Although still sporting the same basic shape that gives the Beetle its iconic and instantly identifiable uniqueness, Volkswagen has done some fairly extensive metallurgy to differentiate the latest model from the car it replaced. This summer, the German automaker is also giving the Beetle a thrifty diesel engine that should appeal to efficiency-minded buyers.
Designed to be both sportier and more fuel-efficient than before, the Beetle looks somewhat like a squashed version of the outgoing mode. Riding on the same architecture that underpins the Volkswagen Jetta, the Beetle shares little more than powertrains with the old car.
The "cathedral" domed roof of the preceding Beetle is gone, replaced by a still characteristically bug-like roof that is more conventional but hardly looks like anything else on the road. Bug-eyed headlamps return, while the tail lamps have been stretched out. The Beetle retains its cargo-friendly hatchback shape and its cartoonish bulging fenders.
Inside, the look is considerably more mature, with the outgoing car's decade-old styling themes a thing of the past. Switchgear follows VW convention, although available accessory gauges mounted at the top of the dashboard hint at the car's newfound sportiness. A vertical glovebox mounted flush with the dashboard is designed to hark back to the original Beetle, although the new car has an extra unit mounted below for additional storage.
The flower vase of the outgoing model, deemed inconsistent with the latest Beetle's masculine and sporty nature, has been dropped. Trunk space is actually up despite the decreased roofline; VW says about 10.9 cubic feet of luggage can be sequestered away behind the second row.
A 2.5-liter inline-five is the volume engine for the Beetle. Rated at 170 horsepower, this engine is capable of 22/31 mpg with a five-speed stick and 22/29 mpg with a six-speed automatic.
The Beetle's performance engine is an optional 2.0-liter turbo gas motor, which is rated at 210 ponies (up 10 for the latest model year) and 207 lb-ft of torque. VW says that the car returns 21/30 with the standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Notably, base-engined Beetles feature an inexpensive torsion beam rear suspension, while the sportier Turbo model uses a more sophisticated multilink setup. The two models also use different steering systems, with the standard Bug utilizing a hydraulically-assisted setup and the Turbo employing electric power steering.
Those looking for a more efficient Beetle can opt for the TDI diesel model, which features a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder with 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. The oil-burning mill returns 29 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed "DSG" dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Physically, the Beetle TDI is essentially identical to its gas four and five-cylinder brothers, although it gains a supplementary pod on the top of the dashboard that features gauges for oil temperature and turbo boost level as well as a stopwatch. Underneath, the TDI retains the standard Beetle's front struts and rear torsion beam, although it features the rack-and-pinion electric power steering from the gasoline turbo model.
Standard and Optional Equipment
The starter-kit Beetle, the 2.5L model, comes standard with power windows and locks, A/C, and eight-speaker sound system with USB/AUX input jacks, Bluetooth connectivity, leatherette seating, 17-inch alloy wheels and cruise control.
The sportier Beetle, the Turbo model, gets all the features of the 2.5L while adding 18-inch "twister" alloy wheels, a locking front differential called XDS that improves high-speed traction, sports seats, faux-aluminum pedals and a rear spoiler.
Optional features, which can be bundled together in various packages depending on the model, include a panoramic sunroof, a Fender premium audio system, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, a keyless entry system, a multi-function trip computer, a touchscreen navigation system, leather seating and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
TDI Standard and Optional Features
The diesel Beetle can be had in three different trim levels: TDI, TDI with sunroof and TDI with sunroof, sound and navigation. As the names imply, each trim builds upon the last, although all come standard with V-Tex leatherette, a secondary glove box, Bluetooth, a leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, keyless entry with push-button start and iPod integration for the audio system. Sunroof models add a large panoramic moonroof and an upraded audio system with a CD changer and an SD card reader. The range-topping model adds navigation and a 400-watt Fender/Panasonic audio system.
Musicians and fans of music have long known Fender as one of the foremost producers of guitars and amplifiers, with an incredibly diverse range of musicians from Jimi Hendrix to Brad Paisley using Fender gear over the years. Fender recently expanded into the car audio business by teaming up with Panasonic to produce sound systems for Volkswagen, and now VW has created a special-edition Beetle as a tribute to the iconic company.
Available in five-cylinder and gasoline four-cylinder forms, the Fender Edition comes with a 10-speaker, 400-watt Fender audio system. Complementing that tunes package is a "sunburst"-themed dashboard applique, which replicates - in plastic - the look of Fender's guitars. Outside, Beetle Fender Editions are swathed in Deep Black Metallic with chrome exterior mirrors, 18-inch "Disc" alloy wheels and, of course, Fender logos. Beetle Fender Editions equipped VW's boosted four-cylinder also receive special fabric seat inserts.
A Fender Bassman subwoofer is part of the package, and musicians can plug in their axes through the AUX port (requiring an adaptor) or via bluetooth to turn the car into an amplifier.
Buyers who want a sporty and well-equipped Beetle can opt for a limited-edition model called GSR (that's Gelb Schwarzer Renner, or Yellow Black Racer.) The nameplate was introduced on a Europe-only limited-edition model based on the original Beetle in late 1972.
Available with either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox, the 21st century GSR inaugurates an uprated 210-horsepower variant of the Beetle's existing 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Still rated at 207 lb-ft. of torque, the mill will replace the 200-pony unit that is widely used in the Volkswagen lineup throughout the current model year.
The Beetle GSR gains a model-specific yellow and black paint job and the Beetle R-Line body kit that is optional on regular-production models. GSR emblems above the side skirts and a rear-mounted spoiler finish off the race-inspired look.
The GSR sits on black 19-inch "Tornado" alloy wheels wrapped in 235/40-19 tires, and it comes standard with black brake calipers.
Inside, the yellow and black theme continues with contrasting stitching, an R-Line dash pad, a GSR-badged shift lever and an individually-numbered plaque on the steering wheel. A sunroof and the Beetle's Sound package come standard.
About half of the 3,500 Beetle GSRs that will be built worldwide have been earmarked for the United States market.
As its name implies, the limited-edition iBeetle is the product of a collaboration between Volkswagen and California-based Apple. It can be ordered with either a turbocharged 2.0-liter TSI or a 2.0-liter TDI.
The iBeetle's main selling point is that it comes standard with a dash-mounted iPhone docking station that plays music and allows the passengers to access nearly all of the smartphone's functions, including navigation and hands-free calling.
A purpose-designed Beetle application called "Volkswagen Car Net The Beetle" features a social media integration function and enables the passengers to send their families virtual postcards. The app can also turn the iPhone into a second instrument cluster that display the engine's oil and coolant temperature, a chronometer and a compass, while a Trainer mode provides fuel economy figures for different trips.
In addition to the docking station, the iBeetle comes with a few unique bits and pieces that include gray trim on the outside as well as Apple-inspired exterior colors. The cabin gains Galvano Gray accents on the steering wheel and on the dashboard as well as sport seats upholstered in black leather.
18-inch Disc alloy wheels, "iBeetle" emblems on the front fenders and Volkswagen's Chrome pack all come standard.
Buyers who want the iPhone docking station without the iBeetle goodies will be able to order it as an option later in the production run.
All Beetles come equipped with dual front airbags and combination side/curtain airbags. Other safety systems include traction and stability control systems as well as an Intelligent Crash Response System that automatically unlocks the doors, disconnects the battery terminal from the alternator cable, shuts off the fuel supply and turns on the warning hazards and interior lights in the event of a collision.
The burgeoning small coupe segment offers no shortage of fun and fuel-efficient alternatives to Beetle. These include the 40-mpg Hyundai Veloster, the Scion tC, the FIAT 500, the Honda CR-Z as well as the sports car of the group, the MINI Cooper.