You can buy all kinds of practical hatchbacks, but you’d choose the Beetle if you wanted a bit more style with your utility.
Beetles are neat. Now in their second generation, they dot our roads with their instantly familiar look and generally friendly vibe. When buyers are considering Mini Coopers and Scion tCs, they’re probably also thinking of the Beetle.
Note that it’s not called the New Beetle as was first generation; this one is simply the Beetle, and its signature look obviates the need for any identification beyond the timeless VW logo.
With its expressive styling, the Beetle is a likely platform for special editions. Model year 2015 brings the Beetle Classic, with its neat retro aluminum wheels…
…and an interior that evokes a more carefree sensibility.
On the other hand, you can go saucy, as with this Beetle Pink Color Edition.
The plaid patterning evokes VWs from the 1970s.
The test car was a little humdrum in comparison, with its simple Reflex Silver / Titan Black Leatherette scheme.
Still, this Beetle had its share of features, thanks to its Sunroof, Sound and Navigation trim level, which starts a bit below $27K.
First is the sunroof, which appears huge on the outside…
…but it opens up only this far.
Sound is covered by the Fender stereo, with its tweeters…
…and trunk-mounted subwoofer. The Fender name evokes a rock-and-roll kind of aural experience, and the Fender option in the larger Passat has memorably brilliant sound. The Beetle’s Fender system doesn’t have that impact; it seems more like a decent factory system than one branded with a legendary name.
Navigation is also good enough but nothing special. You get views in 2D or 3D, and it helpfully shows the speed limit of the road you’re on, but it doesn’t offer multiple routes, and the screen is on the small side.
You wouldn’t think you’d need a backup camera in a compact car like the Beetle, but the view out the back doesn’t tell you much about where the bodywork ends. So the camera feels like a necessity; it’s standard in the higher trim levels but not in the base Beetle.
The Beetle’s engine is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. If you’ve driven a turbo VW in the last decade or so, then you know how this one feels. It’s at its best when the car is moving and the revs are burbling; in this circumstance, the turbo’s inherent lag is minimized, and the Beetle is ready to take off.
It’s at slower speeds that the turbo lag rears its ugly head, and a surprise request for more thrust can leave the Beetle flat-footed until the turbo’s impeller spins up. It’s most noticeable when you see a hole in traffic and slam down throttle to fill it…and the Beetle takes a second or two to gather itself up.
The transmission does its best to keep up the pace, and Sport mode lets you rev the whee out of the engine before it shifts up.
But the test car lacked the R-Line’s paddle shifters, and I really just wished it had the standard manual so I could shift in time with the turbo.
Handling is a mixed bag. Above all else, the Beetle feels safe, with a strong and substantial bearing. Transitional behavior – the moment when you turn off-center and bend into a curve – is typically VW in being both silky and communicative, and it matched the action of the brakes.
But the test car’s suspension was just a bit too soft, particularly in the rear, where sharp acceleration brought an unexpected amount of squat. It squatted so consistently that I came to think of the Beetle as being a little clumsy.
It’s not noticeable if you’re not driving the heck out of it, but I’d be shopping for stiffer struts if this Beetle were to land in my driveway.
Inside, the Beetle forgoes the wide-open greenhouse of the first generation for windows that read like slits, and the massive instrument panel reinforces the impression of being bunkered in.
Front seats had adjustable lumbar supports for both driver and passenger…
…and both have height adjusters, though I wish they had allowed for more tip-up at the front of the cushions for more thigh support.
It’s plenty roomy in the front…
…and predictably, the rear is more kid-sized.
Trunk is reasonably roomy, and the rear seats fold but don’t lie flat.
The rubberized console bin accommodates larger phones like this 5.5-inch LG G3…
…and the door panels put a secure wrap around my water bottles.
The double glove compartments are handy, and VW’s proprietary MDI connector attaches through the bottom bin.
If I sound diffident about this Beetle 1.8T, it’s because I am. Frankly, I was surprised that it wasn’t much fun to drive; the easy flow you get with VWs with manual transmissions and cinched-down suspensions was absent in this tester. That’s partly what you get with a soft-riding car with an automatic, so no surprises there.
If you’re fixed on a Beetle, then I’d try them all – the 1.8T, the more powerful 2.0T, and the torque-monster turbo diesel, the TDI. It’s a good enough car that there are no wrong answers here, but I’d be going further up the range to realize the Beetle’s true potential.
Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of the Beetle?
2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T with Sun, Sound and Navigation
Base Price: $26,985
Price As Tested: $27,805
Destination Charge: $820
Smooth and quiet cruising
Turbo is better with a manual transmission
Tech features lack the wow factor