Back in the Pleistocene – you know, before the ’90s – a “quick” Beetle (the original Drittes Reich model designed by Dr. Porsche and you-know-who) was a 12 second car.
Not in the quarter mile.
Zero to 60.
This was of course modified.
A factory stock original model Beetle took anywhere from 15-30 seconds to reach 60 . . . and topped out around 80 or so.
If the road was trending downhill and you had the wind at your back.
It took a lot of work to get a rise out of that air-cooled 1600 CC flat four: Dual port, high flow heads, nix the factory single barrel Solex carb and replace it with a pair of high-flow Webers; bolt on headers, zoomie exhaust, high-performance camshaft, high-performance pistons.
The end result was a Bug that could – just barely – keep up with a Prius in straight up drag race.
Fast forward 20 years. The New Beetle is gone
Enter the R-Line Beetle.
Zero to 60 in the mid-sixxes.
Oh, and the heater works, too.
The Turbo Beetle is the hot-shoe version of VW’s latter-day Beetle (no longer “New” – just Beetle once more).
It comes in two trims: R-Line and GSR, which is a limited-run package centered on a retro-themed yellow and black exterior paint scheme and complementary interior but which is otherwise mechanically the same as the R-Line.
Base price for the R-Line Turbo Beetle coupe with six-speed manual transmission is $24,995. Up that to $26,095 for the same car with VW’s six-speed Direct Shift (DSG) automatic.
The R-Line Turbo is also available in convertible form (base price $29,395) but the GSR will be sold as a hardtop coupe only.
Like the original, the current Beetle is its own fairly unique thing. You might cross-shop the much smaller (and less expensive) Fiat 500 – or wait and see what Mini has done to the 2015 Mini Cooper, which is due to be revealed shortly.
But there is only one Beetle – just like back in the day.
For 2014, VW has infused the Turbo Beetle with an additional 10 hp – up to 210 now from 200 last year. It is also now formally called the R-Line Turbo Beetle, to distinguish it from 2014 Beetles equipped with the new 1.8 liter (and also turbocharged) four that is replacing the non-turbo 2.5 liter five that up to this year has been the Beetle’s standard engine.
There is also the previously mentioned GSR package – available for a limited time only and in limited numbers.
One sad change for the new model year is that VW will reportedly be phasing out the high-end Fender audiophile package, which included an acoustically tuned stereo along with Fender guitar-themed interior accents.
On the upside – if you prefer Geek Chic to Great Tunes – VW’s new Car-Net telematics system is now available in the Beetle and a back-up camera is standard.
A quick Beetle is like a talking chicken. No one expects it, but it’s pretty cool.
New body is more like the original Beetle body in that it’s neither girly-man (as the New Beetle was) nor so manly girls don’t like it.
Surprisingly spacious inside – including 41.3 inches of front seat legroom.
Feels – is – more substantial than Fiat 500.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
A 3,000 lb. Beetle is also unexpected – and not so cool. That’s almost twice the weight of the original. And almost 700 pounds more than a Fiat 500.
Optional DSG automatic and turbo engine are not seamless dance partners. This engine performs much better with the standard six-speed manual.
In my tested convertible model, the satellite radio signal cut out so often it was almost unusable.
Traction control can’t be turned off.
There isn’t even a button anymore.
UNDER THE HOOD
All Beetles will be turbo Beetles from here on out. Two gas – one diesel.
A new 1.8 liter, 170 hp turbo four – which made its debut in the 2014 Passat (review here) will replace the 2.5 liter (non-turbo) in-line five as the Beetle’s standard engine as 2014 gets rolling. If you want something else, you can go two ways: more economy – TDI – or more performance, via the 2.0 liter turbo four in the R-Line and GSR.
This engine now makes 210 hp and 207 ft.-lbs. of torque – with peak hp coming into full flower higher up in the power band: 5,300 RPM now vs 5,100 RPM previously.
Max boost is about 24 psi – though the gauge reads to 35.
You can select either the standard six-speed manual or – optionally – VW’s DSG six-speed automatic.
Zero to 60 takes about 6.5 seconds. The manual version is slightly quicker, but the DSG version is most fuel efficient: 24 city, 30 highway.
PS: The latter number tells the story about the demise of the 2.5 liter in-line five. Despite not being nearly as strong as the turbo 2.0 engine, the 2.5 liter’s mileage maxxed out at 22 city, 31 highway – with the manual transmission. With the optional automatic, it slipped to 22 city, 29 highway. In plain English, there was no economy benefit to sticking with the base engine – and no efficiency penalty for choosing the high-performance engine.
The 2.5 liter engine made no sense from either perspective – so sayonara.
All Beetles are, of course, FWD (the original Beetle was rear-engined and rear-wheel-drive).
This new wide-bodied Beetle is a beefy Beetle.
The coupe weighs 2,987 lbs.
Add another 200 pounds for the convertible.
On the upside, the car feels nailed down – “on rails,” to use the much over-used automotive journalism cliche. The original Beetle got tossed around like an empty pop can by crosswinds – not surprising given its 1,600 pound curb weight. The current one rides heavy, securely – like a big car. Which it is. It’s about three feet longer overall than a Fiat 500 (and easily 700 pounds heavier). The almost ten inches difference in wheelbase – 99.9 inches for the VW vs. 90.6 for the Fiat – further enhances stability, reduces dartiness and the need to make frequent steering adjustments to keep the car in its lane.
Despite its hulkiness, the R-Line Turbo easily outruns the Fiat 500 Abarth (7.1 seconds to 60). However, the Fiat feels much fiercer because of its hyper-boosted (30-plus PSI) micro-turbo (just 1.4 liters) engine and an exhaust note more hellacious than an open-piped Harley.
The Beetle’s performance is – like the rest of the car – more mature.
And that seems to have been VW’s objective.
A facet of this maturity is the absence of an off button for the traction control. It is always on – like it or not, want it or not. Forget about standing on the brakes (automatic versions) at a red light while your right feeds it gas to build the boost and get the tires smoking before the light goes green. A small amount of slippage is allowed – but not enough to put on a show. Same goes for power-sliding it through a curve. The car drives as much as you do.
The Beetle – like the Baby Boomer generation – has grown up.
Some might say, grown old.
I personally do not like the you-can’t-drive, so we’ll save you from yourself peremptoriness of it. In the first place, traction/stability control should be optional for those who want it (and don’t mind paying extra for it). Just like a high-end stereo or seat heaters. And in the second place, there should always be an off button – just like they give you for the stereo and seat heaters. There are times when it’s helpful to be able to disable the traction control – as when trying to make your way up a snow-slicked grade. If you can’t turn it off, you stand less chance of making it – of getting stuck. And that isn’t very “safe.” Besides, burnouts – and tire-chirping gear changes – are fun. Why deny us that? We’re paying for the car – and the tires – right?
Included with the R-Line equipment is a tightened-up suspension and 18 inch wheel/tire package (upgradable to 19s) that results in a car with no noticeable body lean, very high levels of lateral grip and which is pretty neutral-steering through a corner. The electric assist power steering feels a little numb – they all do – but the R-Line’s thickly padded (and flat-bottomed) steering wheel makes up for a lot.
The upgraded brakes (red powder coated on my test car) feel track ready in that they get better as they get hotter. When cold, they seem to work less well than the standard car’s brakes – but bed them in a little, heat ’em up some – and they bite like an angry pit bull.
The manual version, as mentioned earlier, is the one I’d pick because it works best with the turbo engine. In DSG-equipped versions, it takes a moment for the boost to build – which telegraphs as sluggishness coming off the line. Once under way, the sluggishness is gone and the transmission – which has both Drive and Sport modes – gears up and down in good time. But the shifts could be more aggressive – in Sport mode especially.
Again, the manual six-speed is the way to go, if you want to make the most of the 2.0 engine’s power – and have the most fun in this car.
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 after all 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 (1998-2010) 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 – and wider.
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-gen. New Beetle.
Interestingly, despite the appearance 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. Another plus that makes the car feel more spacious and open.
Which it is.
In fact, there is only measure of interior real estate that finds the latest Beetle somewhat lacking – backseat legroom: 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.
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 current (2014) 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 Eric the Midget from Howard Stern. There’s a mere 29.9 inches of legroom back there.
But, the 2015 Mini (due out in a couple of months) will be all-new – and may have some surprises in store for everyone.
My test car was a cherry red 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. 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. Less than in a Miata. 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 current Mini’s, an extremely mini 5.7 cubic feet.
I hope it was just an issue with my test car, but the satellite radio reception was atrocious. The radio cut out constantly – making it almost impossible to follow a conversation (talk radio) or listen to a song in its entirety. It would work for 45 seconds or so, then there’d be dead air for the next 15. Repeat. Sometimes, the radio would go dead for a minute or two at a stretch (the display would read “linking” while this was happening) and I don’t think I ever heard a block longer than two or three minutes without at least one 10-15 second dead spot.
To be fair, I live in a mountainous area and there are a few spots where the signal – in all the cars I have test driven – will sometimes briefly cut out. But in the VW it was constant, and no matter where I happened to be. I strongly recommend you try the radio out during a test drive before you buy the satellite radio subscription. VW needs to look into this.
It’s a problem.
Another problem – one that’s not really VW’s fault – is the visibility to the rear in the convertible. The back glass is adequate, but the rear seat headrests – mandated by Uncle in the name of whiplash protection – eat up a fourth of the view to either side, leaving a small rectangle that greatly restricts your rearview – at least, using your eyes. VW tacitly acknowledges this problem, having made a back-up camera with the view behind you displayed on the LCD monitor standard equipment. You could also just pull the backseat headrests – if you don’t need to carry people back there. They are an arguable safety hazard – and VWs are far from the only cars that are compromised in this way. By federal edict, these over-tall, super-sized headrests are now part and parcel of just about every new car. Ironically, they make a crash more likely in the name of improved occupant protection.
THE BOTTOM LINE
What I’d really like to see is the 256 hp version of the 2.0 four – standard in the current Golf R – made available in the R-Line Beetle. That plus maybe 200 or so pounds off the top (or wherever) and the car would likely be in the high fives.
And I’d high five that.
Throw it in the Woods?
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I must protest. He is Eric the ACTOR.
Be sure to get it right, next time.
The reason the original Beatle was so unstable in crosswinds was aerodynamics causing lift – not curb weight. The car was like an upside-down wing and windtunnel tests showed it became nearly airborne at 160Km/h. This is why Drag Beatle accidents were such a danger during the pre-wing days.
Good point, Doug.
Overall, they were great little cars – rugged, surprisingly capable in snow, simple/generally easy to repair and maintain. I’d like to own another someday. Find a good one – and improve on the basic layout a little bit. I have always wanted to see what the original could do if one tweaked the engine to up the factory stock hp by about 30 percent and (if it’s available/doable) replace the factory 4-speed transaxle with a 5-speed/overdrive transaxle. My bet is the result would be a car capable of accelerating sufficiently (0-60 in say 10 seconds or so; able to maintain 75 MPH without struggling) to be comfortable to drive in modern traffic that could also deliver 40-plus on the highway and probably 30-plus around town. Maybe better than that.
The really enticing thing is that with the exception of one variable (the OD transaxle) the cost of doing this should be very reasonable. You can currently (in my area) buy a solid – mechanically sound/structurally sound, decent looking – early-mid ’70s-era Beetle/Super Beetle for less than $5,000. Assume $2,000 for an OD transaxle and another $2-3k to properly go through the engine and you’re still under $10k.
When done, you’d have a very cool classic car that runs/drives enough like a modern car to be suitable as a daily driver. But without all the crap – air bags, ABS, traction control, computers. Still basically simple, easy to repair and maintain. And unlike a new economy car, the old Beetle will appreciate rather than depreciate – or at least, it will hold its value. Drive it for five years, say, and probably you could them sell it for about what it cost you.
Buy a new Corolla today and give years from now it’ll be worth half what you paid to acquire it.
One thing I noticed that that the Beetles get 4-5 mpg less than the Jettas equipped with the same engine. The cars weigh the same. Strange.
Couldn’t those vision obstructing rear seat head rest be incorporated into the rear seats and pop up automatically when a person sits on the seat?
How difficult would that be?
Agreed, Werner – that seems like a reasonable solution.
Another (related and much harder to address) problem is to-the-sides visibility issues created by ever-thicker B pillars – thicker to achieve compliance with federal roof crush/rollover requirements. Once again, an accident is made more likely as as result of trying to make the car safer to be in if there is an accident. I take the view that’s it’s preferable to avoid the wreck rather than build the car to make a wreck more survivable!
That is indeed a complicated matter! They are probably using some high strength steel already. Perhaps the pillars are oriented in the wrong direction (parallel) when the same results can be obtained if they are turned 90 degrees, even though they would be intruding on the space inside the vehicle. Small sacrifice, in my opinion! That re-orientation would make them stronger when impacted from the side!
Many years ago I had a Chevy convertible (1958) with the wrap around windshield! Perhaps it is only me but I think the visibility to the sides was vastly better than what we have now with the raked back windshields and wide A pillars cutting a huge angle out of the side view when turning to the left.
Another trend which I do not like is the ever rising belt line. The glass area is getting smaller with every new model. Soon it will resemble viewing slots in a battle tank!
The rear headrests on my 2012 Mustang manually fold down. With them up there’s very little rearward visibility.
Every time I get a chance to drive a car built before the 1990s I am reminded how much better overall visibility was in the past relative to now. The lower belt lines, much thinner A and B pillars and (in the case of cars built before they outlawed low-back seats) give these cars are much more open feel as well as greatly enhanced view of the environment around them – an inherent safety advantage. I find – in many of the new cars I test drive – that I need to pull forward (or back) at intersections in order to get any kind of view to the side. Otherwise, it’s do the Catholic cross thing, stab the gas – and hope for the best!
Before the 1990s? Nahh before about 2005. My 1990s designed cars are just as good as the 70s and 80s stuff I’ve driven.
But the stuff from about 2005 up…..
I just love the looks of this car….as long as that vile GSR tape and paint package is not selected.
Although the R- Line Turbo doesn’t look just like a Porsche 356 in any particular detail, it’s overall shape strongly evokes the image of that legendary car. And it’s performance already surpasses it.
Don’t know that I would purchase a car without enough space to put a couple of large dog crates in the back. But the R-Line Turbo is definitely a car I wouldn’t mind being seen in. 🙂
That picture of the air-cooled engine you have near the top of the article is easily a 14 second 1/4 mile car. It will smoke a Prius.
At first I thought it might be a stock engine with trips. Looks like the block isn’t even stock.
I doubt it!
The Prius does the quarter in the mid-low 15s (which by the way is quicker than early ’80s-era 5.0 liter Mustangs and Z28 Camaros – just for some perspective).
I’ve owned several Beetles myself and while it’s certainly possible one could be modified to cut a 14 second quarter, it would have to be heavily modified. You’re basically talking about doubling the car’s performance from stock. A stock Super Beetle needed more time to get to 60 than a stock Prius takes to run the quarter mile.
Dom’s very observant, that engine is a Type 4 VW, which you would find in a 72-79 VW Bus or a Porsche 914-4, and by the looks of it, was built by a man named Jake Raby, who owns a shop in Georgia. Check out his website, AirCooledTechnology.com. This guy is very good at what he does. The engines that he builds are very powerful, reliable and efficient. The torque numbers he gets out of these engines are absolutely incredible. So, I’d have to disagree with you Eric, It will smoke a Prius. Another thing, I love your website.
Thanks for the top about AirCooledTechnology… sounds like Jake works miracles!
I concede it’s been awhile since I last fiddled with air-cooled Beetles (early ’90s) so my observations about what they’re capable of in terms of performance are very possibly out of date.
Certainly, an original Beetle has extremely light weight in its favor. I suppose if you could get say 120 hp out of an air-cooled flat four and put that thing in a 1,600 lb. Beetle, you’d have something fun to play with.
I wonder, though, about the ability of the transaxle to handle that; I assume Jake builds that to cope?
I have a couple old Kawasaki bikes, including a ’76 Kz900. One of the limiting factors as far as bumping up the hp of these bikes is overheating caused by very high CR, overboring, etc.
Accessory/extra capacity oil coolers are very important – but no doubt Jake has that covered, too.
I like the door stripe on the GSR (it says “GSR” if you can’t read it). It reminds me of the decals that were on the old Super Beetle from the late 1970s. Theirs were a little thinner and placed a little lower, if I remember correctly.
I’m surprised they didn’t bring back that name, rather than “R-Line”. R-Line doesn’t really do anything for me – sounds like marketing bull.
Good point. R-Line suggests trim, not performance. It’s a little bit of a mouthful, too. R-Line Turbo Beetle.
GSR is more succinct – and just sounds racier!
Soon to be done up with a red, white and blue stripe down the middle and a round “53” sticker on the doors.
Seriously If anyone out there wants a: Cute car that hauls ass – Buy a Ford Focus ST for less money than the Beetle and go 0-60 in 5.9 seconds right off the showroom floor. 2,900 lbs, Recaro racing seats, a sweet Getrag 6 speed manual and turbo that allow your car to be an “econoboxer” unless the rpm is greater than 1,000 rpm. I have observed 30 mpg on a tank of gas on the highway. The little muscle killer is stoked and ready to go if you have so much as a right foot. My race red Focus St is the cats meow and the smile cannot be erased from my face! JillsUncle