Pros: Plenty of power; distinctive looks; confident highway ride; optional convertible soft-top; great TDI fuel economy.
Cons: So-so fuel economy with the gasoline engines; so-so handling; not VW's nicest interior.
What's New: The Beetle can be equipped with the TDI turbodiesel engine for 2013, and the drop-top Beetle Cabriolet launches midway through the model year. Also, the musically inclined Fender Edition makes its debut, and bi-Xenon headlights are now available.
The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle might no longer have a flower vase on its dashboard, but it's still immediately recognizable as a descendant of the hippie-tastic Bug. The shiny standard wheels are even modeled after the Bug's wheels from decades ago. Under the surface, though, the Beetle shares most of its parts with humdrum Volkswagens like the Golf and Jetta. So here's the question: Is the Beetle a good car in its own right, or just a cynical exercise in nostalgia?
Let's review the evidence. In the Beetle's favor, there's a new Cabriolet model for 2013 that's VW's first stateside convertible since the forgettable Eos appeared. Affordable and fun, the Beetle Cabriolet is a legitimately appealing option for a wide range of sun worshippers. The excellent TDI turbodiesel engine is also new for 2013, giving the Beetle the same well-rounded engine lineup as the Golf/GTI.
On the other hand, the Beetle's interior isn't as nice as the Golf's, which makes do with middling plastics that remind us more of the Jetta sedan's chintzy cabin. Moreover, rear passenger space in the hatchback is compromised by glass that slopes forward for purely cosmetic reasons. If quality and practicality are what you're after, the Golf is a more compelling choice.
But if you're reading this review, you're likely drawn to the Beetle's iconic styling. In that case, here's how we suggest thinking it through. The Beetle does give you most of the Golf's fundamental goodness, and it packages those virtues in a uniquely eye-catching wrapper. In other words, your inner flower child should be quite charmed by the 2013 Beetle, even if you'll have to leave the real flowers in your hair this time around.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle is available in three basic trim levels defined by engine: 2.5L, TDI and Turbo. Each trim gets a few different optional packages, which we'll explain below.
The 2.5L comes standard with classic hubcap-style 17-inch alloy wheels, leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, manual front seats with height adjustment, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, a trip computer and an 8-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input and iPod connectivity.
The 2.5L Sunroof package adds, you guessed it, a sunroof, plus a multifunction steering wheel, a touchscreen stereo display with HD radio, satellite radio and keyless entry with push-button ignition. The 2.5L Sunroof, Sound and Navigation package tacks on 18-in alloys, a navigation system and a 9-speaker Fender audio system.
The TDI's equipment range is similar to that of the 2.5L. The base TDI starts with the 2.5L's standard equipment and adds different 17-in alloy wheels, extra chrome trim, keyless entry with push-button ignition, the multifunction steering wheel, and satellite radio. The TDI Sunroof package adds the sunroof and touchscreen stereo interface with HD radio. The TDI Sunroof, Sound and Navigation package includes the navigation system and Fender stereo, but it keeps the standard 17-in alloys, whereas the 2.5L with this package gets 18-inchers.
The base Turbo model starts with the 2.5L's features and adds sportier 18-in alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, bigger brakes, an independent rear suspension, aluminum-look pedals, sport seats with cloth upholstery and the Cross Differential System, which modulates the inside front brake to minimize wheel spin in hard cornering. The Turbo's packages are similar to the 2.5L's, except the Turbo Sunroof, Sound and Navigation package includes 19-in alloy wheels, bi-Xenon headlights and leather upholstery.
Select Beetle models are eligible for the Fender Edition treatment, highlighted by distinctive 18-in alloy wheels, metallic black paint, bi-Xenon headlights, chrome exterior mirrors, sunburst dashboard trim inspired by Fender's iconic guitars and color-contrasting interior seams.
The Beetle's standard front seats offer VW's familiar firm support on longer drives, though they don't do much to hold you in place around corners. The Turbo's sport seats are a marked improvement. The standard tilt-telescopic steering wheel and height-adjustable seat help accommodate drivers of various sizes, though the wheel may not telescope out far enough for tall folks.
Poking around the Beetle's interior, we noticed generally nicer materials than in the cut-rate Jetta, though the Golf is still the winner here. At least the dashboard can be dressed up with body-color (or Fender-color) inserts, which are a must when you're competing against MINI and FIAT. VW is very proud of the Beetle Turbo's standard Kaeferfach (Beetle bin) glovebox, a heritage feature with an upward-opening door that reminds us of an inverted toaster oven. The Turbo also gets a bank of three secondary gauges atop the dashboard, evoking Nissan's 370Z.
The Beetle's 2-person back seat is certainly more usable than the FIAT's or MINI's, but headroom in the hatchback (or with the convertible top in place) is naturally limited by the sloping rear roofline. Cargo space for the hatchback is a decent 15.4 cu-ft in the trunk, but maximum capacity is just 29.9 cu-ft with the rear seatbacks flipped forward--that's not very much, especially given the Beetle isn't really a small car. Cabriolet cargo capacity had not been released as of this writing.
The Beetle's standard iPod and Bluetooth connectivity is a nice touch at this price point, though we'd like to see more than just a basic 3.5-mm auxiliary input for the entry-level stereo. Note that VW doesn't provide a USB port, so folks who are used to connecting their tunes via USB will have to adjust. The touchscreen stereo helps matters somewhat with its standard SD-card reader, allowing you to put all your MP3s onto an SD card and enjoy the touchscreen's excellent interface for navigating through music folders.
As for the available navigation system, we've found it to be quite intuitive, and we appreciate that the system can be operated while the car's in motion, allowing your front passenger to navigate while you drive. The screen is rather small, though, and the system is SD-based, so it lacks the hard-drive music storage of VW/Audi's fancier navigation systems.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Beetle 2.5L is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-5 rated at 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. The transmission options are a 5-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic. You'll read plenty of criticism about this engine elsewhere, but we're fans of its healthy midrange torque and distinctive 5-cylinder growl. The Beetle's all about character, and so is the quirky inline-5.
The Beetle TDI features a 2.0-liter turbodiesel inline-4 rated at 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. All that torque is available practically from a standstill, so the TDI feels faster than it really is, especially when you're squirting from stoplight to stoplight. As a bonus, this motor is so quiet and smooth that your passengers likely won't even know it's a diesel. The transmission choices here are a 6-speed manual and a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual known as DSG.
If speed is a priority, the Turbo's 200-hp, 2.0-liter inline-4 is the winner. This is the same engine that powers the GTI hot hatch, so the Beetle Turbo has plenty of sauce to compete with the FIAT 500 Abarth and MINI Cooper S. You can't go wrong with either the smooth-shifting 6-speed manual or the lightning-quick, 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
Fuel economy is where the gasoline-powered Beetles falter relative to their compact competition. The 2.5L gets 22-mpg city/31-mpg highway with the manual, and 22/29 mpg with the automatic, while the Turbo is rated at 21/30 with the stick shift and 22/30 with the automated manual. The TDI, however, is a mpg maestro, checking in at 28/41 with the stick and 29/39 with the auto-manual. Expect incrementally worse fuel efficiency from the Cabriolet.
The Beetle comes with 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and four airbags (front and full-length side curtain). Note that the Turbo's front brake discs are slightly larger.
In government crash testing, the Beetle received four stars out of five overall, including four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts.
Although the Beetle 2.5L and TDI come with a cost-effective torsion-beam rear suspension that's similar to the Jetta's, there's nothing crude about the way they drive. Bumps are soaked up with unusual grace by economy-car standards, while the handling is respectable, if not exactly athletic. The Turbo borrows its more sophisticated independent rear suspension from the Golf, but unless you're cornering fast enough to activate the Cross Differential System, you'll only notice a real difference if you specify the optional sport suspension. Even then, the Beetle Turbo can't match the agility of a MINI, but it compensates with a supple ride and extraordinary high-speed composure.
Other Cars to Consider
Volkswagen Golf/GTI - The Golf and GTI come standard with independent rear suspensions, and their interiors are superior in terms of both quality and spaciousness.
Fiat 500 Abarth - The turbocharged version of the 500 has a seriously memorable exhaust note, and there's enough power on tap to keep up with the Beetle Turbo.
MINI Cooper S - Still the sports car of this group, the MINI Cooper S boasts a phenomenal combination of acceleration, fuel economy and handling.
The base Beetle Turbo is a surprisingly good deal, undercutting the GTI's starting price by a healthy margin. If you're sold on the Beetle's styling, this is a great way to get GTI-grade performance with a special shape.