When it debuted for the 2012 model year, the newly redesigned Volkswagen Beetle had a lot to live up to. Everyone knows about the iconic original Volkswagen Beetle, which made a name for itself as the “people’s car” over its sixty-plus-year model run. Then came the cute and bubbly Volkswagen New Beetle, which gave the world Beetle mania all over again in the late 1990s. To top it off, when this particular tornado red Volkswagen Beetle Turbo convertible arrived at our doorstep for a Four Seasons test, we compared it with one of our favorite hot hatchbacks of all time, the Volkswagen GTI.
The comparison to that hot hatch might seem a bit unfair for what looks like a sun-loving, droptop cruiser meant for the boulevards of Southern California, but it wasn’t as much of a stretch as you might think. When the Beetle was redesigned in 2011, VW dropped the “New” from its name and claimed that the new (but not New) Beetle was sportier and more masculine. So we skipped the base five-cylinder engine (which has since been replaced by a 1.8-liter turbo four) and the turbo-diesel in favor of the Beetle Turbo, which came equipped with the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine found in, yes, the GTI and numerous other Volkswagen and Audi products. Since the Beetle is also built on the same platform as the outgoing Golf and GTI, one commenter’s assessment of the car as “the closest you can get to a GTI convertible” wasn’t too far off.
Having splurged for the most powerful Beetle variant, we showed some restraint with the options, skipping Volkswagen’s subpar navigation system and adding only the $1400 sound package, which included keyless entry and push-button start; satellite radio; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; and a Fender-branded (yes, like the guitars and amplifiers) nine-speaker audio system. This kept our Beetle’s price just under $30,000, a relative bargain for a true four-seat convertible with such a distinctive look. In fact, many observers thought the Beetle’s shapely exterior suggested a much higher price bracket.
“At a party I attended last weekend, our Beetle convertible collected more compliments than any car in recent memory,” reported managing editor of digital platforms Jennifer Misaros. “Everyone loved the bright red over tan color combination, and most were surprised when I told them that the car cost just under $30,000.” Clearly, the Beetle’s cute factor has not yet worn off even a decade after the debut of the New Beetle. The car had near-universal appeal—one millennial staffer’s friend called our Bug “the perfect car for Instagram,” while those of the baby-boomer generation found nostalgic value in the car. One woman told us it reminded her of a Beetle she drove back in 1966.
Although our staff agreed on the Beetle’s looks, the turbo powertrain quickly became one of the car’s more divisive elements. Some thought it gave the 200-hp Bug an unexpected amount of pep—“I was surprised how easy it is to chirp the tires from a stop,” said associate editor Greg Migliore—while others felt it lacked the enthusiasm of other Volkswagen and Audi products equipped with the 2.0T. Part of this was attributable to the six-speed manual’s taller gearing compared with the transmission in the GTI, which is admittedly a more overtly sporty car than the Beetle. On the plus side, the tall sixth gear made the Beetle a relaxed interstate cruiser, with many staffers reporting better than 30 mpg on the highway.
Life was good during our first few months with the Beetle. It went on more long road trips than nearly any other car in our Four Seasons fleet, racking up the miles with excursions to New York City, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, along with a stop in Montreal en route to Martha’s Vineyard. We loved nearly everything about the Beetle’s top-down cruising ability. The potent Fender audio system was loud enough to be heard over the roar of passing cars. The power-operated top could be raised and lowered quickly while moving at speeds up to 31 mph. And, even without installing the convoluted pop-up wind blocker, the cabin remained remarkably calm at higher speeds. We were also fans of the smooth, planted ride, a testament to the Beetle’s solid Volkswagen Golf bones.
However, as the end of the calendar year approached and the temperatures started to go down, the Beetle’s top went up and we began thinking that all of our summer fun may have blinded us to some of the Volkswagen’s flaws. Outward visibility was one of our main concerns, as the raised soft top created large blind spots at the rear. “Although I love looking at the Beetle convertible, I hate looking out of it,” noted associate editor David Zenlea. “The A-pillars are chunky, the top completely obstructs the rear, and the doorsills nearly come up to my shoulders.”
Road noise was also a problem with the top closed, with one staffer noting that “passing a semi always makes me feel like I’m about to be squashed.” When Michigan’s roads began to develop frost heaves and potholes, as they do every year, our Beetle started to show its structural compromises. Convertibles aren’t exactly known for their ingot-like integrity, and the Beetle is no exception. “The cowl shakes like a Brazilian dancer over rough roads,” read one logbook comment.
Throughout November and December, the Beetle’s mileage-accumulation rate fell as precipitously as the mercury. Despite its scorching heated seats and quick-acting heater, it was everyone’s last choice for snowy commutes and below-freezing mornings. Sitting under a few inches of snow in our parking lot, it looked depressingly out of its element. So we sent the Beetle on its longest road trip yet: a cross-country trek to Southern California with road test editor Chris Nelson at the helm.
On his way to deliver the Beetle to West Coast editor Michael Jordan, Nelson had plenty to say about the Beetle as a long-haul companion, chastising the subpar seats, the dim headlights, and the useless sun visors. However, Nelson found himself forgiving many of these flaws as soon as he put the top down and began smelling the fresh scent of pine trees outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. “It isn’t the ideal car for a road trip, but the Beetle has an effect on your senses,” Nelson reported. “That’s something not many cars do.”
Although our Beetle did not experience any serious mechanical trouble in its year with us, we did have some minor concerns about its build quality. The first issue emerged at about 5700 miles, when we noticed that the driver’s-side front window wasn’t closing properly, stopping about half an inch short of the window seal. The door also rattled on bumpy roads and made a nasty clatter when shut. When we took the car to the dealership, technicians found that a nut had come loose from the window track, causing the glass to become misaligned from the door. They realigned the window and replaced the bolt under warranty.
Problem solved, at least until about 6000 miles later, when we noticed similar issues with the passenger’s-side door. Drivers once again started to complain about the rattling. Sure enough, when we took the car to the dealer, the problem was window-related. After service technicians removed the door panel and readjusted the innards of the window mechanism, the rattle disappeared. These two fixes were our only unscheduled visits to the VW dealer.
At the end of our yearlong test, after its three-month sojourn in the California sun, the Volkswagen Beetle convertible came back to our Michigan headquarters just in time for the return of warm weather. It took only a few open-air drives for us to remember why we liked this car in the first place. Flaws and all, it still managed to charm us with its classic Beetle looks and fun-loving character. it just needs a warning: meant for top-down driving only.
Pros & Cons
+ Powerful turbo engine
+ Delightful top-down ambience
+ Unique styling
- Poor outward visibility with top raised
- Window rattles
- Lack of structural integrity
3-yr/36,000-mile roadside assistance
|21,531 mi: /td>||$137.50|
|5891 miles:||Realign driver’s-side window, replace missing nut|
|13,230 miles:||Adjust passenger’s-side window mechanism|
|16,798 miles:||Reinstall clip inside passenger’s-side door panel|
|EPA city/highway/combined||21/30/24 mpg|
|Cost Per Mile (Fuel, service, winter tires)||$0.15 ($0.50 including depreciation)|
Volkswagen Type 1 (1949–1977 in U.S.)In 1934, Adolf Hitler commissioned designer Ferdinand Porsche to create a low-cost, German-built car for the people, a “Volksauto.” Porsche’s original prototypes featured a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine and a rounded, aerodynamic body that’s still familiar today. Beetle fever really caught on after World War II, when mass production of the Volkswagen Type 1 began in Germany. It was first exported to the United States in 1949 and by 1960, more than 300,000 Beetles had been sold here. The Beetle remained very popular during the ’60s and into the ’70s, but Japanese cars and the more modern, front-wheel-drive VW Golf/Rabbit started to take the Beetle’s place. German production and U.S. sales ended in 1977, but the car continued to be built in Mexico and Brazil. The last Type 1 rolled off the line in Mexico in 2003.
New Beetle (1998–2010)Volkswagen showed the retro-inspired Concept One at the 1994 Detroit auto show. It paved the way for the New Beetle that was rolled out in 1997 for the 1998 model year. We named it our Automobile of the Year in 1999. The New Beetle went on to outsell its mainstream Golf sibling and inspired other retromobiles such as the Chrysler PT Cruiser, BMW’s Mini Cooper, and the Fiat 500. Over its thirteen-year run, the original four-cylinder, gasoline-powered New Beetle coupe was joined by diesel, turbocharged, and convertible versions before going out of production in 2010.
Beetle (2012–present)Volkswagen dipped into the retro well once more for the 2012 Beetle, which was again based on the Golf but abandoned the New Beetle nameplate. After launching the Beetle in the United States with coupe and convertible body styles and three engine options, Volkswagen pulled out all the stops with special editions of the Beetle, including 1950s-, 1960s-, and 1970s-inspired appearance packages. For 2014, a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder replaced the base 2.5-liter five-cylinder, and Beetle Turbo models were renamed R-Line to accompany a 10-hp boost for the 2.0T engine.
|0–60 mph:||6.9 sec|
|0–100 mph:||17.6 sec|
|1/4–mile:||15.4 sec @ 93 mph|
|45–65 mph:||3.4 sec|
|Peak acceleration:||0.54 g|
|Speed in gears:||1) 33; 2) 59; 3) 93; 4) 126; 5) 130; 6) ---|
|Skid Pad:||0.83 g|
|60–0 mph Braking:||123 ft|
|Peak braking:||1.13 g|