish I were more extroverted.
When the sun went down and it got cold, I’d just turn on the heated seats and the fan. I refused to put the top up; stars and spotlights make for a better roof anyway.
The next day or so, I’d head over to Santa Monica, once again booming the stereo. This time, it was, appropriately enough, Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” on Alt Nation. And I’d drive back on the Pacific Coast Highway just because that’s what you’re supposed to do when cruising in a drop-top.
And I discovered my qualms were few: The satellite radio would sometimes skip in wide-open areas where you wouldn’t think there’d be much interference, the car had a clunky reverse engagement that was slow to go into gear, and I didn’t like the fact that I like the sound of a turbocharger and couldn’t keep my right foot off the gas pedal. I averaged just under 19 mpg on Premium fuel–my bad.
With the Beetle, cargo space was limited and rear leg room proved a tight fit–child seats are all but impossible to use, as we found out in our normal round of testing. But I didn’t carry too many passengers, and all four of my grocery bags fit in the small, sloping trunk without crushed eggs or other consumable casualties.
By the time the weekend was over, I got a few smiles, a few waves, and a few jeers from some Fast and Furious types in a badly customized, falling apart 1990s Honda Civic. Or at least I think I did; I couldn’t understand them. Wind turbulence is loud, and the Fender system is louder. I took some corners faster than I should have just to hear that deep four-cylinder growl. And I always had a proper soundtrack to fit with the palm trees, the sand, and the Pacific.
About the time I pulled out of the parking lot from work on Friday afternoon, I stopped caring about what anyone else thought about the plight of driving this so-called girly car for a weekend, not because it had a Michigan manufacturer plates on it or that I’d have to endure the burden of driving it ’til the following Tuesday. Rather, when you have a car that’s fun, engaging four senses–all five if you count that burger I ate in the Beetle–you simply don’t have the ability to waste thought on anything so trivial.
The only thing that mattered was my revelry in top-down motoring in the middle of a California winter in a more than worthy roadtrip vessel, grateful that my three-day weekend felt more like a slice of a summer vacation.