By Tom Crosby
The iconic Volkswagen Beetle look remains dominant - no one will mistake it for another brand - but the 2014 version clearly belongs amidst today's vehicles in terms of interior comfort, competitive performance, modest price and technical features.
This is the third generation bug and for 2014 a special edition GSR model was added - a throwback to the 1970's GSR known as the Yellow Black Racer. Beetles - no longer called "New" since they have been around for more than 15 years - come in three turbocharged engines - a 2.0-liter using gasoline, a 2.0-liter TDI diesel and late in 2014 a 8-liter replacing the current gas-powered 2.5-liter.
Volkswagen's turbocharged Beetles are labeled R-Line. Our test-drive was the TDI Clean Diesel 2.0-liter cloth-top convertible with sound and navigation.
It competes successfully against other subcompact convertibles in handling, ride, rear seating space, cargo room and interior appearance. It looks similar to prior generations but with a lower profile, wider stance, rear spoiler and longer front hood with a raked windshield.
Inside, space under the windshield is shortened and now includes three elevated gauges - oil temperature, boost pressure and clock with stopwatch function. There are over/under glove boxes, V-Tex leather seats, Bluetooth, cupholders and coin trays under the adjustable armrest, a 5-inch dashboard touch-screen with navigation.
The 50-50 fold-down rear seats are spacious enough for adults, unlike many of today's coupes but rear visibility is hampered with the top up. VW Car-Net - with a free six-month trial - includes crash notification, boundary and speed alerts, vehicle health and enhanced POI service.
The Fender sound system broadcasts cleanly and remains nicely audible with the top down and the windscreen in place. The top drops with a single button push in in less than 9 seconds even at 31 mph. Behind the wheel the Beetle creates surprises, first with an excellent suspension system that now includes an independent rear suspension, and precise and smoothly responsive with front-wheel drive under the engine.
The TDI's DSG automated dual-clutch transmission (manual paddles add to the fun) changes gears faster than geared transmissions with more power and better control. It's so smooth and appropriately reactive shifts don't jerk no matter how you try to trick it slowing or accelerating.
The transmission integrates seamlessly with the common-rail diesel engine that's quiet as a parked car. Except for new overlap, frontal-offset crashes deemed marginal, other collision crash spots rank high for safety.
LIKES: Shifting, handling, ride, cockpit, roominess
DISLIKES: Rear visibility
BOTTOM LINE: So smooth, comfortable and fun to drive, feels like it cost twice as much
2014 VW Beetle Convertible TDI w/Nav
Base price -- $32,015
Curb weight -- 3.157 lbs.
Wheelbase -- 100 inches
Length -- 168.4 inches
Width -- 71.2 inches
Engine specs -- 2.0-liter, inline 4-cylinder, turbo diesel
Horsepower -- 140-hp at 4,000 rpm
Torque -- 236 ft.-lbs. at 1,750 rpm
Transmission -- 6-speed automatic
EPA Rating -- 28 mpg city, 37 mpg highway
Range -- 14.5 gallons, diesel fuel
Performance -- 0-60 in less than 7 seconds
Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.