It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 20 years since the Volkswagen Beetle was reborn, as the New Beetle. Thankfully, they don’t call it New any more, and it’s been redesigned a couple of times since then, but the 2016 Beetle continues the successful idea. It’s not trendy any more, now it’s mostly just fun, functional, and classic. If you don’t need a hatchback, it could be for you.
Like the Mustang, the Beetle pulls off retro. It retains its classic style in a world that keeps changing styles. Underneath, the front-wheel-drive chassis is contemporary.
The Beetle looks happy. In fact, that’s its appeal, and its identity.
The Beetle instrumentation is simple, to bring back the days of the old Beetle when life was simple, and bless Volkswagen’s loyal heart. But still there’s most of the modern digital stuff that sometimes makes it simpler.
There’s a Beetle convertible as well as a coupe. The base engine is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 170 horsepower, or an R-Line model making 210 horsepower from a 2.0-liter turbo. There are four transmissions: a 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, and 6-speed dual clutch.
The Beetle 1.8T with 1.8-liter turbocharged gas engine comes as Beetle S, Beetle SE, or Beetle SEL; while the R-Line with 2.0-liter turbocharged engine comes in SE or SEL trim. Also, available for the 2016 Beetle is a new infotainment system with 5.0 or 6.3-inch touchscreens, and USB port.
The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune, inspired by the classic Baja Bugs, features bold exterior styling, raised ground clearance and special interior trim. The Beetle Dune is available as a coupe or convertible.
(The TDI diesel model has been discontinued. If you have one, Volkswagen will buy it back.)
The Beetle coupe earns five stars for safety from NHTSA, while the convertible hasn’t been tested. The IIHS gives the coupe gets decent scores, except only Marginal in the small front overlap test.
Beetle 1.8T gets an EPA-rated 25/34/28 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined, with either the manual or automatic transmission. The 210-hp Beetle R-Line coupe gets 24/31/27 mpg with the dual-clutch, or one less combined mpg with the 6-speed manual.
The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T S includes fabric seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, automatic headlights, and Bluetooth. Beetle R-Line models also get 18- or 19-inch wheels, sports suspension, special bumpers, foglights, gloss black exterior trim, red-painted brake calipers, aluminum pedals, and sports seats.
Options include navigation, sunroof, and VW’s Car-Net connectivity system. There are also wheels available that are intended to harken back the old Beetle, like the dashboard does.
The current-generation Beetle was designed to look more muscular than earlier generations. It’s more bulky and less plump, with a chopped greenhouse. It’s attractive, with flattened arches and subtle flares.
We’re a sucker for the retro Circle wheels, black or white, that make the alloys look like they’re wearing a chrome hubcap.
The cabin is clean and flowing, circles and ovals, with controls that are simple and easy to reach. It’s handsome and well laid-out. Up front there’s plenty of leg, head, and hip room. The seats are firm enough, flat bottomed and easy to sit in for long drives. The R-Lines have more bolstering.
The rear is tight, allegedly room for three adults in seats that are narrower and shorter than the fronts, but realistically a part-time four-seater at best. Legroom scarcely exists unless the front seats are slid totally forward.
There are a lot of small storage nooks and bins, including a dish on the dash.
Trunk space is good for a compact, 15.4 cubic feet; and the trunk opens to the cabin when the rear seats fold flat, giving 30 cubic feet. Not quite a hatchback, but that helps. The convertible has a bit less room in the trunk because of its wind guard, but there is a pass-through between the rear seats. The guard cuts down wind buffeting when the top is down, but ours wobbled and vibrated.
The Beetle’s 1.8-liter turbocharged four makes 170 horsepower with a solid 184 pound-feet of torque, with either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. It was a new engine last year, way better than the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder it replaced. It has plenty of power for most needs.
The R-Line makes 210 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, from its 2.0 turbo. It’s quicker of course than the 1.8T, but not that quick, no even with a light 3042 pounds of curb weight. That’s with the 5-speed, it’s a bit heavier with the 6-speed dual clutch. Well worth it. The VW dual clutch is the best going.
The Beetle gives a soft and comfortable ride, but still corners well, and fairly flat. The steering and brakes feel remote, however, lacking communication with the driver.
The cabin is noisy, especially the R-Lines. Wind, tire, and engine noise combine to make a dull roar.
The convertible chassis is a bit heavier and a bit more flexible, but it only feels different when you put the top down. Suddenly the Beetle makes sense. After all, we did say that the Beetle’s identity was happiness.
The Beetle remains a car you buy for its statement about yourself. If it’s judged solely on performance and practicality, it can be beaten in function for the money.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with driving impressions by The Car Connection staff.