The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle may no longer have a flower vase on its dashboard, but it's still immediately recognizable as a descendant of the hippie-inspired 1960s 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 workaday Volkswagens such as 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?
Fortunately, the answer is that the Beetle is a blast. It gives you most of the Golf's fundamental goodness and it packages those virtues in a uniquely eye-catching wrapper, particularly if you opt for the Convertible model. In other words, your inner flower child should be quite charmed by the 2014 Beetle, even if you'll have to leave the real flowers in your hair this time around.
What's New for 2014?
The 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder engine goes the way of the dodo, replaced by a perky, fuel-efficient 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder; the limited-edition, performance-themed GSR model bows; last year's Turbo lineup receives 10 extra horsepower and is now known as R-Line; a new telematics suite called Car-Net debuts; all 2014 gasoline engines can run on the E15 ethanol blend.
What We Like
Plenty of power; distinctive looks; confident highway ride; optional convertible soft-top; great TDI fuel economy
What We Don't
So-so fuel economy with the gasoline engines; limited rear headroom; not VW's nicest interior
To be determined
The front-wheel-drive 2014 Beetle starts with a peppy 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine rated at 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Official fuel-economy ratings were unavailable as of this writing, but VW predicts "significantly better" numbers than the discontinued 5-cylinder engine's 22 miles per gallon city/31 mpg highway.
The Beetle TDI features a robust 2-liter turbodiesel inline-4 rated at 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The diesel Beetle is an mpg maestro, checking in at 28 mpg city/41 mpg hwy with the manual transmission and 29 mpg city/39 mpg hwy with the 6-speed DSG automated manual.
Previously known as the Turbo, the Beetle R-Line features a new 2-liter turbocharged gasoline 4-cylinder that cranks out a healthy 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The DSG transmission returns 24 mpg city/30 mpg hwy, an increase of 2 city mpg over last year; expect roughly the same from the 6-speed manual. The coupe-only, limited-edition GSR shares the R-Line's powertrain options.
Note that fuel economy may suffer slightly in Convertible models.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle is available in three trim levels distinguished by engine: base (1.8-liter turbo), TDI (diesel) and R-Line (2-liter turbo). Each trim has a few different optional packages that we'll explain below.
The base model 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 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 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, except it lacks the Sunroof package. The TDI starts with the base model'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, Sound and Navigation package includes the navigation system and Fender stereo, but it keeps the standard 17-in alloys, whereas the base model with this package has 18-inchers.
The sporty R-Line boasts 19-in alloy wheels, revised front and rear bumpers, bigger brakes, an independent rear suspension with optional sport-tuning, exclusive kick plates and R-Line badges, 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 R-Line with the Sunroof, Sound and Navigation package includes the features previously listed for this package plus 19-in alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights and leather upholstery.
The limited-edition GSR, which shares the R-Line's turbo engine, is highlighted by retro-inspired yellow and black exterior paint, a large rear spoiler, 19-in wheels, black-painted brake calipers, a yellow and black interior layout, a GSR shift lever and a badge on the steering wheel with the production number (one through 3,500).
Newly available for 2014, VW's Car-Net connected services include crash notification, roadside assistance, stolen-vehicle location, remote vehicle access, vehicle health reports and boundary and speed alerts, all accessed via a nifty smartphone app.
The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle comes with 4-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes and four airbags (front and full-length side-curtain). Note that the R-Line's (and GSR'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.
Behind the Wheel
The 2014 Beetle's interior uses nicer materials than that of the cut-rate Jetta, though the Golf is still the winner here. At least the dashboard can be dressed up with body-color inserts (or metallic ones on the R-Line), which is a must when you're competing against MINI and Fiat. VW is very proud of the R-Line's standard Kaeferfach (Beetle bin) glove box, a heritage feature with an upward-opening door that reminds us of an inverted toaster oven. The R-Line also has a bank of three secondary gauges atop the dashboard, evoking Nissan's 370Z.
The Beetle's 2-person backseat is certainly usable, but headroom in the hatchback (or with the convertible top in place) is naturally limited by the sloping rear roof line. 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 -- not very much, given that the Beetle isn't a particularly small car.
On the road, although the base and TDI models come with a cost-effective torsion-beam rear suspension, 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 R-Line 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 R-Line can't match the agility of a MINI, but it compensates with a supple ride and extraordinary high-speed composure.
Other Cars to Consider
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 R-Line.
MINI Cooper S -- Still the sports car of this group, the MCS boasts a phenomenal combination of acceleration, fuel economy and handling.
Used Volkswagen Golf/GTI -- The Golf and GTI come standard with independent rear suspensions and their interiors are superior in terms of both quality and capaciousness. A certified pre-owned model could be a great deal.
Now that the base Beetle comes with a cool turbocharged engine, the more expensive TDI and R-Line models are a harder sell. We'd stick with the base Beetle this year and save some cash.