The Volkswagen Beetle was completely redesigned for 2012. For 2013, Beetle convertible joins the lineup.
As with the coupe, the 2013 Beetle convertible is longer, lower and wider than the New Beetle, which is what we called the old one that was phased out after the 2010 model year. Today's Beetle has a roomier interior than did the pre-2012 models, with more headroom, legroom and shoulder room. It feels like a capsule inside than it did before.
Front legroom is plentiful, but the Beetle coupe's rear seat has just 31.4 inches of legroom, which is 1.9 inches less than the subcompact Toyota Yaris, on a wheelbase that's 1.1 inches longer. Still, two adult passengers will fit back there; they just sit rather upright.
The rear hatch area of the Beetle coupe is spacious at 15.4 cubic feet. With the rear seat folded, the coupe has nearly 30 cubic feet of cargo space, and the high-swinging hatchback enables giant things to fit inside, making the coupe handy for hauling. The Beetle convertible has a trunk with only 7.1 cubic feet of space.
The Beetle seats and trim are neat but not fancy. The bucket seats are simple and comfortable, with excellent bolstering.
Instrumentation is so clean it's memorable for its rarity. In the center of the big clear speedometer there's a multi-function digital display, accessed with a flick of the driver's right thumb, scrolling a small wheel on the steering wheel. All of the trip computer information you need to know is right there, almost automatically without thinking or searching for it. It makes for safe driving.
The 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine, with an iron block and dual overhead cams, carries on, delivering 170 horsepower. Torque is 177 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. Acceleration with the 2.5-liter engine is adequate, and 75 mph on the freeway is smooth and mostly effortless.
A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a 6-speed automatic transmission optional. The automatic did not wow us. The automatic has manual shift capability, but it's done with side-to-side movements using the lever. It's better than nothing, but it's not racy. The manual gearbox is satisfying and gives the car pep when accelerating. We recommend the manual.
A 2.0-liter Turbo model is also available that comes with a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automated manual that VW calls a DSG for Direct Shift Gearbox. The Turbo also has sportier suspension tuning. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque at a low 1700 rpm, and it gets about the same fuel mileage as the 2.5-liter engine although on more expensive Premium gasoline. It's hot, with acceleration not far behind a Mini Cooper S.
Also available is the TDI turbocharged direct-injection diesel engine, which delivers jaw-dropping torque and fuel mileage on the far side of 40 mpg. The 2.0-liter turbodiesel delivers 236 pound-feet of torque. Torque is that powerful force you feel propelling you from intersections and the diesel has a lot of it. The TDI engine has been used successfully for some time in the Golf and Jetta models and is well-proven. It's clean and runs quietly.
Coupe or convertible, the Beetle chassis is rigid and the body solid, with subframes front and rear, supporting the suspensions. VW did a lot of work to make the convertible impressively rigid.
The base coupe uses a torsion beam rear suspension, but the Beetle Turbo and all convertibles use a more sophisticated multi-link, for a higher threshold of cornering. The freeway ride in the base coupe doesn't suffer for the torsion beam. It's comfortable and consistent. Potholes don't hurt, but rough pavement can make the rear end of the coupe want to dance. The other models are more composed over rough pavement.
Today's Beetle is more dynamic and muscular than the pre-2012 models. It's not quite as cute and feminine, but it is just as identifiable as it's ever been. The coupe's coefficient of drag is 0.37, a good number that still lags behind some competitors, and reveals the legacy of a round bug. The Beetle convertible comes in at a close 0.38 Cd. The 2012 Honda Civic, by comparison, slips in under 0.32. (A lower number is better.)
Looking head-on at the Beetle, it's wide and chubby enough that the lines are actually horizontal. A narrow black mouth under the bumper spans the face like a pinched grin, under perky headlamps like eyes, and a hood seam that seems to define a wide nose, having one chrome nostril with VW in it.
At profile, the good-looking roofline is like a stylish tight arc, reminiscent of the 2005 concept car called the Ragster, which had the look of a chopped-top hot rod.
The wheel cutouts are perfect semi-circles dropping down toward the pavement. In contrast to the smooth curves of sheet metal everywhere else, the fender flares have squared edges, offering contrasting definition to the shape.
The Beetle coupe might be called a hatchback. The rear gate is massive. You could probably load a refrigerator in there, a short one anyway. VW had to make no compromises to the car's shape for the utility of cargo loading. When the hatch is closed, it flows invisibly into the car's roundness.
The convertible, on the other hand, has a trunk that sits below the hold for the convertible soft top. The top opens in just 9.5 seconds and closing in 11 at speeds up to 31 mph. A leatherette top boot cleans up the look, but most people won't use it.
We take pleasure in saying that every control is easy to access and understand, making driving a joy because you can think about driving. It's like the old bug, in a welcome way.
Volkswagen does gauges well, and the Beetle's are super clean. There's a big speedometer in the center, insanely optimistic at 160 mph, with organic white numbers and red needles. A small tach sits to the left of the speedo, balanced on the right by a big analog fuel gauge. The TDI has an additional instrument pod with oil temperature and turbo boost gauges, plus a stopwatch.
In the center of the speedo VW provides a multi-function digital display. It is accessed with a flick of the driver's right thumb, scrolling a small wheel on the steering wheel. Everything you need to know is right there, almost automatically without thinking or searching for it. It makes for safe driving.
The base radio is excellent. A big screen tells you what's playing. Big dials and buttons are easy to reach, and you can spin through the many satellite stations. You can get in this car for a first time and easily tune the radio. We're guessing that we can only do that with maybe one out of every three or four cars we test nowadays. We used to blame this complexity on German thinking, but the Beetle disproves that.
However, VW has two other touchscreen radios that aren't so easy to use, one with a navigation system and one without. The graphics are quite attractive, and the layout is pretty simple, but we found the system to be slow to react at times, making the navigation functions especially frustrating on occasion. Despite the screen, VW does not offer a rearview camera.
There's a decent amount of room inside the 2013 Beetle, 85 cubic feet in the coupe, 81.4 in the convertible. Rear headroom, and front legroom and shoulder room are greater than in the New Beetle, so it doesn't feel so much like a capsule.
Front legroom is plentiful, and with the Beetle's standard tilt-telescope steering wheel, drivers of all sizes can fit with no problem. The bucket seats are comfortable with excellent bolstering.
The two doors are wide, and the front seats flop forward easily, so access to the rear seat is good, especially in the convertible. But it's not so roomy in the rear, with just 31.4 inches of legroom, which is 1.9 inches less than the subcompact Toyota Yaris, despite the Beetle being nearly 14 inches longer. However, that excess length is mostly overhang; the Beetle wheelbase is only 1.1 inches longer than the Yaris. We found that a pair of adults can fit back there, but they sit bolt upright, so long trips will become uncomfortable. Kids will have plenty of space. The backseat accommodates only two, not three.
The coupe's trunk has a spacious 15.4 cubic feet of cargo space, and with the 60/40 rear seat folded, there's a vast 29.9 cubic feet behind the front seats. The rear trunk lid is like a hatchback or wide liftgate, so larger boxes will fit inside. We were astounded when our Beetle swallowed three huge boxes from Harbor Freight. With the dear old VW bug, there would have been no way, for even one of them. The convertible, on the other hand, has only 7.1 cubic feet of space in a small trunk instead of a hatch. Thankfully, the convertible top doesn't intrude on trunk space when folded down and VW still provides fold-down rear seats.
That convertible top works very well. It lowers in just 9.5 seconds and raises in 11, and there is no need to pull a lever or secure a latch. The top can be operated at speeds up to 31 mph. It fits tight, too, with little wind buffeting on the road. VW offers a wind blocker for use when the top is down, but it's only sold as an accessory. It features a smart design that folds and stows away out of the way in a slot at the top of the turnk.
With either the coupe or the convertible, the Beetle has good visibility out the front and rear, even with the low roof and high beltline. And it's a quiet ride. The base engine is smooth for a five-cylinder and the other two engines are even smoother.
Volkswagen says that some of the interior colors and shapes harken back to the original Beetle. For example the extra glovebox, called the kaeferfach or Beetle bin. We also like the old school simplicity of the control layout.
In the small convenience department, VW provides a big flat cubby on the dash, a small cubby forward of the shift lever, and a coin cubby and shallow console under the flip-up armrest between the seats. There are also two cupholders, and door pockets with elastic straps that are a bit lame.
As with any new design today, the Beetle's chassis is rigid and the body solid, with subframes front and rear, supporting the suspension. The same torsion beam rear suspension as the old New Beetle and the recently redesigned Jetta is used in the base coupe, and Volkswagen does a good job with this technology that some might call ancient. However, the Beetle Turbo and all convertibles use a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, for a higher threshold of cornering and better bump absorption.
The freeway ride in the Beetle coupe doesn't suffer for the torsion beam. It's comfortable and consistent. Potholes don't hurt, but rough pavement can make the rear end of the car want to dance.
Most new cars are going to electric power steering nowadays because it improves fuel economy. The Beetle uses hydraulic assist for its rack and pinion in base 2.5L models, but switches to electric assist in Turbos and TDIs. If we didn't know the steering was hydraulic in some models and electric in others, we wouldn't be able to tell the difference. In any model, the steering is direct and predictable, with decent road feel. VW seems to be programming its electric power steering better than most manufacturers. Whether hydraulic or electric power steering, the ratio is the same tight 16.3:1.
The base Beetle can handle some fairly aggressive driving, but it has its limitations in the twisties. If sporty handling is what you want, the Beetle Turbo's stiffer suspension and multi-link rear suspension help it hug the road better and rotate more willingly through turns.
The same goes for the Beetle convertible. Despite the loss of the top, the body structure is still impressively solid. That's because VW took several measures to improve rigidity, including adding a central plate in the front roof crossmember, ultra-high strength steel tubing between the B pillars, more sheetmetal in the lower body sidemembers, and an extra rear panel made of high strength steel that also houses the pop-up rollbars. VW also used a thicker interior bar in the front pillars. All of this work makes the Beetle convertible very solid for a ragtop, with little cowl shake and body quake over bumps. It's much more rigid than we expected, offering handling that is a close match for the coupe. That's a credit to Volkswagen.
There isn't a loser among the Beetle's three engines, though the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine is in line to be replaced fairly soon. This transversely mounted, cast-iron block engine makes 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to a 5-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic with a manual mode.
Acceleration performance is adequate, with 0 to 60 mph coming in about nine seconds, and 75 mph on the freeway is smooth and mostly effortless. The engine is a little buzzy, and fuel economy is good, but not great.
For the best fuel mileage in your 2.5L, the manual transmission is EPA-rated higher than the automatic, at 22 City/31 Highway, vs. 22/29 mpg for the automatic (21/27 for the convertible, which comes only with the automatic). We landed in the middle, at 24.5 mpg with the automatic, running about 200 miles on both the freeway and around-town.
We were not wowed by the automatic transmission. It lacks steering wheel shift paddles. Instead, drivers can shift manually by moving the gearshift side to side, which is better than nothing, but it won't inspire boy racers. The manual transmission is more satisfying, and it picks up the car's acceleration, particularly from 0 to 60.
If you want outstanding fuel economy, go for the TDI with its 2.0-liter turbodiesel, which is EPA rated as high as 28 City/41 Highway. Horsepower is modest at 140, but this engine makes 236 pound-feet of torque. It's a proven commodity, as it is used in the Jetta and Golf TDI. It comes either with a manual transmission or VW's double-clutch DSG automatic manual transmission. The TDI will deliver the most fuel mileage by far, while providing similar acceleration numbers as the 2.5.
The 2.0-liter turbo with the DSG transmission is the hot rod, but it offers refined sportiness and it isn't as agile as the GTI. It's a boost thing, and balance thing. The Beetle Turbo is heavier, doesn't handle as well, and its DSG is programmed relatively wish-washy. But that doesn't mean it's still not a lot sportier than the 2.5L Beetle, and more fun. Acceleration is considerably snappier, with 0 to 60 mph arriving in about 6.5 seconds. If what you want first is a Beetle and then sportiness, the Beetle 2.0T works.
In general, we like the DSG. It snaps off pretty quick shifts, and when pushed hard in the Turbo, lets out a cool little rasp between gears. It can, however, sometimes feel a bit slushy, making it a bit of a risk to pull out in front of traffic. Overall, we like it better the harder we drive the car.
The 2013 Beetle wins in almost every area. It's smooth, quiet, comfortable, economical, and fast enough to flow with traffic. Instrumentation and controls are beautifully simple. Rear legroom is tight, but access is easy. The hatchback and fold-down rear seats create huge cargo space, and the convertible offers open-air fun for four. For performance there's the Beetle Turbo, and for fuel mileage the diesel-powered Beetle TDI. The Beetle offers something for everyone who likes its retro-cool styling.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses reported from the Pacific Northwest on the Beetle, with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago on the Beetle convertible.