In some ways, the current Beetle is nothing like the original whose spirit it tries to conjure:
It’s a much larger – and much heavier – car, for openers.
1,500 pounds heavier, at least. Almost a foot longer, overall.
It is also, let’s face it, a much nicer car – as far removed from the ’73 Super Beetle I once drove as a gold dollar is from a slip of Federal Funny Money.
But one thing remains the same – though not in the same way:
The 2014 Beetle TDI will cost you a lot less to drive than something like my old ’73 Super Beetle. The latter was cheap to buy, true – but its best-case mileage was only 28 MPG on the highway.
The ’14 Beetle TDI gives you 41 MPG.
Plus some other things, too.
WHAT IT IS
The Beetle – just “Beetle” now, no more New Beetle – is the retro-reincarnation of the classic vee-dub generations of drivers owned once upon a time – and which many still have a soft spot in their hearts for.
The modern Beetle is neither air-cooled nor rear-engined – but it also doesn’t leak like a sieve, gets to 60 about three times as quickly (really) and has available heated seats in addition to a working heater.
It’s available with two gas and one diesel (TDI) engine, the latter being the subject of this review.
Base price for the ’14 TDI coupe is$24,195 – as compared with $19,995 for the base trim gas-engined Beetle.
A convertible Beetle TDI starts at $28,495.
Because of its iconic status, the Beetle hasn’t really got any direct competition – at least, not in the same way that a Corolla, say, competes against a Civic.
A somewhat similar-in-concept alternative to a Beetle might be a Fiat 500 – but it’s considerably smaller inside and out. The Mini Cooper is another retro-cute possibility. Neither of those two, however, offer the option of a high-efficiency (and high-powered) diesel engine.
Which puts the TDI Beetle in a class by itself.
You can get both a diesel-engined Beetle and a convertible diesel-engined Beetle now. And if you’re an audiophile, a Fender signature package is available that includes dash/door appliques similar to those used on the company’s high-end guitars – plus a top-of-the-line stereo with a subwoofer.
The nostalgia factor – without the original Beetle’s realities.
Diesel is quick and fuel-efficient . . . and it’s available with either an automatic or a manual transmission.
No urea injection!
Beetle is butched-up. Now men can own one, too – instead of buying one for the wife.
TDI engine takes a moment to “spool up” before forward motion commences.
TDI’s mileage is very good, but gas engines are getting to be almost as good – and they cost a lot less to buy.
Optional GPS map display is on the small side – and a bit dated-looking.
Convertible’s “trunk” is shoebox tiny.
UNDER THE HOOD
The subject of this write-up is the Beetle’s optional 2.0 liter turbocharged, direct-injected (TDI) diesel engine.
It is rated at 140 hp and 236 ft-lbs. of torque and you can order it with either a conventional six-speed manual with your left foot operating the clutch – or, VW’s Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), a six-speed automated manual with a computer and actuators handling the clutchwork.
The obvious bennie of the diesel over the Beetle’s two other gas engines (and the competition’s gas engines) is fuel efficiency. The TDI rates 28 city, 41 manual (with the six-speed manual) and a near-600 mile range on the highway with a full tank.
The Beetle’s other two engines are about 10 MPG less fuel-efficient – maxing out at 31 highway for the base 2.5 liter gas engine with manual transmission.
That’s the good news.
The bad news (for VW) is that some of the Beetle’s gas-engined competition matches (or nearly matches) the diesel Beetle’s economy – without the diesel’s higher up-front costs. The Fiat 500, for example, comes with a 31 highway, 40 MPG ranking – which is actually slightly better than the TDI Beetle – at a starting price of just $16,100. There is also the Mini Cooper, which rates 29 city and 37 highway – and which starts at $19,700. (A new, updated Mini is on deck for 2014; stats were not available at the time this review was written in late fall 2013.)
However, the Mini and the 500 are both smaller cars – much smaller, in the case of the Fiat.
They are also both much slower – especially when ordered with their available automatic transmissions, chiefly because their gas engines produce very little torque, and whatever torque they do produce is only produced once the engine is spun to fairly high RPMs.
The 500’s 1.4 liter gas engine, for example, produces just 98 ft-lbs. of torque – less than half what the TDI Beetle’s engine makes – and it only makes it once the engine reaches 4,000 RPM – vs 1,750 RPM for the TDI VW.
Similarly the Mini. Its 1.6 liter engine produces 114 ft.-lbs. of torque – once again, less than half the torque output of the TDI diesel – and it’s only available once the engine has achieved 4,250 RPM.
These torque-light engines do ok when paired with a manual transmission – because you can rev the engine up to access the available torque (which is what gets a car moving). But when paired with an automatic, acceleration really suffers. The manual-equipped Mini, for instance, gets to 60 in 8.3 seconds, which is decent for a small, economy-minded car. But the same car with the optional automatic takes closer to 10 seconds. Cars in that bracket struggle to merge, have limited ability to pass safely – and so, are often unpleasant to drive.
This dynamic is even more extreme with the 500,. The manual-equipped version is already on the gimpy side – 10.5 seconds to 60. But the same car with the optional automatic is downright palsied: 12.5 seconds to 60. That number is not too far off the pace of a classic (air-cooled) ’73 Beetle.
And the 2014 TDI Beetle?
It hustles to 60 in about 8 seconds flat. And the auto-manual (DSG) version isn’t appreciably slower because the TDI engine produces ample torque – its 236 ft.-lbs. being comparable to a naturally aspirated 3-liter-ish V-6 – just off idle speed.
So, you get the economy – without sacrificing performance.
There is one hair in the soup, though. I’ll get into that now.
The TDI engine is heavily boosted. Look up and right at the accessory gauge cluster that sits on top of the dash. The third gauge to your right. It registers 35 PSI – and the stock TDI engine routinely huffs that high. This is how VW instills excellent performance – to go with the excellent economy.
But, there is noticeable turbo lag coming off the line – with the DSG transmission, at any rate. If you punch it, there’s a moment of nothing-happening while the turbo builds up a head of steam. (The Catch-22 with turbos is they are driven by exhaust gas pressure, but exhaust gas pressure only increases as engine speed increases, so the turbo can’t build full boost before the engine begins to rev. Hence the dreaded off-idle “flat spot” often complained about with turbocharged engines.)
But then – a sudden and very authoritative rush forward. The turbo Beetle may take a moment to gather its wits, but once it does, forward progress is plenty speedy. Roll-on performance is actually pretty impressive. Hit it hard at about 5 or so MPH coming off the line and the front tires will break traction and skitter a bit as the boost needle pegs all the way over – with the DSG gearbox banging off one perfectly timed upshift after the next. With the manual, you’ve got to be careful about too much wheelspin, since it’s possible to drag-launch the thing by bringing up the revs, then dumping the clutch while hammering the gas pedal. It’s very easy to “get a wheel” in second gear . . . trust me.
But the point to take away from all this is you can go either way – manual six-speed or auto-manual DSG – and not lose several seconds to 60, as you will in either the automatic-equipped 500 or Mini Cooper.
And once you’ve achieved 60, the diesel has another advantage over its gas-engined rivals: It conveys relaxation like a cat stretched out on a warm carpet in front of the fireplace. Being a diesel, it burbles along at very high speeds at very low RPM. In sixth at 75, just over 2,000 – considerably less than the RPMs that you’d see on the tachometer of otherwise similar gas-engined cars.
But the TDI is also capable of fairly high RPM operation, too. The redline is 5,000 – which is only about 500-1,000 RPM less than many gas engines’ redlines. In the bad old days, diesels were often done by as little as 4,000 RPM – and this gave them operating characteristics suitable for trucks and farm equipment but less than ideal for high-speed highway running.
A caveat: VW reportedly limits (electronically) the TDI’s top speed to around 114 MPH. If true, it is probably because of the OE tires, which may not be speed rated for faster travel. The electronic limiter can probably be dealt with via a reflash/reprogramming of the car’s computer; just be sure you shoe your Beetle with the appropriate speed-rated tires.
I wrote a review of the current Beetle’s butched-up bodywork about a year ago, lamenting the passing of the previous New Beetle’s closer-to-the-original “happy car” looks.
But, I understand why VW did what it did.
Men are half the potential buyer pool. Though the classic-era air-cooled Beetle was equally beloved by men and women, the retro-themed New Beetle was mostly favored by women – and little favored by men. Changing times, whatever – the fact was that the New Beetle was a chick’s Beetle. This Beetle – just “Beetle,” once again – has been restyled to appeal more to the masculine without (hopefully) alienating the feminine.
Apparently, it is working. VW reports strong sales of the new (but not “New”) Beetle – to both sexes.
It probably also helps that the latest Beetle is bigger.
Let’s compare some key stats:
The 2014 Beetle is 7.3 inches longer overall than the previous New Beetle (168.4 inches vs. 161. inches) and 3.3 inches wider (71.2 inches vs. 67.9). The wheelbase has been increased by about 1.1 inches, too – from 98.9 in the New Beetle to 99.9 in the ’14.
This, in turn allowed VW to carve out more front seat leg and shoulder room, which now stand at 41.3 inches and 55.3 inches, respectively – vs. 39.4 inches and 52.8 inches in the previous-gen. New Beetle. Read that last number one more time. There’s 2.5 inches more elbow room in the latest Beetle vs. the previous Beetle.
That, to conjure my Paris Hilton voice, is huge.
Interestingly, despite the illusion of a lower/sportier roofline (part of the butching-up), the current Beetle actually has more headroom up front than the New Beetle did: 39.4 inches vs. 38.2 in the old car.
In fact, there is only measure of interior real estate that finds the latest Beetle somewhat lacking – backseat legroom. There is a meager 31.4 inches – vs. 33.5 in the previous Beetle. I had my wife try to sit back there and the only way she could do it – without either the driver or the front seat passenger scrunching their seats forward to the fetal-position – was by stretching out sideways.
In sum, the latest Beetle is much more spacious feeling up front – but its back seats are actually less passenger-viable than the old (and smaller overall) New Beetle’s.
On the other hand, the Beetle seems almost limo-like when compared with the Fiat 500 – which has a tight-squeeze-for-two 49.4 inches of front seat shoulder room (that’s 5.9 inches less space between you and whomever’s sitting next to you) and back seats that force most normal-sized adult to duck – with just 35.6 inches of headroom vs. 37.1 for the VW.
The Mini has very decent front seat legroom (41.4 inches) but shoulder room is also much less than in the Beetle – just 50.3 inches. And the back seats are unusable for humans – if they aren’t amputees: 29.9 inches of legroom.
Forget about it.
My test car was a convertible – beautifully fitted and fully automatic. No latches to deal with, just depress a button to open – and close. The only downside – and it’s a downside common to convertibles – is you lose trunk space. That top and all its mechanisms take up space – especially when folded. Thus, the Beetle hardtop’s very respectable 15.4 cubic foot trunk – which is par for mid-sized sedans – drops by nearly half that in the convertible to just 7.1 cubic feet. You do have those back seats, though. And there is a generous pass-through to maximize the available real estate.
I should also mention that the Fiat 500 coupe’s trunk area is just 9.5 cubic feet.
The Mini’s, an extremely mini 5.7 cubic feet.
Like all-too-many-convertibles (and new/late-model cars in general) the Beetle convertible has some wicked blind spots and limited outward visibility. If you come to a T intersection, for instance, and want to turn left, it can be difficult to assess what’s coming at you from the right – at least, without craning your neck forward or creeping the car forward (or backward). In order to meet the latest federal roof-crush requirements, car companies have beefed up – and thickened-up the “B” and “C” pillars, which has had the unintended side-effect of impairing visibility. The upside – in the convertible TDI – is you can drop the top and immediately improve your lines of sight (there are pop-up rollbars to protect you if the car turns turtle).
I was impressed by the slick appearance of the Fender guitar-themed interior enhancements. Also the quality of the Fender audio system. Worth the coin on either count – and since you get both, it’s a deal.
I wasn’t much impressed by the relatively small LCD display for the optional GPS system (bundled with the Fender package). In addition to being diminutive, the display looks dated – compared with the latest stuff, some of which gives you a 3D bird’s eye view, or even a Google-ized topographical map display.
I loved that the TDI engine does not require urea injection – as most new diesel-powered passenger cars do. This eliminates an expense – and a hassle. There is a particulate filter, but so long as the car is used regularly – which allows the system to get hot enough to burn off accumulated deposits – you will probably never have to worry about it.
It’s just unfortunate that diesel fuel costs, on average, about 40 cents more per gallon than unleaded regular. This really eats into the economic case for any diesel-powered car.
Especially given how fuel-efficient gas-engined cars are becoming.
THE BOTTOM LINE
My ’73 Super Beetle, this isn’t. But that has its pros as well as its cons.
The same goes for this Beetle vs. the recently retired New Beetle. It may no longer be as cute as it was before, but that’ll only take you so far.
Especially with the guys.
Throw it in the Woods?
PS:This site is almost entirely reader supported. No Google (They blacklisted us – so we dumped them. See here for the full story about that.)
So, we need your support to make a go of it and keep EPautos rolling. Please consider supporting this web site in whatever way you’re able. The link to our “donate” button is here.
Thanks in advance!
@8 Well then you are just going to have to move closer to the FIOS cable, and give Mcrosoft some $200.00 spare change for the box. Where’s the love?
Garysco, I’m being highly entertained. The wife was trying to watch a DVD but the player is screwing up…but it evidently has decided it will play Air Force One. I had no idea what it was, could just hear some of the dialogue. I walked in to see a few characters since I’m an AFO virgin. Guy who looks Russian, an American, speaking to a guy who looks American, a Russian. You’ll never get our prez. American woman speaks up What did you do with my husband? (Go figure, I don’t have a clue who her husband might be)Russian He was a coward so I killed him. Ok then. American woman(this could be the ultimate dialogue here)I don’t know what you want(to Russian), but you’ll never get it. This is great stuff. We need to have a screening of this for epa members. There is one bit of dialogue that sounds like the truth though, Prez Ford speaking to a Ma Bell operator Put me through to the WH. Operator, Please deposit one dollar. Ah, free enterprise at work. They don’t make comedy like they used to evidently.
@ 8 – That is sooooo 90’s man. Get her an XBox 360 to join the real GTA V party on-line for only $59.96.
$60 + $100 satellite internet….too dear for me. Even ATT and Verizon air cards just barely percolate here.
Around 2003 the shop I work for was contracted to build a 4MW load bank. For those who don’t know, a load bank is a gigantic toaster, used to turn electricity into heat.
There was an 8MW generator station in Alaska used to power drilling rigs in the field. This unit was stand alone and the nearest transmission lines were over 100 miles away so connecting was not practical.
When the field started to run dry and about half the rigs were idle, the generator had to be throttled back as there was nowhere for the excess power to go. The EPA came along and found one of the exhaust components was too high and fined them for it. So they came to us to build a ‘waste load’ so the generator could run at full power, therefore bringing it’s PPM for exhaust components back to below legal.
So, instead of a bit of extra emission of a single component, but lower fuel consumption and lower total pounds of said component, the generator was run at full power consuming much more fuel and putting out more total pounds of all pollutants as well as generating 4MW of wasted heat.
Stupid, but the EPA dude could fill in the little box on his form that said the generator was now in compliance with EPA PPM regulations.
@Me2 – So YOU are the global warming guy. Ha, I knew it!
Our unofficial company motto is, “Cut it, Burn it, Pave it”
It is only 3c here right now. A little warming sounds OK to me.
Me2, I could have sent you 20°F for the last six months and it would still have been too hot.
@Me2 – Well time to get that fall garden in before it gets cold.
I’m curious why you think it’s a plus that this car doesn’t use urea when the alternative is a less efficient engine and more EGR? VW sells the same basic 2.0L TDI engine in a number of models and the biggest, heaviest one (the Passat) gets the best mileage because it’s the only one of the bunch that uses a urea SCR system to reduce NOx. Moreover, the urea DEF is cheap and ubiquitously available at any truck stop and even Walmart.
Urea injections adds both cost and complexity – as well as hassle. One more system/components that can and will eventually fair and cost money; an additional expense – which eats away at the economic case for a diesel vs. gas engine; and one more hassle.
I agree with you, though, that the Beetle’s mileage is less impressive than it ought to be – and probably could be.
No doubt about the cost and complexity, but this is true of every emission-control system every invented. As for hassle, I own two VWs TDIs that use DEF , a 2009 Touareg and a 2013 Passat. The DEF tanks get filled when the oil gets changed. I don’t see that as a hassle.
Still, I’ve often wondered just how efficient a modern, common-rail injected turbo diesel could be if it were stripped of all the emissions systems and tuned strictly for fuel economy. Let it have all the fresh air it wants instead of choking it on its own exhaust gasses, and inject fuel only when it’s needed to produce power instead of playing games with post-injection to keep the various filters and cats from clogging…
“Still, I’ve often wondered just how efficient a modern, common-rail injected turbo diesel could be if it were stripped of all the emissions systems and tuned strictly for fuel economy. Let it have all the fresh air it wants instead of choking it on its own exhaust gasses, and inject fuel only when it’s needed to produce power instead of playing games with post-injection to keep the various filters and cats from clogging…”
Me too, Uwe!
We have a hint of what’s possible by going back to cars like the late ’70s Rabbit diesel and similar diesel-powered cars of that era, which achieved 50 MPG without overdrive transmissions or modern engine management technology.
The main problem, today, is … weight.
This ’14 Beetle, for instance, weighs about 3,100 lbs. empty. Preposterously overweight, in my view, for such a car. I have a ’70s-era muscle car with a huge (7.4 liter) cast iron V-8, bolt-on front subframe made of massive steel beams… and it only weighs a few hundred pounds more than this FWD, four-cylinder unibody car.
Without even touching the current Beetle’s emissions systems, if you were to get the curb weight down to something reasonable – around 2,600 lbs., say – I have no doubt this car could average 45-50 MPG.
I can tell you, as Eric has said, 50+ MPG. My guess is probably even higher.
I used to drive a 1986 n/a diesel Golf. I got it with over 350,000km on it and drove it until 750,000 when I parked it. Still runs but there is now oil in the water after I blew a rad hose and must have warped the head a bit.
I never got less than 50mpg (imperial gallon) despite driving it like a madman. Red-lined every shift and cornered on three wheels.
Some of the most fun I have ever had in a car because you had to drive it hard to keep pace with traffic. The key was momentum and gear selection.
Total repairs in 400,000km – one clutch, two CV half shafts, water pump, rear brakes and wheel bearings.
Today’s stuff ridiculously overly-complicated. I wonder how many 21st century cars will make it to 750,000km?
eric, I guess we all wonder what stripping the nanny nation from a car would do but it won’t happen…unfortunately. I guess the urea works better on small engines with less restrictive exhaust systems compared to the particulate accumulator on large diesel for light trucks. Let’s review what that part does. First, it holds particles the EPA says aren’t allowable till it can’t hold more and then the computer tells the engine fuel control to dump in huge amounts of fuel to “burn” all those particulates in a very short timeframe, maybe 20 miles or less(less). Surely this causes no problems such as fouling of other sensors or as it would seem, just confusing hell out of the entire system. Now that Dodge, Ford and GM all have to jump through this bullshit hoop, and that’s what it is since it makes not a damned bit of sense to say a diesel meets X requirements by keeping particulate emissions trapped. So all this crap is burned out in a few minutes(ideally)and the process starts again. Nobody but govt. could conceive of such hypocrisy. Never mind these engines run without a hint of black smoke WITHOUT the particulate bs in place and that the “excess” particulate, the part that doesn’t pass emissions is trapped “temporarily”. BTW, as a user, I can tell you these trucks are great and in many senses are worth the extra $12-15K beyond the cost of gas engine trucks. Everything about them is heavier duty and as such, they’ll last well beyond the life of a gas engine truck. So the question becomes WHY? Well, the industry decided they didn’t want to make a Ca. only vehicles for everything so we’ll just make one to pass in all 50 states by making them all Ca. compliant. Now the EPA gets even more into the act and deduces in their idiot know-nothing way that if they can make things Ca. compliant, by extension, they can make heavy duty light trucks meet requirements that are way over the top. That’s what we have now and it’s playing hell with every manufacturers light truck diesel. Do we need this in Tx? Only if you ask someone who can’t conceive of needing a truck like this. Govt. bs, no more, no less. BTW, it affects what you pay for everything else now since big rigs are subject to some of the most inane EPA laws ever thought of….and it all drops the mileage of freight haulers too.
“The electronic limiter can probably be dealt with via a reflash/reprogramming of the car’s computer; just be sure you shoe your Beetle with the appropriate speed-rated tires.”
Before you do that, know that VW might void your warranty if you change the programming.
The jury is out as to how true all this is, but I did get a letter from Audi (same as VW) warning that any time my vehicle goes in for dealer service the dealer is required to hook up to the OBD2 port and check for any discrepancies, including any changes from factory defaults.
Eric G, before you install one it would be a good idea to check with the dealership. I know people who have had their warranty voided because of them. There are another couple reasons to not have them or at least not get caught with them and that is they are illegal by federal law and by most state law. Any vehicle that will exceed the original speed limiter is illegal, sucks, but you can be charged on this. Also, it’s easy to see if one has been installed and removed and exactly what’s been done with the vehicle every second of it’s life. I got this info straight from the mouth of people who work on them. Most independent shops can’t determine the second by second history but dealerships can and if they feel like you’re costing them money, they will. I remember over a decade ago Ford was voiding warranties on Mustang’s people were taking to the track. Big lawsuits and court fights over this since they weren’t being modified, just taken out and thrashed. I think Ford lost in the end…..but just on the non-modified cars.
Just wait until the warranty expires before removing the speed limiter. That’s pretty simple.
eric wrote, “It may no longer be as cute as it was before,…”
Does this mean when I look down and into the passenger side window I won’t see a flower in the cup holder anymore?
And when I read that the backseat is small, likely too small for two, I imagine that’s why a lot of parents buy it for their teenagers. (lol) Besides, everyone knows the backseats of convertibles are where your feet go when you’re sitting on top of the folded down convertible top. …Right? …You can still do that, can’t you? …People don”t do that anymore, do they? It’s a shame, if they don’t. Psft, how are they gonna wear their seatbelt if they do that?
Also, @Eightsouthman, wow, I had no idea they were *still* building them in Brazil. They made it a good long stretch though, eh?
The entire interior has been revamped. No more vase – but more gauges (and a flat-spot, GTI-style steering wheel).
As to the convertible top… I’ll have to try it and see!
This current generation Beetle is one of the few cars I might buy just because it looks so damn great! Diesel engines make a lot more sense in this class than they do in a so called “performance car.”
I could see myself buying this package with the diesel. But I’d probably go with the hottest gas engine available, and pretend I’m driving a modern version Porsche 356.
If one can give up the utility of a hatchback, the Beetle….with the most powerful gas engine….. or with diesel, looks like a sweet ride at a decent price.
Mike, at least you can “afford” a new VW. They announced today they’d be stopping production of the original VW in Brazil due to regs being implemented the first of the year. New models will have ABS and airbags. No telling how many potential customers will be shut out financially by this. Way to go Brazil. SH’s.
Yep, that’s the last of them.
Can’t have affordable, Clover-free cars – now can we?
It never fails to amaze (and depress) me that so many people are so blithely indifferent to having others tell them what sort of car they may buy – and not buy.