Ah, the Beetle. Like the MINI and Fiat, it’s one of those cars you tend to cluck your tongue to and grin that half smile you reserve for babies and kittens. Yup, it’s cute. But, don’t hold that against it, especially not now. The new Beetle (not to be confused with the New Beetle that appeared in the late ‘90s) was redesigned and launched in 2012 sans dashboard flower and free of its girlie guise -- to a certain extent.
By changing up the proportions a bit and getting rid of the sunflower, Volkswagen knocked the girl-appeal down a few pegs. However, adding LED daytime running lights that look oddly like eyelashes, and not offering the Bug with a manual for the first few months of its initial launch has kept it squarely in female territory.
New engine new attitude
When I drove the new Beetle at its launch a few years back, I was quite taken with the 2.5L 5-cylinder engine. Of course the TDI had more appeal in terms of efficiency and torque, but the 2.5L did well.
However, that engine is now a thing of the past with the introduction of a new turbocharged 1.8L 4-cyl TSI mill that stretches across the VW lineup, not just in the Beetle. Despite a smaller displacement, the new engine puts out similar performance numbers as the outgoing 2.5: 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels, and there are three transmission choices that reside in a 5-speed and 6-speed manual, a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic and glorious 6-speed DSG -- Volkswagen’s version of the dual-clutch and possibly one of the best automatic transmissions out there.
While my particular tester did not come equipped with the DSG, I was still pleased with the performance put forth by the Beetle’s 1.8L and auto transmission combination. Pick-up was eager, and the little Bug was open to throttle prods and quick steering inputs.
My only real gripe with the Beetle’s drive was in the brakes. I felt it before in previous Bugs; the pedal was way too squishy and soft. I had to brake early and hard to make sure I’d make my stop. Perhaps it had a bit to do with the chunky winter rubber I was riding on, but I found myself in a few close-call situations as I’d come from a sportier, bitier-brake car just the week before so the transition was a tad surprising.
All the fun
Despite the redesign, Volkswagen’s lost none of the Beetle’s fun along the way. It still garners smiles from passersby, still evokes visions of seaside cruises with the windows down and the music up.
Speaking of music; it’s no secret I am absolutely in love with the Fender system in the Beetle. My father’s ’13 Jetta TDI also sports the Fender unit, but in the Beetle the acoustics are unlike any other. Because of the vehicle’s unique dome shape, the sound is just fantastic. My son and I rocked out to many a tune in the Beetle that week. We both loved it.
And that’s where the Beetle really shines. It’s neither fastest nor the prettiest on the road, but it’s fun. There’s a personality trait that runs deep with the Bug and it’s apparent the moment you get behind the wheel.
None of the compromise
Sure, it’s only got two doors, but that doesn’t mean it’s not livable. Again, the vehicle’s unique shape means there’s plenty of headroom up front and in the rear. The backseat offers up a good deal of legroom, and my son’s seat fit brilliantly, as did he (even with a front passenger).
The hatchback rear ensures plenty of trunk space for all your goodies, and up front the driver is treated to superior visibility and all amenities and buttons at hand.
Volkswagen’s updated onboard entertainment system is much appreciated as it is much faster to respond and much easier to use on these newer models. Redundant steering-wheel buttons are appreciated as the centre console knobs and buttons are a bit small at times when driving, and of course the changeable ambient lighting was again a hit with the son. Door-panel lighting as well as a ring around the front speakers can be toggled between white, blue, and red lighting depending on your mood.
Still a loveable Bug
The Volkswagen Beetle has a rich and storied past. Everyone I know has a Beetle story, heck, I was brought home from the hospital in a powder blue ‘70s era Beetle. And despite it evolving and changing to meet the times and needs of today’s buyers, it’s still very much a Beetle and will continue to build on that history and all those stories.
It’s not for everyone, nor should it be. But if you’ve always dreamed of one day owning a Beetle, I say do it. It’s a great little car.