Although it sports the same basic shape that's made it an instantly-recognizable icon for decades, the latest Volkswagen Beetle is more masculine, refined and feature-packed than before. Like the open top Beetle Convertible, it offers an appealing interior and a wide powertrain lineup.
Designed to be both sportier and more fuel-efficient than before, the Beetle looks somewhat like a squashed version of the outgoing model but the two cars have very little in common. The "cathedral" domed roof of the preceding Beetle is gone, replaced by a more conventional but still characteristically Bug-like roof. 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.
The interior has grown up, too. The cockpit is clean and well laid out, and 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 harks back to the original Beetle but the coupe 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; Volkswagen says about 10.9 cubic feet of luggage can be sequestered away behind the second row.
A 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque will gradually replace the aging 2.5-liter straight-five as the volume engine for the Beetle.
The Beetle's performance engine is an optional 2.0-liter turbo gas motor, which is rated at 210 ponies and 207 lb-ft of torque. The car returns 21/30 with the standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Base-engined Beetles feature an inexpensive torsion beam rear suspension, while the sportier R-Line model uses a more sophisticated multi-link setup. The two models also use different steering systems, with the standard Bug utilizing a hydraulically-assisted setup and the R-Line 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 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. The oil-burning mill returns 29 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Physically, the Beetle TDI is identical to its gas four-cylinder siblings but 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 base-model Beetle 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 R-Line model gets all the features of the 1.8-liter 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. R-Line models stand out thanks to aggressive bumpers and chrome-framed turn signals.
The range-topping R-Line Sunroof and Sound adds 19-inch Tornado alloy wheels, a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel, sports pedals, bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, stainless steel sills and a chrome vanadium panel for the dashboard.
Optional features, which can be bundled together in various packages depending on the model, include a panoramic sunroof, a Fender premium audio system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a keyless entry system, a multi-function trip computer, a rear-view camera, a touchscreen navigation system, leather seating and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
Most Beetle models can be ordered with Volkswagen's Car-Net infotainment system, which integrates the car's entertainment, navigation and climate control systems while offering crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location assistance. Car-Net also features remote vehicle access, speed and boundary alerts and it can provide a vehicle health report. The bulk of Car-Net's features can be accessed via a smartphone.
TDI Standard and Optional Features
The diesel Beetle can be had in two different trim levels: TDI and TDI with Sunroof, Sound and Navigation. Both 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 and Navigation models add a large panoramic moonroof an SD card reader, navigation and a 400-watt Fender/Panasonic audio system.
Limited-Edition Beetle Classic
Available for a limited time only, the value-oriented Beetle Classic packs leather upholstery on the steering wheel and the shift knob, model-specific cloth upholstery on the seats, three-color ambient lighting, navigation, 17-inch alloy wheels offered in black or white and a six-speed automatic transmission.
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.
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.