Much-improved interior layout, but trims could be better
Inside, the same glossy black contrast is echoed in the upper door trim as well as in the steering wheel, but the execution isn't nearly as solid. The glossy carbon-fiber facing across the dash looked okay visually from some angles, but it felt unsatisfying in combination with the hard plastics of the rest of the dash. Additionally, the Beetle gets a sort of simplified, dumbed-down screen interface compared to what's offered in the GTI, and we noticed that the matte-plastic materials around the climate, nav, and audio controls seemed prone to showing greasy fingerprints.
Thankfully though, in going to that upright layout, VW has gotten rid of the silly, vast expanse of plastic (the top of the dash) that would lay between the driver and the windshield in former New Beetle models.
Volkswagen has rolled out what's probably the Beetle's manliest personality from the start—that's the Beetle Turbo model, with the familiar 200-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four, making 207 pound-feet. That engine continues to churn out the torque at low rpms (except from standstill, where there's a measured pause to gather steam) and rev pretty responsively and smoothly up the rev range—with only a hint of lag. Volkswagen's usually excellent dual-clutch, automated manual DSG gearbox responded decisively to full-throttle acceleration, but it felt less fleet-footed in transitions, and uncertain when we suddenly went halfway into the throttle. The shifter's Sport mode seemed to introduce different shift points but didn't remedy the indecision. In the end, we couldn't tell if the difference was due to the Beetle's seemingly tall gear ratios or because VW might have dialed the unit's software-driven controls more to the conservative side.
Confident, responsive, more of a driver's car
The Beetle handles like what it is—a heavy but sporty and well-tuned front-wheel-drive coupe. Crisp, quick-ratio steering provides a confident, responsive feel—especially through the thick, flat-bottom steering wheel—with a firm but absorbent enough ride to match. The only surprise comes when you really push the Beetle hard into a corner and its springs prove a little softer than you might have expected; but on the bright side, the Beetle has the GTI's more sophisticated multi-link rear setup. Even though the GTI's tune still feels somewhat sharper, the Beetle does well putting on a front in this respect.
It's not all that fuel-efficient, though. EPA ratings are 22 mpg city, 30 highway, and we saw about 23 miles per gallon over 140 miles of driving in mixed conditions ranging from short-trip stop-and-go to a couple freeway blasts to the suburbs and back. In all fairness, none of it included much steady-speed cruising. Efficiency-minded shoppers should hold out for the TDI Beetle that's on the way later this year.
The back seat is still very much a 2+2. At 6'-6”, I started to wedge myself back there and then aborted, realizing it simply wasn't going to happen. In front though, there's much to love about the Beetle. Its driving position feels a little more upright this time around, with a good view outward in most directions—although rearward visibility is still a little challenging at times. Seats are sized to fit the 99 percent, and they include mild bolstering that should keep skinny drivers in place but not get in the way for wider proportions.
Still lacking some practicality
Cargo space is truly a weakness of the Beetle design. The body narrows at the back, and combined with wheel-well space it really pinches the space, width-wise; what's more, the enclosure for the available Fender premium sound system cuts further into the space so that you end up with a trunk that might not fit some large suitcases, in any direction.