First Drive: Volkswagen E-Bugster Concept

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When we saw the Volkswagen E-Bugster Concept earlier this year at the Detroit auto show, we looked closely at its hardtop and figured it was a not-so-subtle hint that a convertible Beetle was coming.

When the E-Bugster appeared roofless at the Beijing auto show a few months later, we were sure of it. But as it turns out, we were only half right: the E-Bugster Concept isn't just a preview of the Beetle Convertible (which goes on sale this fall), but the low-roofed, two-seat roadster is actually being considered for production.

If it happens, the E-Bugster will be sold in the two markets it was shown (the U.S. and China), leaving Europe to make do with just the Golf Cabriolet. VW says the E-Bugster fills a void in its product lineup where a two-seat sporty roadster belongs. That's a position we would rather see occupied by, say, a mid-engine roadster like the stillborn Blue Motion concepts -- or even a convertible Scirocco. But at least the E-Bugster's design works well, unlike a certain wacky Mini.

Volkswagen boasts that the E-Bugster Concept shares 90 percent of its parts with the regular production Beetle Cabriolet, the biggest changes being the flared fenders, chopped and laid-back windshield, and the bulkhead that replaces the back seats. That parts commonality means the E-Bugster wouldn't have to sell in big numbers to be profitable -- and thanks to the modularity of VW's platforms, it could receive any of the off-the-shelf powertrains that fit the MQB components set -- gasoline, diesel or electric. The concept uses the 114-hp electric powertrain from the forthcoming 2014 Golf Blue-e-Motion.

VW invited us to drive the E-Bugster, but since the one-off concept (and its strictly show-car twenty-inch wheels) are limited to 20 mph, there's not much to report other than an open cockpit with great visibility and a windshield that -- unlike many modern cars -- doesn't reside uncomfortably close to your forehead. The electric powertrain works brilliantly, as it does in the eGolf -- if a bit slowly. (VW predicts a 0-62 mph time of 10.8 seconds.) The E-Bugster Concept doesn't include the eGolf's steering-wheel-mounted shifter paddles, which allow driver-selectable levels of regen -- but if this convertible finds itself in production as an EV, you can be sure that it will include the helpful feature.

It's doubtful that the E-Bugster's show-car interior would make it to production, but the large TFT screens and novel interior lighting definitely show some fantasy. Then again, as we've seen, the line between fantasy and reality isn't always as clear as we think.

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