I drove the new bug convertable

Actually, my husband did. I rode. We’re talking about buying a car. And for fun, I suggested we […]

Actually, my husband did. I rode. We’re talking about buying a car. And for fun, I suggested we test drive the new beetle convertible. It is unquestionably a triumph of design– ergonomic, quiet (even Whit the top down, it’s remarkable windless) efficient, elegant and even beautifully quirky. But no fun to drive. Smooth and silky, 60 feel like 30 as we flew down the highway. But is that a good thing?

After my husband and I drove home in my ancient cabriolet (also not much fun to drive) we talked about the cars that gave us the most joy behind the wheel. He loves his ’58 bugeye sprite. Even when driving 45 you feel like you are flying. It’s old and small and basic, so the road feel is really intense. When he and I get out of it, it’s like seeing clowns come out of their car– yet when you are in it, it’s pretty roomy.

I miss my old fiat. Driving winding roads in the marin headlands, getting a bit of slide in the corners, top down, shifting down to grab more power– that’s joy.

We’ve driven friends’ Z3, friends’ porches and these cars can do 90 before you start to feel any speed. It’s terrifying to realize you’ve broken the speedlimit without noticing, and you are driving a dangerous speed without feeling it.

Comparing it to Philippe driving the back-roads in the bugeye and I’m holding on for my life at 30 mph and shouting for joy at the tall trees overhead, I have to wonder if the new car’s emphasis on comfort is entirely a good development?

Maybe a bit of discomfort is part of the sport car experience. A driver has to feel some challenge, some sense of control and of power– but the bugeye’s 43 horses can feel just as powerful as the Porsche’s 360. A bit of road feel, a bit of slip in a turn, a bit growl in a downshift– it’s feedback and it’s fun.

VW says in their ads “Drivers wanted” but honestly, I doubt real drivers will want them.

Anyhow, this was all set off by reading dancing mango’s thoughts on pleasure. See what he has to say on the matter.


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  1. 1

    I just scanned Dancing Mango’s comments, but towards the end, it seemed he confused the Lotus’ usability with comfort; that somehow usability guaranteed comfort. I don’t think that’s the case. In my view usability is important in making sure a product is operable, and operates in the way expected. Design bears the responsibility of engaging the end-user. Comfort seems more akin to experience design.

    In the case of the Lotus, if the end-user wants to feel all the bumps, then the designer has done a good job. Whether the cockpit is easy to open, or the seatbelt is easy to grab, those are usability issues (though the design obviously impacts those). Feeling the bumps in the road, hearing the whine of the engine, I’m not sure those adversely affect the car’s usability.

    And since I’m rambling… there are always conflicts between designing an engaging experience, a usable experience, and a good information space (my roundabout way of saying information architecture). As always, you bow to the user. What information architecture are they expecting to navigate? What tools do they need to navigate, and are those usable? And, is the navigation a pleasurable and satisfying experience.

    And then you have to ask yourself if any of your answers to the above fulfill the client’s goals.

  2. 2

    on the relativity of experience, a few years ago one of the car mags took a handful of their drivers to the track with all the new cars that qualified for a particular sport class. they kept the measured results quiet and asked their staff to guess which cars were faster. there were some interesting differences. the little miata was rated very high but was actually slowest. the luxurious 300sx was believed slow but was one of the fastest.

    “fun factor”, “bang for buck”… pop lingo needs some better terms to describe our sweet spots of experience. there’s far too much reliance on numbers when we’re shopping for satisfaction.

  3. 3
    Paul Nattress

    You don’t buy a bug for comfort! You buy it because it’s a bug and it’s cool! Anyway, the new bug is sheer blasphemy. Gotta get an old, classic convertible…

  4. 5

    We turned a new beetle back in last year after a two year lease. I was really impressed with how quick it was and especially how well it handled and held the road at high speeds. After the design novelty wore off it became clear that the interior space was not well designed and it didn’t even provide a decent place to put a beverage. Of course little things like the mirror adjustment knob began to break off. I’ve found this to be typical with VWs…have owned a bunch. I guess you eithewr love them or hate them. Doubt I would do another New Beetle though.

  5. 9

    Hmmm… I have a 2002 Beetle Sport and absolutely ADORE it! 🙂

    While I’m not crazy about the new VW 2.0 engines, the 1.8 Turbo is fun AT ALL SPEEDS, and it’s quick response at low RPM’s means you can feel like andretti without getting a ticket. 🙂 I don’t believe the ‘vert is available with this yet (WHY??) but you might give one a try in the normal version just for comparison. I’d be curious to see if it effected your opinion… Also, while it provides some of that “fun”, it IS geared such that you can travel 70-80MPH on the highway and not be deafened by motor noise. The slip protection that is standard with the turbo means she sticks to the road even in rain and snow (a number of trips from Atlanta to Indiana and Chicago can attest.)

    as a contrast to previous comments about the interior space: I’ll be the first to say that this design is NOT the maximization of minimal space that VW does so well with the Golf and Jetta. There’s plenty of space that is “wasted” with the huge dash, and the shape of the trunk makes it less usable (though both of these ARE part of your impeccible crash record.)

    But what one never sees mentioned are the HUMAN effects of the space. The elongated front passanger compartment means that there is unprecidented legroom AND headroom (!!??) for a car of this size… it was actually voted by consumer reports one of the best small cars for tall or obese people, and my 6ft. friends agree (and usually find that it has more to spare than some of their SUV’s.) Also, as someone who travels, the HUGE windows make for a really wonderful view, and that in tandem with the sun roof make me wonder how much I’d actually NEED the convertible. Also, when I bought it, I thought I was escaping always being the driver to events, but more people are willing to sit in these back seats than my previous Golf, and haven’t sat back there some myself, it’s not BAD at all, for what one totally thinks of as a 2 passanger car. And it still does what all vw’s do well- the seats fold quickly and easily, and I’ve hauled all sorts of seemly unwieldy things in that little bug. And it even provides a places for the headrests and hatch lid while converted.

    Finally, having lived in mine for almost a year, and personally having had a NUMBER of usability gripes (cup holders!???) about previous VW’s… this is a VERY well thought out car.

    – The cup holders have been updated since the older (new) beetles, and now can fairly safely hold a number of sized cups (including the 32-44 oz variety), and the holders actually ROTATE out from under the console for easy access.

    – While frequently getting in and out of the back of a 2 door one gets tangled in the seatbelts, VW put the floor belt anchors on a metal bar… the result is that the anchors return to a position near the back when not in use (allowing passangers to sqeeze past unhindered). When you fasten it, it slides to the front corner of the bar, providing the standard safety belt position. The quick seat release works very effectively as well.

    – multiple A/C outlets are provided in the front passanger compartment, and yet another in the trunk; you can charge your Phone, your laptop/pda, and keep your lunch cold without a splitter. 😉

    – Becuase of the extremely unique dash, I find that the stereo/climate control/etc. controls are FAR more in reach of the driver without stretching or looking too far down from your normal field of vision.

    – Use of scale in the dash panel draws your attention to the most important thing- your speed; the extra size is less fatiquing on long trips. Instead of the standard temp gauge, you simple get a blue icon if your engine is cold, and a red one if it overheats (I haven’t actually seen the latter one, thank god.)

    Anyway… hope this wasn’t too long, but I wanted to share a little bit of the “Beetle User Experienece”. The FIRST time I tested a beetle, I really wasn’t impressed; the cabin felt wierd, the strange shape makes it handle differently than expected. A second trip with a friend gave me time to get accustomed, to see it all in context, and it was then that I started to “get it”; a few tests (and some time away) later, I was in love. in 2 weeks it will have been a year and 24K miles, and no regrets. 🙂

  6. 10

    my husband asked after the turbo– being european, he is well aware of the added power and pick-up a turbo can bring to the table. As for headroom– well, as a convertible person, headroom is always the least of my worries. I keep the top down in almost all weather. I do think the beetle and the convertible are pretty different– much less human space for one thing. Good to know you love your beetle– i don’t think you are alone in this passion.

    There were things that really impressed me– it is the easiest top to open and close that I’ve ever dealt with. And the wind reduction was incredible (though a small part of me missed begin buffeted around by the wind, another part realized on long trips this could be really nice)

    We just bought a used miata– should be picking it up early next week. Maybe I’ll do a little heuristic.

  7. 11
    Paula Thornton

    I’m a bit on the fence like Chalis. Only in America can you walk into a dealership, while on state unemployment rolls and buy a new car. I did just that after the dot.flops in early 2001: a turbo diesel. We got it fully loaded. I was just amazed that I had what seemed to be the same general luxuries I had in my Infinity I-30 (heated leather seats, etc.) in a small car (same price new as we paid for the I-30 used…obviously not the same cars, but for me, similar riding/driving experience).

    But within a year silly things like the vent directional dials broke. From day one, the passenger side has had a whistle in the door (3 dealerships later). The diesel has not performed like ‘advertised’. Former experiences with Acuras told me that I could experience the high-end mileage number or greater (i.e. it was an ‘average’) on the freeway. I rarely if ever hit the high end mileage number posted on the window and I paid $2500 extra with the hopes of greater gas mileage…the higher cost of diesel has not bode well. It now has developed this strange habit of not recognizing that the brake is depressed and won’t let you put the car into gear.

    I bought ‘new’ to turn the car over to my college daughter at graduation (warranty stays intact). Due to family circumstances, she’s already driving it and she wants to sell it (she picked it out…except, she claims she wanted a manual…like I’m going to sit in Dallas traffic — at the time — with a manual transmission).

    I’d still like to do a Jetta, but I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with the refurb’d Mercedes S500 we’re picking up from a wholesaler (personal friend) this Friday. Roadtrip to Dallas in lieu of not being able to attend the conference. It’s a tough tradeoff, but I think I’ll survive (*snif*)…

  8. 12

    Considering I am in love with my miata, which makes the mini look huge I can’t agree. small is good.

    The VW handlign was okay but not like the miata. what a little gem of driving delight.

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