Few automakers have as much fun with a given model as Volkswagen does with its iconic Beetle. Last year brought us the especially retrospective Beetle Classic that carries over for 2016, while this year’s lineup includes the soft-road capable Beetle Dune hatchback and this Beetle Denim Convertible.
I doubt anyone in Wolfsburg remotely remembers long since forgotten (except by yours truly) Levi’s editions of the Chevy Chevette and AMC Gremlin, but like every Beetle model the Denim pulls inspiration from yesteryear, more specifically the oddly yellow “Jeans Bug” of the ‘70s (Europe only). The Beetle Classic just mentioned took my memory to new depths, reminding fondly of dad’s ’66 Beetle, my bro’s ’69, and a ’72 Super Beetle left in my care one particularly good summer by a pretty young woman who went on vacation.
The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Denim Convertible has two tires stuck in the past and the other set rolling along in the present thanks to equal parts ‘70s-era Britannia, Howick and Jordache flares (without rainbow-coloured pocket detailing) as well as any one of the 21 Men, American Eagle, Buffalo, Edwin, Guess, Jack & Jones, Hugo Boss, Mexx, Shine Original, UJ, etc. straight legs that I pull on near every morning, not to mention my personal favourite Philippines-sourced Hammerhead and Penshoppe brands. Most of us live in denim, so we might as well drive Denim, too. That’s what VW is thinking, and I’m into it.
One size fits all
The Beetle Denim is only available one way, as a near top-line Beetle Convertible. You pass right on by base Trendline trim and forget about the leather-upholstered Comfortline before detouring around Classic White and Classic Black editions to end up at this Denim, a $29,350 model that comes in either the Classic White shade we just detoured around or as-tested Stonewashed Blue Metallic paint, both with dark blue, denim-style cloth tops, not to mention the same retro-looking 17” Heritage alloys with chrome-plated hubcaps as the aforementioned Classic editions.
My tester, however, sported 17” Turbine-style protective outer covers, a great look that mixes new with old, can’t be found via the brand’s online configurator, the brochure, or even the printed press material VW Canada included, although a quick glance at the U.S. retail site shows they come stock with the base S and sportier SE model down there.
If I wasn’t clear earlier, there are no available options with the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Denim Convertible. Additional standard features include a 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode, metal doorsill plates, ambient lighting, a leather-wrapped and contrast-stitched multifunction steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake lever, a monochromatic trip computer set within the primary gauges, VW’s class-leading 6.33” proximity-sensing, high-resolution colour touchscreen with a rearview camera, App-Connect smartphone integration for Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and MirrorLink, Bluetooth with audio streaming, 8-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with satellite radio, an SD card slot, USB and aux plugs, heated sport seats up front, an alarm system, and more.
The real jean deal
No matter the exterior colour, the Denim’s seemingly wearable interior is described by the company as including “Blue Brushed” instrument panel surfacing, which has a nice metallic look, a “two-tone Denim” motif that incorporates dark blue denim cloth door inserts, dark blue leatherette armrests, and additional “Dark Blue Graphite” painted accents. You’ll also find seat upholstery featuring denim-style, light blue cloth inserts, white piping, dark blue leatherette bolsters and surrounds, dark blue cloth seatbacks and sides, not to mention more of that cream-coloured stitching on the seats and sewn throughout the rest of the cabin.
While this initially seems like a decent description, it actually misses the many nuances that make the Volkswagen Beetle Denim special, such as the jean-style change pockets sewn onto the inner side of each front bucket, plus the massive seatback “jean” pockets with crisscross red stitched detailing.
The Denim drive
Having this much fun with a car might make a person concerned there’s nothing serious about it, but the Beetle Denim Convertible is too good for such sentiment. While I could go on about the quality of interior switchgear or delve into the aforementioned infotainment system that’s truly one of the best in the industry, not to mention the slick top that quickly lowers or raises back up at the touch of a button, what I like best about this most recent Beetle is the drive.
It’s based on the previous-generation Golf (Mk6), by the way, which to those in the know should immediately give it street cred. As is the case with all VWs, the suspension is fully independent, delivering superb handling that’s a bit more focused on comfort than sportiness. The 170-horsepower, 1.8L turbocharged 4-cylinder’s get up and go is mighty, aided by a particularly swift-shifting 6-speed autobox with manual mode that makes the most of the engine’s considerable 184 lb-ft of torque.
The Beetle Denim really is a fun car through the corners while it’ll cruise down the highway at much higher than posted speeds if you dare, all the while mixing a comfortable ride with rock-solid stability. The front buckets prove impressively supportive, and even smaller adults relegated to the rear will enjoy adequate comfort. Fuel economy is rated at 9.6L/100km city and 7.0L/100km highway, which is quite good for such a nicely equipped and sporty drop-top.
Not without flaws
As much as I like this blue jean Volkswagen Beetle, some of its features were a bit faded. First, the audio system was quite good with the roof up, yet inadequately powered when attempting to enjoy rock and dance tracks with the top down at highway speeds. I’m guessing the standard wind deflector may have reduced wind noise to the point where the stereo didn’t distort, but it’s a pain to install and it takes up the entire rear seating area, so I left it in the trunk. Ditto for the clumsy tonneau that requires more finesse and/or strength than my upper body was willing to exert in order to click into place.
That’s a lot of trunk space robbed by paraphernalia that wasn’t used, especially noticeable with a cargo compartment that’s already on the small side unless comparing it to other compact ragtops. I should mention that you can drop the 50/50-split rear seatbacks forward for longer items like skis should you want to take this all-season convertible up to the slopes.
Safe, but not so dependable
With all the active safety features that come standard, such as 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction and stability control, and the list goes on, there’s little the 2016 Beetle can’t manage. Volkswagen received a 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA for the hardtop version; the soft-top model has yet to be tested, but standard pop-up roll hoops are included so it should effectively overcome rollovers as well as withstand the same level of frontal and/or side impacts as its hatchback sibling.
As for reliability, J.D. Power gave Volkswagen below-average marks in its 2016 Vehicle Dependability Study that rates vehicles after three years of ownership, yet the brand did fairly well in Consumer Reports’ 2016 report card on reliability by placing 8th out of 17 mainstream volume brands.
Something tells me 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Denim buyers won’t be all that concerned about such mundane issues since the car develops more of an emotional attachment than anything cerebral. I enjoyed every minute in it, so maybe I’ve become too involved to give an unbiased opinion, who knows? If that’s actually the case then this Bug is worth all of its sub-$30k investment and then some.