Over the years, the design of the Volkswagen Beetle has evolved from its functionality-driven origins to the irrepressibly cheerful face of the previous-generation New Beetle. More recently, the folks at VW dropped the "New" in the car's name and gave this latest-generation Beetle a more aggressive look. But it's still unmistakably a Beetle.
Contributing to the newest Beetle's more masculine stance is a body that's longer, lower and wider than the previous generation. Inside, the friendly flower vase and distant windshield (which resulted in a massive dash top) have been replaced by a more vertical windshield and a color-keyed dash that's more handsome than cute. The increased dimensions also give this Beetle a roomier interior, especially in the backseat. Its underpinnings, which are shared with the previous-generation Golf, make it more fun to drive than you might expect, especially in the Turbo/R-Line and TDI models. Put it all together and you have a very enjoyable and distinctive small car.
Current Volkswagen Beetle
Volkswagen offers its Beetle hatchback in four main trim levels. The base trim will be known as the 2.5L until the engine that name refers to is replaced, resulting in a change of name to 1.8T. Equipment will be the same, though. Other trims include the R-Line, diesel-powered TDI and the GSR, which is essentially a loaded R-Line with a unique color scheme. The convertible version of the Beetle is reviewed separately.
The 2.5L comes with a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder with 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic transmission is optional. Its 1.8T replacement has a 1.8-liter turbocharged four with 170 hp and 184 lb-ft. The TDI version features a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four (140 hp and 236 lb-ft), while the sporty R-Line and GSR models get a turbocharged 2.0-liter four (210 hp and 207 lb-ft.) Transmission choices for the TDI and R-Line include a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (DSG).
Even the base Beetle comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, air-conditioning, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, heated front seats, 50/50-split-folding rear seats, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system with an iPod interface. Also standard is VW's Car-Net telematics system. The TDI further includes keyless ignition and entry, satellite radio, a touchscreen audio interface and a performance gauge package. Highlights of the R-Line include 18-inch wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, a sport-tuned suspension, sport seats and performance gauges. The GSR is essentially an R-Line with a sunroof, a larger rear spoiler, an upgraded audio system and a navigation system along with a unique yellow-and-black color scheme. Major options include a sunroof, xenon headlights, a touchscreen navigation system, a rearview camera and a Fender premium sound system.
Regardless of which Beetle you get, chances are you'll be impressed with how attractive the cabin is, with its clean lines and the color-matched dash panels on select models. There are a few more hard plastics than you'll find in its Golf sibling, however. Despite its seemingly low roof line, the Beetle still provides plenty of room for tall drivers. The backseat is also fairly spacious, though not as roomy as that of the Golf. One item we're not fond of is the optional navigation system. While it's pretty easy to use, its small screen limits the amount of information that can be displayed.
How the Volkswagen Beetle drives largely depends on the engine you choose. The base five-cylinder is respectably powerful, but it sounds unrefined and gets unremarkable fuel economy. We'd make sure to get its 1.8T mid-year replacement instead. It's a significantly superior engine in terms of power delivery, refinement and efficiency. The TDI offers incredible mileage -- we've seen real-world 40 mpg fuel economy. The Beetle R-Line, meanwhile, has plenty of punch and sounds great.
In terms of handling, the Beetle's steering and handling are not especially engaging, falling more in line with the less engaging Jetta rather than the sportier, more European-feeling Golf. The R-Line handles better, but not dramatically so. If you're looking for a VW GTI with more interesting styling, you'll be disappointed.
Used Volkswagen Beetle Models
The Volkswagen Beetle debuted for the 2012 model year. In that first year, VW offered a base trim level for the Beetle. It was cheaper than the 2.5L, but it came with the manual transmission only and lacked certain features such as Bluetooth. That year also saw a couple of special "Launch Edition" versions of the Turbo trim (equivalent to today's R-Line).
The following year brought a few additions to the lineup. The TDI and its turbocharged diesel debuted, along with its conservative EPA fuel economy estimate of 32 mpg combined. In the real world, this car could average closer to 40 mpg. The convertible also debuted that year, as did the one-year-only Fender signature version that featured a dash treatment inspired by the finish seen on the company's popular guitars.
These Beetles are similar to the current offerings apart from lacking the telematics system, the GSR version, the availability of a rearview camera and 10 fewer horsepower for the Turbo trim (Its name changed to R-Line for 2014).
For used car information on the previous-generation model (produced from 1998-2010), please see our review of the New Beetle.