2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI: First Drive

April 17, 2012
Forget for a few minutes about your urge to make the absolute smartest fiscal choice. Yes, the economics of diesel ownership often take many, many years to work out as positive. Yes, diesels, as in the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI, do generally cost thousands more initially; and yes, diesel fuel across the U.S. costs more than gasoline.

Now let that go—after all, if you were going for the lowest costs, you probably wouldn't be looking at a more fashionable vehicle like the Beetle. That hurdle dismissed, we'd surely pick VW's TDI version of the latest Beetle over the base car—and probably over the Beetle Turbo we just drove a few weeks ago.

If there was one engine that best fit the character of the first-generation (New) Beetle, it was the TDI diesel four that was offered in the New Beetle through the 2006 model year. Unlike the original base gasoline four- or five-cylinder engines in the Beetle, it had a relaxed, torquey character, a relatively narrow rev range, and just a bit of mechanical noise to both remind us of the original air-cooled Beetles and be satisfying on its own.

The 2013 Beetle TDI, which won't be out until later this summer, will get the latest version of VW's 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder, making 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. And like the 2.0T gasoline engine, it will be hooked up to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG (dual-clutch) automated manual gearbox (not the five-speed manual or conventional automatic of the base five-cylinder Beetle models). In recent years, in Jetta, Golf, Passat, and even the Audi A3, we've found this engine to be both a perky performer and almost incredibly economical.

So it's not surprising that in the 2013 Beetle the engine delivers a tremendously strong kick of torque, from standstill, along with a turbine-like whoosh of passing power, most of the time without the need even to downshift, at highway speeds. Plus, as we experienced on some two-lane stretches around Half Moon Bay, California, the TDI takes well to being revved and driven hard in the same way as you would a gasoline engine if the spirit strikes you.

Handling feels about the same as that of the Beetle Turbo we'd recently driven (if a slight bit heavier in front), with rather quick-ratio steering and a light feel, as well as much crisper response than we ever expected from the former New Beetle. Part of the appeal of this package is that when you're not in the mood to downshift, you can simply let that wave of torque take you confidently out of one corner and on to the next. Ride quality was great; there's really no shudder at idle or excessive noise when you rev it; and interior appointments were as we've described for the 2012 VW Beetle models that are otherwise out at dealerships now.

Economical operation is of course part of that story, as much as we're trying not to make it the only story here. EPA ratings for the latest Beetle TDI ring in at 29 mpg city, 39 highway. While those city ratings are about what you'll see in shorter trips or urban commutes, we have a long history of seeing much higher real-world highway results in TDI models compared to their EPA ratings—so don't think 45 mpg is out of the question. In about 30 miles of some of the hardest, worst-case-scenario driving the TDI might encounter, we averaged about 25 mpg

Interestingly, while we drove the 2013 Beetle TDI, we don't yet have a price for it. VW officials confirmed that we can expect the TDI to fit into the lineup in the same way it did when it was last sold in the U.S., and in the same way it's positioned in some of VW's current model lines (above the base engine, but just below the turbo)—so count starting prices in the low to mid twenties.

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