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2016 Volkswagen Beetle: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader April 2016

The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle is one of the few compact cars that has a bit of personality, individuality and charm. And it's one of the least expensive ways to own a brand-new convertible with four seats. Based on an older Golf platform, it has most of that car's fundamental goodness while surrounding it in an eye-catching wrapper, particularly in the case of the convertible.

What's New for 2016?

There's no diesel-powered TDI version this year. A new 1.8T S trim level arrives as part of Volkswagen's simplification of the model range. Automatic post-collision braking becomes standard throughout. The company's new MIB II infotainment system (with a proper USB port) is standard on all but the base models. And there's a new Lighting package available, along with four new paint colors.

What We Like

Decent engines; distinctive looks; confident highway ride; convertible option

What We Don't

Limited rear headroom; not Volkswagen's plushest interior; convertible has an awkward trunk

How Much?

$20,615-$35,770

Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive Beetle starts with a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (1.8T) making 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque.

For the 1.8T coupe, a 6-speed automatic transmission comes as standard in S and SEL trims; a 5-speed manual is standard in the SE with the automatic as an option.

Each trim level of the 1.8T convertible has the 6-speed automatic.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 1.8T coupe at 25 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined, regardless of transmission or body style.

The R-Line has a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that develops 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual is the standard transmission; Volkswagen's 6-speed DSG (which is strictly an automated manual; it still shifts gears for the driver) is an option in coupe versions of the R-Line.

The DSG transmission returns 23 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined in both the coupe and convertible. The 6-speed manual results in 24 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle is available as a coupe or soft-top convertible in 1.8T and R-Line forms. The 1.8T comes in S, SE and SEL trim levels. The R-Line follows that formula to an extent, but there's no R-Line coupe in S trim.

The 1.8T S coupe ($20,615) comes standard with the 6-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob/parking brake, manual-adjusting front seats with height adjustment for the driver, power windows, 50/50-split folding rear seats, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, a trip computer and an 8-speaker audio system with a 5-in touchscreen, auxiliary input and a USB port.

The 1.8T SE coupe ($22,170) has the 5-speed manual transmission as standard, 17-in alloy wheels, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, heated front washer nozzles, ambient cabin lighting, a rearview camera and the upgraded infotainment system with a 6.3-in touchscreen.

The 1.8T SEL coupe ($26,795) brings a panoramic sunroof, a blind spot monitoring system, keyless entry/ignition, 18-in alloys and the 6-speed automatic transmission as standard.

The 1.8T S convertible ($26,760) differs from its tin-top sibling with 17-in wheels, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, ambient cabin lighting and, of course, a powered retractable soft-top.

The 1.8T SE convertible ($28,890) has keyless entry/ignition and the 6-speed automatic transmission. The 1.8T SEL convertible ($31,320) has the same equipment as the SEL coupe.

The R-Line SE coupe ($26,815) replicates the 1.8T SE's equipment but has the bigger engine and the 6-speed manual transmission. It also comes with a sportier suspension, Volkswagen's XDS electronic limited-slip differential (maximizing traction in fast corners), sport seats, three dashboard-mounted gauges, cloth upholstery, fog lights, various cosmetic differences and 18-in alloys.

The R-Line SEL coupe ($32,270) still has the 6-speed manual transmission and adds 19-in wheels, leather upholstery, a Fender-branded audio system and the Lighting package (automatic bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights and a LED rear license-plate light) that's optional in other models.

The R-Line S convertible ($30,790) is equipped similarly to the 1.8T S, with the obvious exceptions of the bigger engine, suspension, XDS, etc. It also has the 6-speed manual transmission as standard. The same goes for the R-Line SE convertible ($32,390) and the R-Line SEL convertible ($35,770).

Safety

The Beetle comes with 4-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes and four airbags (front and full-length side-curtain). The R-Line's front brake discs are slightly larger.

Volkswagen's standard Car-Net connected services include crash notification, roadside assistance, stolen-vehicle location, remote vehicle access, vehicle health reports, and boundary and speed alerts, which are all accessed via a smartphone app.

In government crash testing, the Beetle received a perfect five stars out of five overall: four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Beetle its top score of Good in all categories except the small-overlap frontal-impact test, where the car received a Marginal rating (second-worst).

Behind the Wheel

The dashboard can be dressed up with body-color inserts (or carbon-fiber ones on the R-Line), which is a must when competing against MINI and FIAT. The R-Line's standard Kaeferfach (Beetle bin) glove box with an upward-opening door is a heritage feature. Rear visibility is a bit of an issue in the convertible when the roof is down because it doesn't fold into anywhere -- it just sits on the body.

The 2-person back seat is certainly usable, but headroom in the coupe (or in the convertible when the top is in place) is limited by the sloping rear. Trunk space for the coupe is a decent 15.4 cu ft., but maximum capacity with the rear seats flipped forward is just 29.9 cu ft. Given that the Beetle isn't particularly small, that's not much room. The convertible has a trunk area of 7.1 cu ft., and the size and shape of the aperture makes loading and unloading quite awkward.

By all means, you can go for the 2.0-liter engine in the R-Line, but the 1.8 is still a well-respected engine that also performs excellently in other Volkswagen models.

The suspension soaks up bumps with unusual grace for the class (that's the Golf platform making itself felt), while handling is respectable if not truly athletic. The R-Line's sport suspension improves capability, but unless you're cornering fast enough for the XDS electronic differential to kick in, you may not notice. Even then, the R-Line can't match the agility of a MINI, but it compensates with a supple ride and high-speed composure. There's a certain maturity to the way the Beetle drives that comes as a pleasant surprise.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 FIAT 500 -- The turbocharged Abarth version of the 500 has a seriously memorable exhaust note and enough power to keep up with the Beetle R-Line.

2016 Ford Fiesta ST -- If you're looking for a small car with a lot of personality and a winning front-drive chassis, you should check out the Fiesta.

2016 MINI Cooper S -- This model blends acceleration, handling, charm and fuel economy.

2016 Subaru BRZ -- The BRZ only comes as a coupe, but it has a great combination of usable power and excellent rear-drive dynamics.

Used Volkswagen Golf/GTI -- The Golf and GTI have superior cabins in terms of both quality and space. A certified pre-owned model could be a great deal.

Autotrader's Advice

There's no persuading or dissuading. If you're thinking of buying a Beetle, it's mainly because you like the looks -- in which case, go for it and enjoy it ... it's not as if the Beetle is based on something terrible.

Find a Volkswagen Beetle for sale

RELATED INVENTORY
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Used 2016 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T SEL
Used 2016 Volkswagen Beetle
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Used 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Coupe
Used 2016 Volkswagen Beetle
$14,977
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Volkswagen Beetle: New Car Review - Autotrader