Living By Design: A Couple of Icons Reimagined

2013-07-13T00:00:00Z Living By Design: A Couple of Icons ReimaginedBy Andy Mikonis nwitimes.com
July 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

One of the most iconic beach cruisers, the Volkswagen Beetle Convertible has been completely redone for 2013. Following the lead of last year's all-new Beetle coupe, it's a more muscular take on the familiar shape, accentuating "longer, lower and wider" lines. Improvements don't stop with looks. Over two cubic feet of truck room was added, and the amount of space stays the same with the top up or down. Body rigidity increased by twenty percent. As with the Beetle coupe, three engine options are available, 2.5L, TDI, and Turbo.

The Los Angeles International Auto Show has long been a popular venue for automakers to debut convertibles, so it was an appropriate place to introduce the 2013 Beetle Convertible to international journalists. But even more fittingly, the Beetle also played an influential role in Southern California car culture. John Lazenby has owned and driven Beetles for 50 years. A founding member of California's world famous Der Kleiner Panzers car club devoted to the Beetle, Lazenby reflected: "Back in the day they were actually a 'status symbol' in SoCal and they were as common as any car you could ever think of. The youth of those times drove them and it continued on to the wealthy who realized what great transportation they were and didn't need the big expensive Detroit iron."

To accentuate the oceanside aesthetic of the Beetle Convertible, the drive started at Santa Monica's legendary oceanfront and went up the Pacific Coast Highway, followed by drive loops through the surrounding mountains.

It's a less than ten second wait to enjoy the California sunshine, the time it takes to lower the roof. Standard heated seats quickly took the edge off the cool morning. The increased stiffness was evident. No cowl shake - oscillations seen in the windshield frame when going over bumps - was observed, though California does have some very smooth roads. Convertibles are an engineering challenge since the roof of a car is an important structural component. Automakers across the board are getting better at finding ways to reinforce drop-top bodies for a tight, rattle-free ride. Couple this with a multi-layered, well-insulated convertible top with a heatable glass rear window, the Beetle Convertible is perfectly viable as a no-compromise year-round daily driver.

With the three different engine options available and trim level choices with each, you get Beetle Convertibles of distinct character. Speaking of character, watch for the special launch editions of the Beetle Convertible commemorating the decades of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Entry level trim includes such amenities as a six-speed automatic transmission and heated seats for an MSRP of $24,995.

While the base 2.5-liter five-cylinder is a proven engine, my personal favorite combination was the performance oriented 2.0-liter Turbo with DSG transmission. The DSG operates as an automatic, though has internals similar to a manual. With two internal clutches, it can pre-stage the next gear for quick transitions without wasting any engine power. Depending on your mood, this can be a seamless shift that saves fuel, or select manually during spirited driving for rapid-fire changes accentuated by a satisfying pop from the exhaust.

That said, the TDI clean diesel is a compelling option, especially if you plan to rack up some miles. Volkswagen never gave up on diesel in the U.S. car market, and now that diesel is poised for a comeback as a fuel-saving technology, VW stands to reap the benefits of their experience and tenacity. Over 40 miles per gallon is nothing to dismiss, especially without the added complexity and often disappointing real-world fuel mileage of hybrids. And if you've been away from diesels for a while, today's diesel engines are quiet, torquey, and fun to drive.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class

If your shoreline activities require something with more room to haul goods and gear, consider the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK. With crisp, contemporary lines, it's the perfectly-sized sport utility for the city set. Seeing an extensive restyling for the 2013 model year, designers sharpened up the exterior design with a new grille, bumpers and headlights, along with new LED daytime running lights. New fiber-optic and LED taillights preview a new look for other Mercedes models.

A redone interior includes a new steering wheel wrapped in napa leather. The transmission selector moved from the center console to the steering column to provide more storage space. Most notably, a single piece of burl walnut trim spans almost the entire instrument panel. Attractive round air vents with silver tone accents replace the previous square vents.

The GLK350's 3.5-liter V-6 is redesigned, moving from a 90-degree to a 60-degree configuration. Gasoline direct injection, a more precise method of fuel delivery, replaces more common port injection. Horsepower is up to 302 from 268 in last year's model. It also features an automatic start/stop system, which saves fuel by shutting the engine off when you come to a stop, and restarting it when you take your foot off the brake pedal. A seven-speed automatic transmission is standard. Available all-wheel drive inspires all-season confidence with Mercedes-Benz's outstanding 4MATIC system.

On the twisting roads of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the GLK exhibited exemplary driving manners. It offers carlike ride and handling, staying level in corners and masterfully absorbing bumps. A new electric power steering system felt responsive at speed and made parking effortless.

Even though the GLK-Class is the smallest of Mercedes-Benz's sport utility vehicle lineup, it still feels roomy inside. Interior appointments exude the quality and comfort we have come to expect from Mercedes-Benz. Folding the rear seat-backs down is a quick and easy operation. The cargo area sees attention to functionality with a power liftgate, a nicely crafted metal protective edge covering, and tie-down rings to secure larger items. To energize your beachside tailgate party, there is 12-volt and 115-volt power on tap.

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