The original Beetle Cabriolet needs little introduction. First introduced in 1949 following the success of the Coupé, its seemingly simple yet functional design captured the hearts of some 330,000 buyers who purchased the car in its 31-year lifespan. Its success lay not only in its superbly fresh looks and mini size, but also in good timing. The bubble shape proved a perfect machine for the irreverent post war years. In fact it is hard to imagine the decades that followed without the Beetle, with or without the cloth roof.
Volkswagen's attempt to reincarnate this magical moment in history in 2002 sadly proved less successful. The Mark 2 Beetle design was a little too chunky, the sculpture too weighty. It relied heavily on retro-design in a bid to recreate the cheeky, happy-go-lucky feel of the original 'Bug'. But times had changed and what resonated with customers then didn't necessary work at the start of the millennium.
Which brings us to this third Beetle Cabriolet and our trip to Nice to put the latest VW reincarnate to the test. The soft-top follows on from the Coupé of the same generation, launched last year, and seems to have found the right balance. Here we have a car that retains the original Beetle aesthetic - that unique architecture that looks almost like an up-side-down pram with the cloth roof lowered - yet is a Beetle for the modern age, meaning it doesn't quite stand out so much from the crowd.
The 2013 car is longer, lower and wider than its immediate predecessor, with a stretched wheelbase. The design is restrained, avoiding unnecessary references to the original model. It is also more car-like, less gimmicky and certainly less 'toy-like' as VW design director Walter de Silva told us back in 2011 in Shanghai when he announced the concept car: 'When we first started on this Beetle I said to my team: we need to return to the original car because the design of the Beetle before this was too much in the way of a toy and with this one we wanted to come back with a real car.'
The new car also rides and handles reasonably. This, after all, isn't a serious driver's car, and doesn't pretend to be either. What it is, and does perfectly well, is to be a handsome product and a fun companion on the twisting, winding lush green mountain roads of Côte d'Azure. Unfortunately the constant local traffic stopped us from seriously testing this machine, but then again the Beetle isn't a car to be raced around a track - it is designed for casual cruising, and in the case of the Cabriolet, in such sunny climates.
The cloth roof is now automatic; folding down in 9.5 seconds and up in 11, and functional at up to 31mph. Roof down and the car feels like a proper Beetle Cabriolet - a little strange looking with its up-side-down pram aesthetic, yet still funky and fun. Roof in place and the new thicker material keeps noise levels to a minimum.
Climb inside and you are treated to the sort of playfulness you would expect from a car like this. It isn't faultless, though. The plastics could do with being a little more tactile and the finishing a little more seamless, but for some reason the Beetle gets away with not being a perfect German machine like the marque's other products.
Engine-wise it comes with the same line-up as the Coupé - three turbo petrol engines displacing 1.2, 1.4 and 2.0-litres and a two turbo-diesel units with 1.6 and 2.0-litres on offer, all with front-wheel-drive, with a choice of manual or DSG automatic units.
The three special-edition models on offer that pay homage to the 1950s, 60s, and 70s air-cooled soft-tops are admittedly pretty desirable. They cost a little more but we think are completely worth it, as at the end of the day, the Beetle remains rooted in history, nostalgia and the Bug appeal.