New & Used Volkswagen Beetle: In Depth
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The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the best-selling and most recognizable nameplates in the world. With a history going on 75 years now, the Beetle has emerged in two distinct eras--the Bugs of the pre-1998 era, and the completely new Beetles that were inspired by the original, but based on Golf running gear.
Today's Golf was introduced in 2012 as the successor for the first Golf-based Beetle, which VW dubbed the New Beetle, in honor of its completely new architecture.
While the New Beetle was an obvious update to the beloved original, it differed in several very important ways. The New Beetle used a water-cooled engine up front, powering the front wheels, while the classic Bug had an air-cooled engine in back driving the rear axle. The New Beetle also shared many parts with the Audi A4 and VW Passat of the time. Its shape and details like the dash-mounted bud vase provided the character of the old car, easily setting it apart from its low-cost contemporaries.
For 2006, Volkswagen phased out the four-cylinder engines and introduced the 170-hp, 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder engine, with a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. This engine was reasonably strong and worked well with the automatic transmission, though it didn't feel as sporty and eager as the turbo four that preceded it. In any of these New Beetle models, ride quality was quite smooth. Turbo S models were among the sportiest, but otherwise handling wasn't particularly inspiring.
In Coupes, back seat space was too cramped for adults but good enough for a couple of smaller kids. Convertible models, introduced for 2003, have slightly less backseat space but a well-configured, triple-layer electric soft top; in its later years, New Beetle Convertibles have made sense long after the Coupes have seemed dated, as the open-top versions make great cruisers and are an affordable upgrade to the Sebrings and Solaras that are so common in rental fleets.
The design of the New Beetle changed very little over the years and, many feel it didn't age well. What's more, VW squeezed out a little more of the feature content each year, meaning that many of the features once offered on the Beetle—including leather upholstery, fog lamps, and rain-sensing wipers—simply vanished. Special-edition models followed special trim and color schemes, as well as flashy wheels, though these models didn't offer many additional features. Over the years, the Beetle's crash-test scores were lackluster. For 2010, the Final Edition New Beetle offered special paintwork and unique-to-the-model 17-inch wheels, as well as standard electronic stability control and fog lamps.
The new VW Beetle
Today's VW Beetle carries its engine in the front, powering the front wheels--unlike the original, which used a clattery but reliable air-cooled flat-four engine at the rear, driving the rear wheels. Like the previous New Beetle before it, the underpinnings come from the VW Golf and Jetta models, despite the very different bodywork. Compared to the long-lived New Beetle, the completely revamped 2012 Beetle adopts a new look that's flatter, a bit more aggressive, and a bit larger than before. Its more muscular stance comes from an additional 3 inches of width.
The VW Beetle today is aimed at a specific market segment. It's also more complicated and pricier than the original, meaning it's less about cheap and cheerful transportation than a "lifestyle car" whose owners prize attitude, style, and perhaps even whimsy. It doesn't compete any longer with higher-volume, boxier, more practical, lower-cost alternatives that can be found everywhere. The Beetle competes with a variety of such cars, from the legendary Ford Mustang coupe all the way down to high-design minicars like the MINI Cooper and Fiat 500 lines. All those competitors, it should be noted, offer both a coupe and a cloth-roofed convertible in their lineups.
The 2013 Beetle Convertible and Coupe share the same powertrain options, giving the Convertible the distinction of being the sole diesel-powered droptop for sale in the U.S. this year. Its soft top is power-operated and can be opened or closed in under 10 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph. The full range of engines includes a 170-horsepower five-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission powering the front wheels, and a turbocharged 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter four (2.0T) with a choice of manual or dual-clutch automatics available.
Then there's the 140-hp 2.0-liter TDI diesel that joined the family a few months later; it's the highest efficiency Beetle, rated at up to 41 mpg highway. It's since been replaced for the 2015 model year with a new turbodiesel with roughly the same output, but a newer design.
Compared to the New Beetle, the current car's interior is decidedly less quirky, if no less well designed. The dash-mounted bud vase is gone, making the car a bit more gender-neutral, and VW has brought back the double-decker glovebox of the original car. All of the controls are well laid out within a pleasing and mildly retro design. And the current car is plenty of fun to bop through traffic in or let loose on a two-lane. The exterior design means it's hard for some to find the ends of the car, but it's a tidy size that's easy to judge all the same, and forward visibility has been improved in this generation.Today's Beetle continues the tradition of special-edition models, though. Along with the Convertible's launch in 2013, Volkswagen announced a range of decades-inspired design and styling packages, with themes from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. They were offered only for a limited time. The Beetle also offers heritage-design wheels, which look like steel wheels with shiny hubcaps but are in fact alloys with domed centers.