YOUNTVILLE, Calif. -- On the Silverado Trail in California's Napa Valley, we're goosing the go-pedal but holding a legal rein on more than 200 horses hitched beneath the hood of a souped-up variation of Volkswagen's third-generation Beetle: It's the 2015 Beetle R-Line, a turbo-charged top-line Beetle skewed for sporty performance.
The R-Line Beetle packs a gasoline-sipping 4-in-line turbo-charged and inter-cooled engine which displaces 2.0 liters with DOHC (double-overhead cam) and Volkswagen's FSI (fuel straight injection) technology applied. Power numbers tally to 210 hp at 5300 rpm with the torque rising to 207 lb-ft at only 1700 rpm.
A notchy 6-speed manual transmission rigged with hill-hold feature works well with the turbo-4, but also available for $1,100 extra on the bottom line is a twin-clutch and 6-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox), Volkswagen's remarkable electronic automated manual transmission.
EPA-estimated fuel economy figures for the R-Line powertrain climb to 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway using the manual shifter and 24/30 mpg (city/highway) with the DSG.
The Beetle R-Line rolls on 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and wears R-Line front and rear bumpers, foglights, gloss black exterior mirror housings, red-painted brake calipers and a rear spoiler. Inside the 4-seat cabin, the R-Line content extends to a leather-wrapped brake lever, pedals simulating aluminum-alloy caps, cloth sport seat upholstery, dashboard trim resembling carbon-fiber material, plus R-Line door sill kickplates.
All 2015 Beetle editions carry a front independent strut-type suspension with a lower control arm, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar. The rear suspension is an independent multi-link arrangement with coil springs, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar. The R-Line scores sport suspension tuning and a 23-mm front anti-roll bar.
Brakes consist of large discs (ventilated in front, solid at the rear) tied to smart electronic controls. All Beetles have an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) plus VW's anti-slip electronic stabilization control (ESC) program.
Volkswagen's 2015 Beetle line also includes the Beetle 1.8T and Beetle TDI.
Beetle 1.8T draws from a dual-cam turbo-charged and inter-cooled FSI 4-cylinder engine with 1.8-liter displacement. It produces 170 hp at 4800 rpm and torque of 184 lb-ft at 1500 rpm. Shifter choices are a 5-speed manual or 6-speed electronic automatic, with fuel economy figures for this powertrain achieving 24/33 mpg city/highway for the manual and 25/33 mpg city/highway for the automatic.
Beetle TDI packs a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that burns ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel and employs a common-rail direct injection (CDI) fuel system with electronically controlled turbo-charging to enhance engine power and torque. It feels vigorous and acts quickly, drawing on the full force of the engine's production of 150 hp peaking at 3500 rpm plus 236 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm.
Drop that short stick down a gear on the 6-speed manual transmission and that TDI torque surges from the shift to higher rpms. Or use the super-efficient twin-clutch and 6-speed DSG.
In general, cars equipped with diesel engines achieve better fuel economy figures than do vehicles with gasoline engines due to the higher energy content of diesel fuel and the overall efficiency of a diesel engine. For Beetle TDI, the fuel economy numbers rank high at 31/41 mpg city/highway for both manual and DSC transmissions.
Volkswagen's third-generation Beetle looks like some Teutonic giant sat on the second-generation New Beetle and squashed it into an aerodynamically enhanced, leaner and cleaner vehicle that's still unmistakably a Beetle but one with better proportions and less roly-poly cuteness.
It's almost muscular now, broad in the face with a tight-lipped mouth tucked below the body-colored front bumper and front fender flares that bulge to squared rims.
A longer and wider body for the third-generation Beetle creates a larger passenger compartment and an expanded cargo bay. Designers retained the 2+2 layout for seats -- a pair of buckets in front of a bench for two -- but cabin volume increases by 5 percent to 85 cubic feet with more legroom and shoulder space for front riders and, despite a dropped roofline, more headroom for backseat riders. The trunk measures to 15.4 cubic feet, but with the rear seatback folded down the space expands to almost 30 cubic feet.
Volkswagen lists MSRP numbers for the 2015 Beetle beginning at $20,470. The R-Line editions extend from $28,115 to $31,625.