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2013 VW Beetle TDI: First Drive

Conventional wisdom holds that modern turbocharged engines are a great bet to up the fun quotient of any car. But ask most Americans what they think about driving a diesel and "fun" probably wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind. Although the perception of diesels is improving in the U.S (particularly as fuel economy champs), the idea that they could be fun is somewhat uncharted territory.

Take the VW Beetle as an example; after an aggressive makeover the new Beetle is available with either a 2.5-liter 5-cylinder gas engine producing 170 horsepower or a turbocharged 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine producing 200 horsepower. Before driving the diesel, we would have said your best bet for fun in the 2013 Beetle is the turbocharged gas engine. But after driving the recently announced 2.0-liter turbodiesel option (available later this summer), our opinion has changed.

Although the turbodiesel only sports 140 horsepower, its whopping 236 lb-ft of torque makes the new Beetle TDI an absolute blast to drive. Response off the line is peppy, and we unwittingly hit the engine’s redline on several occasions. Strangely enough, although it lacks some of the upgraded suspension components of the gas-powered turbo, the TDI felt more planted in the corners than the other drivetrain options.

Whipping around the winding roads in the hills south of San Francisco it felt more nimble than the gas-powered turbo and had a pleasing throaty growl even at low RPM. The extra low-end torque of the diesel meant plenty of power was available all the time, and had us seeking out tighter and tighter corners to see where the car’s limits were. Granted, we’re not talking about handling on the level of a BMW 5 Series or even an Audi A3, but the Beetle TDI can definitely hold its own.

On top of its above average performance, the 2013 Beetle TDI shines in the efficiency department – when it’s not being flogged around the hard corners, that is. With a predicted 29 mpg city/39 mpg highway, it’s one of the most fuel-efficient cars in VW’s lineup. We didn’t have enough time with the car to meaningfully test those predictions, but the car’s fuel economy gauge (when not being driven hard) made them seem very plausible.

Although a logical person might expect that the Beetle TDI with the same 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine as the Jetta TDI should get as good or better fuel economy than the Jetta, it doesn’t. It’s certainly a strange turn of events, but it comes down to the fact that the Beetle is less aerodynamic than the Jetta and loses a few miles per gallon to wind resistance.

Our test car came with a six-speed manual, but a six-speed DSG dual clutch automatic will also be available. VW’s DSG transmission provides lightning-fast shifts, but tends to feel less refined than traditional automatics – with a little more roughness than we’d like. The TDI will sport the same turbo-specific instrument cluster on top of the dash as seen in the gas-powered turbo and will be available with many of the same options as the other two drivetrains, including premium Fender audio system, navigation and sunroof.

Pricing is not yet set, but the 2013 Beetle TDI will arrive in dealerships later this summer.

 

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