An all-new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with direct injection replaces the long-in-the-tooth 2.5-liter I-5 engine. The top-spec R-Line model is new, replacing last year's Beetle Turbo; there's also a sportier, limited-run Beetle GSR special edition for this year. A backup camera is now included in the Sunroof, Sound, and Navigation models...
It can be hard to revive a legend without sullying the original, but Volkswagen managed to pull it off with the Beetle. At the 1994 Detroit auto show, Volkswagen unveiled the Concept One, a bubble-shaped two-door coupe that was able to both pull on heartstrings from decades past and be twenty-first-century futuristic. The Concept One previewed what the classic VW Beetle would look like for the new century, and the 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle stayed close to the concept. We were so taken by the New Beetle that we named it our 1999 Automobile of the Year (putting it and Jerry Seinfeld on our cover) and awarded it an All-Star in 2000. The New Beetle has also been credited with starting the retro-futuristic craze of automotive design that also spawned the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Chevrolet HHR, and the fifth-generation Ford Mustang. A convertible version of the New Beetle was added in 2003 and to this day remains Volkswagen's sole soft-top convertible offering in the U.S.
After 2010, the New Beetle was killed off, a victim of old age and diminishing sales. That sales hiatus lasted only for about a year: Volkswagen introduced the Beetle (no more "New" in the name) for the 2011 model year, which gave the New Beetle's bubble shape a few more creases and a flatter roof in hopes of "butching" up the car to appeal more to male customers without losing the Beetle's iconic looks. Both the New Beetle and the Beetle share most of their mechanicals with the Golf/Jetta models of their eras, from platform to powertrains.
The Volkswagen Beetle is based on the outgoing Golf hatchback, a car that offers a superb balance of comfort and superior driving dynamics. However, the base Beetle has been stripped of its multilink rear suspension -- instead, it has a less sophisticated torsion-beam setup in the rear that leaves some handling adeptness to be desired. Then again, it's worth remembering that the Beetle is more about style than being a hot hatchback.
Power for the base car now comes from an all-new 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder that Volkswagen says returns 17-percent better fuel economy than the ancient 2.5-liter five-cylinder it replaces. The diesel four-cylinder is capable of returning up to 41 mpg on the highway. The Beetle R-Line (formerly the Turbo) is almost as poised and engaging as the GTI that inspired it. Its steering weight is superb, the suspension is firmer without being jarring, and prodigious power comes from the 210-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Along with the name change, the R-Line also receives revised front and rear bumpers, R-Line badging, and special R-Line sill kickplates. The base Beetle uses a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic; the Turbo and the TDI raise the engagement factor with a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic that delivers crisp, speedy shifts.
For 2014, Volkswagen has added a limited-run Beetle GSR special edition atop the Beetle's model hierarchy. The GSR harks back to the "Yellow Black Racer" GSR Beetle of the 1970s with yellow-and-black two-tone exterior paint, unique nineteen-inch "Tornado" wheels, black-painted brake calipers, and a larger rear spoiler. Inside, the cabin is done in the same yellowjacket-like color scheme with black leather seating surfaces and contrasting yellow stitching. Other interior upgrades include a high-grip sport steering wheel, sport seats, a GSR shift lever, and a special-edition badge. Only 3500 copies will be made. Mechanically, the 2014 Beetle GSR is identical to the Beetle R-Line.
The Beetle's interior features slick body-color accents and the simple, intuitive controls that Volkswagen is known for. There's enough headroom for six-footers in the rear but only enough legroom for small children. If you're a sucker for style, the Beetle is a smart small car with substance beneath the surface.
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