Jim Powell, Thu, 14 Aug 2014 08:57:53 PDT
After my first drive in the newest version of the VW Beetle, I have had some time to live with this car. The newest Beetle has more of a performance stance and better handling in the corners than ever before. This is a wider, leaner and meaner "Bug" which reminds me of an Audi TT but not close to any Porsche coupe. Starting in the remodel year of 2013, the Beetle lost the flower vase and yet, still holds onto its quirky ambiance.
Not to be forgotten, VW has continued to pump amenities into the 2014 Beetle in all trim lines. They have even added yet another model (enough is enough) called the GSR. The GSR is a throwback name that started in the 1970s and is remembered as the "Yellow Black Racer". The body and the R-Line bumpers on the new GSR are predominantly yellow, the hood is mainly black, and the trunk lid, roof, and the exterior mirror caps are all black. The new car has yellow/black stripes with "GSR" lettering above the side skirts and a large rear spoiler to complete the look. The GSR is a combination of paint, parts, and some 19-inch "Tornado" aluminum-alloy wheels with 235/40 tires. Quirky right?
What is not quirky is a new Electro-mechanical power steering and new multilink rear suspension under all Beetle models. The handling is noticeable more reactive to the driver's steering input. This new Beetle goes where it is pointed, although still not a sports coupe. It is competent on the freeways and still compliant over the rough pavement when running on the standard 17" wheels and all-season tires. The newest Beetle is also one of the quieter two door coupes on the market in the under $25,000 price range.
My test 2014 Beetle TDI was powered by the ever-torquey 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection Clean Diesel engine. This engine is the reason to buy a Beetle in my not-so-humble opinion. The 140 horsepower feels like so much more due to the 236 pound-feet of torque at a very low speed. Volkswagen pioneered the use of turbo-charging and direct injection in diesel engines and even introduced a diesel-powered Beetle in the U.S. market in 1998. That 1.9-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine was not nearly as responsive, quiet or smooth as this newest generation of TDI's.
One of the most fundamental improvements was converting the fuel-injection system to a common-rail design, as well as increasing the capacity by 72 cc thanks to a 1.5-mm wider bore. Now all TDI engines use cast-iron cylinder blocks and aluminum-alloy cylinder heads for a more solid foundation and better longevity. VW has continued to improve vibration through using this engine block, crankshaft counterweights, and two counter-rotating balancer shafts placed below the crankshaft in the oil pan. The dual overhead camshafts, the "water" pump, and the high-pressure fuel-injection pump are all driven by one belt. The cams themselves are linked by means of spur gears that have an integrated backlash adjuster that adds to all this technology- keeping this turbo-diesel engine as quiet as any gas-powered engine.
All internal combustion engines run on fuel and air. VW has also improved on the air delivery with variable intake manifolds that use flap valves controlled by their more reliable Engine Control Module (ECM). VW has come a long way from the last generation Beetle with the dodgy engine electronics. At idle and low engine speeds, the flap valves are closed in order to cause high swirl into the combustion chamber, which results in optimal mixture. During regular driving, the flap valves are adjusted continuously according to load and engine speed to help ensure optimum air movement; above 3000 rpm, the valves open fully for maximum filling of the combustion chamber.
With no extra effort, I was able to get 29 mpg around town and 40 mpg on the highways of Los Angeles using the quick-shifting double-clutch sequential gear-shifting (DSG) automatic transmission. This is the same transmission used in Volkswagen's Audi and Porsche brands and it works well with all this torque. The manual transmission Beetle TDI gets 28 mpg city and 41 mpg highway.
All in all, what impresses me the most about the newest Beetle is the way it gets down the road. The newly calibrated front suspension with lower control arms and anti-roll bar keeps the Beetle more planted at higher speeds. The new multi-link independent rear suspension keeps the back end planted in the corners (formally only available on the Turbo models). All Beetle models have standard anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake pressure distribution (EBD), and substantial vented front disc brakes.
The rest of the difference between the 2014.5 Beetle Coupe models is mostly bells, whistles, wheels, and colors. Most models can add the groovy Fender Edition sound system, dash, wheels, and seats. Upper end options include a tilt and slide panoramic sunroof, premium audio system, keyless entry with push-button start, leather seating surfaces, 19-inch wheels, and Audi-inspired Bi-Xenon headlights with LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL). Bluetooth is still an option and VW should include this safety feature as standard at this price point.
A Beetle can still be quirky and considered by many as a "chicks" car but I like driving the newest Bug. It handles better, is more comfortable on long trips, appears to be more reliable, and gets excellent fuel mileage. OK. The interior still feels a little cheaper than competitors and the body hardware could use some higher quality materials. But reliability is up and so is the driver's experience. After 65 years of selling Beetles in the United States, I think the Beetle is worth considering again as a car for the common person, the college student, and even the taller-than-average man or woman on a budget. Headroom is still very generous for front seat passengers. Long live "the people's car."
2014.5 Mid-Year Beetle Pricing
Model Price Features
$21,395 1.8T 170 hp engine; five-speed manual transmission; 17-inch "Turbine" aluminum-alloy wheels; six-speed automatic transmission
1.8T Beetle w/ Sunroof (manual)
$23,995 (Includes 1.8T Beetle features)
+ Panoramic sunroof with power tilt and slide; Keyless access with push-button start; Premium VIII touchscreen radio
Six-speed automatic transmission
1.8T Beetle w/ Sunroof, Sound and Navigation
$25,995 (Includes 1.8T Beetle w/ Sunroof features)
+ 18-inch "Disc" aluminum-alloy wheels with all-season tires; RNS 315 navigation system; Fender Premium Audio System
+ Six-speed automatic transmission
TDI (manual) $24,595 (Includes 1.8T Beetle features)
+ 2.0L 140hp TDI engine, six-speed manual transmission; Premium VIII touchscreen radio performance gauge cluster; Keyless access
(auto)As Tested $25,695 push-button start; leather-wrapped shift knob and boot
+ Six-speed DSG transmission
TDI w/Sunroof, Sound, and Navigation (manual)
$28,595 (Includes TDI w/Sunroof features)
+ RNS 315 touchscreen navigation; Panoramic sunroof with power tilt and slide; Fender Premium Audio System
+ Six-speed DSG transmission