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Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet 1.8T

Even after seven years, it is obvious why Volkswagen has resisted the temptation to meddle too much with the Beetle.

The Beetle's quirky charm has barely diminished since it arrived in 1998, but this facelift does little to widen its appeal. The cabrio's clever hood still requires manual effort and the cramped back seats rule the car out for families. What's more, the petrol line-up is dated, and it's expensive if you add options.

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Even after seven years, it is obvious why Volkswagen has resisted the temptation to meddle too much with the Beetle. Carrying out major changes to a car that always traded on its appearance doesn't really make sense - especially when sales have remained reasonably strong.

Even so, nothing can cheat time, so the model has been given the most discreet of makeovers for 2005. There's a new 103bhp 1.9 TDI which complies with Euro IV emissions rules to replace the old 98bhp oil-burner, but we tried the 1.8T in best-selling soft-top guise.

Only the keenest Beetle followers will notice the exterior changes, but look closely and you'll see squared-off wheel-arches inspired by those of the Ragster prototype, unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show back in January.

The flat-topped concept's front bump-ers also make an appearance, complete with narrow indicator lenses and new headlamps. Fresh rear light clusters lift the exterior, which is now available in a wider range of colours, although the original machine's curved profile is still very much in evidence.

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Inside, it's a similar story, with a clutch of subtle changes. Chrome rims for the air vents and instrumentation add a classy touch, and there are new fabrics for the seats and door panels. But the rear chairs remain cramped and the soft-top still needs a twist or tug of its handle before you can open or close it electrically.

The Beetle's suspension is tuned to provide a smooth rather than sporty ride, although that is hardly an issue. The cabrio isn't aimed at drivers who want a traditional roadster and is far better at simply gentle cruising.

With the hood up it's suitably hushed inside, although there's wind noise from around the door mirrors at motorway speeds. Meanwhile, driving with the roof down is improved by the clever wind deflector, which fixes behind the front seats. This does a good job of blocking draughts in the cabin, but renders the tiny back seats useless and eats into the limited boot space when folded. It's also a cheeky £230 option, which seems expensive.

Our test car was fitted with attractive 17-inch alloys, a £1,055 option, plus heated leather seats (£1,365) a six-CD autochanger (£405) and parking sensors. The latter make sense because of the terrible roof-down rear visibility, but also add another £265 to the price.

Facelifted versions of both the hatch-back and cabriolet are on sale now, and although the Beetle makes more sense in convertible form, it's still an acquired taste. At least the availability of a diesel engine offers decent fuel economy.

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