The cold Michigan winter was taking its toll on our sun-loving Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Convertible. It wasn’t receiving nearly as much love as it had in the warmer months, and often sat in our parking lot buried under a blanket of snow. After one cold, unpleasant night in the Beetle, copy editor Rusty Blackwell said, “Getting this car out of Michigan seems like a fantastic idea right about now.” So that’s what we did.
Road test editor Chris Nelson took our Beetle Convertible on its longest road trip yet: 2500 miles out to sunny Los Angeles, California. There it will stay with west coast editor Michael Jordan for a few months to soak up some rays before making a return trip to Michigan in time for spring.
Here are the highlights of Nelson’s journey west:
Leg 1: Ann Arbor-St. Louis
The Volkswagen Beetle Turbo left snowy Michigan on a Friday at lunchtime. With three long days of driving ahead, we outfitted the car with a Passport radar detector, which we affixed to the car’s trio of auxiliary gauges in the center of the dashboard. Since the Beetle was journeying to warmer climes, the car was still riding on all-season tires, and Nelson was worried about running into winter weather on the way.
Sure enough, in Indiana, the snow started to fall. “The Beetle isn’t a very communicative car to begin with, and its floatiness was amplified because of the slick roads,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t to a dangerous degree, though. The car tracked pretty well, and the main problem was that the dim headlights made it hard to see at night.” After two hours of blizzard-like conditions, he finally made it to the Illinois border, at which point the weather cleared up and he continued on to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was staying for the night.
Leg 2: St. Louis-Albuquerque
The next morning found the Beetle Convertible covered in 2 inches of snow. Cleaning off the car, Nelson again began to worry about the Beetle on its all-season tires, and whether they would make it out of the city given the slick roads. Once again, the Beetle pulled through and assuaged Nelson’s worries; he even expressed his appreciation for the Volkswagen’s blisteringly hot and fast-acting seat heaters.
Once out on the open road, he made quick progress into Oklahoma, where sensory deprivation set in. “Driving across Oklahoma was quite possibly the most boring drive in the history of the world,” Nelson said. “This is when I started to regret taking the Beetle. The first day was pretty harmless because the stereo was good and I had just started to get back in touch with the car. But on day two, when you know you still have a long way to go, the drive was sobering. I began to notice things that I despise about the Beetle.”
“First: the seats. They’re pretty comfortable at first sit, if a little springy. It’s like a friend’s couch that you pass out on when you’re drunk. At first it feels great because it’s so soft. Then you get up in the morning and you ache. I found myself having to lift one leg and put it under the other to help stretch out my quads. Second: I really hated not having navigation. I was using my phone, and unlike many other systems, the voice activated navigation commands from an app on my phone wouldn’t play over the speakers when the phone was connected to Bluetooth.”
After a nerve-wracking search for premium gas in the middle of nowhere, Nelson ran the Beetle near empty and eventually filled it with 13.35 gallons, our second biggest fill-up recorded so far throughout eight months with the car. As the long day of driving continued through Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, Nelson’s sanity started to go: “I was talking to myself and doing anything to avoid going crazy, but I just kept driving and driving and driving. I finally made it to Albuquerque after midnight and went straight to bed.”
Leg 3: Albuquerque-Los Angeles
After his marathon second leg, though, Nelson awoke in Albuquerque the next morning in a more stable mental state. “I wasn’t happy, but I was well-rested and not as pissed off at the Beetle,” he said.
Somewhere near the Arizona-New Mexico border, he got off the highway to take a few photos of the Beetle amidst the distinctive desert scenery and inadvertently got the scare of his life. “I saw a dirt road with no markings, so I went ahead. As I was snapping some photos, an old Ford F-100 came barreling down the road,” Nelson recalled. “A woman with a mullet and lipstick on her teeth got out, and she had a gun. I immediately knew it was her property. She said, ‘I can shoot because you’re on my property.’ She came up to me and grabbed my arm, and I started apologizing profusely. I couldn’t even hear what she was saying because I was too busy staring at the gun. I got in the car and drove off as fast as I could. After that I decided I wasn’t going to stop for a while.”
After he recovered from welcome to Arizona, he stopped for lunch in Flagstaff, and decided that it was finally time to put the top down. Once he did, the last leg of his trip took a decidedly upward turn.
“With the top down, I immediately felt much better about the car. The noise was better, the visuals were better, the whole experience was better,” self-identified convertible lover Nelson gushed. “That’s the magic of convertibles”
Now in much higher spirits, Nelson made it to the California border in no time. “As the sun started to set, it got cold again. But I decided I’d leave the top down and turn the heater full blast, and I kept chugging along.”
After more than 2500 miles on the open road, the Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Convertible finally rolled into Los Angeles, and Nelson reflected on his trip. “The car didn’t hiccup once, it never left me stranded, never threw a code, and never did anything wrong.”
“It wasn’t the ideal road trip car, but the minute I was able to put the top down I could look past some of its flaws. With the top up, it’s just a Beetle, which is not a very compelling car. But a Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Convertible has an effect on your senses. That’s something that not many cars do.”
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