- Modern update of the classic Beetle
- Nice vintage touches
- R-Line's turbo thrust
- Refined feel
- Low-buck interior
- Light on safety features
- Maybe should have been quirkier?
- Manual transmissions are gone
A versatile, retro throwback, the Volkswagen Beetle offers a decent value but not a lot of high-tech features... kind of like the original.
Yearning for the 1960s? The Volkswagen Beetle is (still) the car for you. This latest model is more macho and sporty than the last retro revamp from Volkswagen, but there's no denying that it trades on its retro heritage and its cheeky style.
Beneath the Beetle's pert look inside and out sits a rather ordinary hatchback that forces some compromises due to its relatively low roof and its tight back seat. We've scored it a 6.3 out of 10 overall. For 2017, the Beetle is available in S, SE, SEL, Dune, #PinkBeetle, and R-Line SEL trim levels. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
For 2017, the Beetle adds a new #PinkBeetle trim level (yes, that's a hashtag) and all models gain some styling updates outside. Additionally, there is no longer a manual transmission option for the Beetle in the United States.
Volkswagen Beetle styling and performance
The Beetle is sold as both a coupe and a convertible, both of which feature the same sleek, low-roof profile. Although the Beetle, in its current iteration has been on the market since 2012, its look remains distinctive and unique. There are some hints of Porsche 356 in there, which isn't an accident since the original Porsche was a cousin of the original Beetle back in the 1940s.
For 2017, the Beetle's front and rear bumpers have been revised, but it'll take someone very familiar with this VW hatchback to really spot the differences.
Inside, the retro theme continues, but not as overtly as we saw in the first reborn New Beetle nearly 20 years ago (has it really been that long?). There's no flower bud vase, but the dash itself is upright and features bold color hues on some models designed to mimic the original Bugs.
The Beetle offers two engine options. The base engine is a 1.8-liter turbo-4 that makes 170 horsepower, while the Beetle R-Line offers 210 hp from a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4. Very quietly, VW has dropped the standard manual transmission and left only 6-speed automatic gearboxes. The 1.8-liter model features a conventional automatic, while the R-Line utilizes a dual-clutch unit.
Underneath, the Beetle's platform and suspension are a little dated as they're shared with the last-generation Volkswagen Golf. Still, the Beetle rides and handles well, with precise steering and good control from the underpinnings. Even the R-Line comes up a little short in terms of sportiness, although its extra 40 hp does give it a more lively feel. The Beetle Dune may sit higher than the standard model, but any additional off-road ability is limited since it's still low to the ground and, like the rest of the lineup, it's front-wheel drive.
Volkswagen Beetle comfort, safety, and features
There's a lot more room in the current Beetle than in the classic model, but its low roof line and long doors do force some typical coupe compromises. The front seats are comfortable and supportive and are wrapped in cloth, leatherette, or real leather depending on the model. The upright dashboard, like the door panels, is attractive but composed of hard plastics. Then again, at around $21,000 for the base model, the Beetle's interior is about right for its price point.
Rear seat passengers will find tight accommodations and restrict ingress and egress, but that's what we expect with coupes. There are just two seat belts back there, so the Beetle is four-passenger vehicle. Cargo space is tight in the convertible, but the hardtop's folding second row of seats delivers good space for larger and bulkier items.
For 2017, VW has made its post-collision braking system standard, which holds the Beetle's brakes after it detects a wreck. But other than the expected range of airbags and stability control, the Beetle offers no collision avoidance tech. The Beetle has performed well in federal crash tests, but a "marginal" rating in the IIHS' small-overlap frontal test should raise some eyebrows.
Although the 2017 lineup has been pared back slightly, six Beetle coupe flavors and five Beetle Convertible choices are on offer. The S coupe starts around $21,000 and comes reasonably well-outfitted with alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, cloth seats, and an infotainment system with Bluetooth. The range-topping R-Line has its own suspension setting in addition to the upsized 2.0-liter engine.
The 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder scores 24 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined. The Beetle R-Line coupe has EPA ratings of 23/29/26 mpg.
2017 Volkswagen Beetle
VW has done a remarkably good job keeping the Beetle's retro looks fresh and relevant inside and out.
You've probably already made up your mind about the way the Volkswagen Beetle looks. We think it's aging well and that its hunchback Porsche 356 shape works well.
We've awarded it a couple of extra points for its exterior and one more for its interior, even though we realize that the Beetle isn't going to be for everyone. We score it an 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Whether or not you want to drive one, we can all pretty easily agree that the Beetle's lines are clean and attractive. Simple, straightforward, with a classic quality that hints at future timelessness, the Beetle's flattened arches and subtle flares could only fit one car.
We're particularly fond of the Circle wheels, which put the look of an old chrome hubcap on a modern alloy wheel.They're included on the SEL trim level. We're less enamored with the Dune, which tries to be the Subaru Outback of the Beetle world but comes across looking confused. The #PinkBeetle, meanwhile, is also a head-scratcher. While its pink paint is unique, it's definitely not meant for mainstream appeal.
The interior of the Beetle is simple and useful, a nod to its classic predecessor, while incorporating most of the modern digital tech you'd want. The dash itself is upright and punctuated with expanses of plastic painted to match the Beetle's exterior.
2017 Volkswagen Beetle
It's not as sporty as it purports to be, but the VW Beetle accelerates well and has a nice ride.
Despite is rather sporty looks, the Volkswagen Beetle isn't exactly a corner carver. Still, it offers decent acceleration and its suspension does a nice job of absorbing pavement imperfections.
We've given it two extra points, bringing it to a 7 out of 10 for its performance, but we wish that even the R-Line version was a little more sport-oriented than it is. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The base engine, which powers all models but the R-Line, is a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 rated at 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It can be had with only a 6-speed automatic for 2017. It's a smooth engine that delivers solid, if not exactly dragstrip-worthy, acceleration, and it mates well to the automatic.
Step up to the Beetle R-Line and you'll get a 210-hp, 207-lb-ft turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4. The extra power gives the R-Line noticeable pep and passing ability, but it still isn't quite what you'd call quick, despite the relatively light 3,050 or so pound curb weight. The automatic is a 6-speed dual-clutch, unlike the 1.8-liter's conventional gearbox, and it fires off faster shifts without feeling clunky like early versions of this transmission. Sadly, the 6-speed manual offered in the past is now gone.
In any form, the Beetle is comfortable and soft-seeming under normal conditions, but manages to corner well, with no undue body roll in more spirited outings. None of the controls—steering and brakes especially—offer much in the way of communication to the driver, however. And that's a shame, because this same platform underpinned the last Golf GTI, which was a real performance hatchback.
Convertible models are a bit less rigid and a touch heavier, but the experience isn't significantly changed, unless you put the top down. Then the Beetle's easy-going attitude makes even more sense.
2017 Volkswagen Beetle
Comfort & Quality
A tight back seat and so-so finishes detract from this retro-look interior.
As coupes go, the Beetle coupe and droptop force some compromises—but these are the kind of things that buyers should expect when shopping for something that emphasizes style above practicality.
We've deducted points for the Beetle's tight rear seat and for an interior that isn't exactly premium-feeling, but we do like the comfortable front seats. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Up front, both body styles are roomy and comfortable. Head, leg, and hip room are all good. Flat-bottomed, not-too-soft seats are easy to sit in for long drives, even in the slightly more bolstered R-Line. Controls for the seats, as well as the climate control and infotainment, are within easy reach for both the driver and front passenger.
The back row isn't very spacious. The seats are both narrower and far shorter than the front seats. Leg room is largely non-existent with the front seats in normal positions, making the Beetle a part-time four-seater at best. The rear seats make for a handy place to put things, however.
Elsewhere in the cabin, there are many small nooks available to stow smaller items, including the glove box, a dish on the dash, a bin ahead of the shifter, an armrest bin, and a so-called "kaeferfach" box. Despite the multitude of boxes and bins, each is relatively compact, limiting the length or thickness of items that can be stowed.
The coupe's trunk is 15.4 cubic feet, a healthy figure for a compact car. With the Beetle convertible you'll give up a bit of that space to stow the detachable wind guard, which attaches to the upper side of the trunk. The rear seats in hardtop Beetles fold and lay flat, expanding the cargo capacity to nearly 30 cubic feet.
The Beetle Convertible
A power-folding soft top keeps the Beetle Convertible relatively quiet when up, retracting smoothly to the open position in 9.5 seconds and closing in 11 seconds. The top will operate at speeds up to 31 mph. The convertible also gets a detachable wind guard that stows in the trunk and installs over the rear seats, so there is no plus-two action allowed with the guard in place. The guard is effective, reducing wind buffeting and noise, but it tends to wobble and vibrate in the wind.
Over-the-shoulder visibility is restricted by the roof, but it's no worse than most convertibles. Convertibles get a pass-through between the rear seats that helps extend their practicality for longer items like skis or boxes from Ikea.
On the road, the Beetle is on the noisy side of comfortable, regardless of roof. Wind, tire, and engine noise (especially in R-Line models) all contribute to a dull roar.
2017 Volkswagen Beetle
The Beetle doesn't offer all of the high-tech safety features, but its crash-test performances are good.
The Volkswagen Beetle comes standard with all the expected safety tech, but it doesn't go far beyond that.
We've given it an extra point for its five-star rating from the NHTSA, but its assessment is otherwise let down by the lack of advanced safety tech. It's a 6 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Beetle offers good visibility and its large rearview mirrors outside deliver excellent sight lines in traffic. The Beetle Convertible's view out the rear window is more compromised unless its top is down, which is pretty typical for convertibles.
Standard safety equipment on the Beetle includes the usual front, side, and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and active headrests designed to reduce the risk of whiplash in the event of a rear impact. A rearview camera is newly standard all models, while the SEL includes a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.
New last year was an automatic emergency braking system that applies the brakes when a collision is detected to reduce the possibility of a second impact and more damage. It's standard on all models.
The major testing agencies give decent marks to the Beetle coupe, but the NHTSA has not tested the convertible. The coupe scores five out of five stars overall with a four-star ratings in the frontal crash and rollover tests.
The IIHS gives the Beetle hardtop mostly top-tier scores, with top "Good" scores in all but the small overlap frontal crash test, where it scored just "Marginal."
2017 Volkswagen Beetle
VW now has a model with a hashtag in its name. For #reals.
Although VW has pared the Beetle's lineup, there are still a number of trim levels and a few option packages to pick from—plus an especially wide range of colors.
We've awarded the Beetle an extra point over average since the base S trim is well-equipped for around $21,000 for the coupe. It's a 6 out of 10 for its feature count. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Last year, VW made some big changes, and those mostly carry over for 2017. Regardless of top, Beetles come in S, SE, SEL, Dune, and #PinkBeetle configurations. Only the Beetle Coupe is offered as the sportier R-Line SEL (the lower-spec R-Line SE has been dropped).
The S model comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, automatic headlights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, cloth upholstery, a trip computer, manual seats with lumbar adjustments, a split-folding rear seat; a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake; Bluetooth, and a touchscreen infotainment system with a 5.0-inch touchscreen and a USB port.
All Beetle SE trims add with 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, heated front washer nozzles, leatherette seating surfaces, three-color ambient lighting, a rearview camera, voice control, an upgraded 6.3-inch touchscreen display with VW's Car-Net connected vehicle services (a host of apps linked to a user's smartphone), and satellite radio with a three-month trial subscription.
SEL trims come with 18-inch wheels, navigation, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, a panoramic sunroof (coupe), and keyless ignition. The R-Line SEL adds 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, leather seating surfaces, and a Fender audio system, plus a sport-tuned suspension and the 2.0-liter gas engine.
The Beetle Dune returns after being introduced last year. It's slightly taller and wider than the standard Beetle and it sports buff styling with 18-inch wheels in an attempt to rekindle the old Baja Bug. Both coupe and convertible versions are available, and despite the extra ground clearance, they're all front-wheel drive.
This year's addition is the new #PinkBeetle, which VW says was inspired by a California dealership that painted some of its Beetle inventory pink. Officially, the color is called Fresh Fuchsia Metallic, which we'll remind you isn't actually pink. But there are still plenty of fuchsia/pink highlights inside and out to make the model a little more interesting. Just 2,000 will be built, which seems like just enough to us.
VW doesn't offer many options, but a lighting package includes bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, and an LED rear license plate light. A Fender-branded audio system is also optional on lower line models.
2017 Volkswagen Beetle
It's not as thrifty as its predecessor, but the Beetle is reasonably fuel efficient.
Although the original Volkswagen Beetle was noted for its miserly performance, the latest model isn't quite as thrifty.
Still, the current Beetle actually has, you know, features and safety equipment, and it can get out of its own way. It scores a 7 out of 10, a figure we're applying to the higher-volume S, SE, SEL, and #PinkBeetle trim levels. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Here's a look at how the Beetle actually tells a three-prong fuel economy story.
The mainstream models come in at 24 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined. The taller-riding Beetle Dune has the same engine and transmission as the S, SE, SEL, and #PinkBeetle, but its ground clearance means that highway fuel economy suffers. It's rated using the EPA test at 24/31/27 mpg.
Then there's the R-Line, which has a larger engine that, predictably, gulps fuel at a faster rate: 23/29/26 mpg.
Frankly, those aren't great numbers, but we've typically seen better-than-advertised figures from VW's 1.8-liter engine.
Also, Beetle Convertibles are rated the same as their coupe siblings.