The modern version of the classic Beetle of the 1950s to 1970s has been around for two decades now, revised in appearance for the 2012 model year, with a lower roofline. Only a 6-speed automatic transmission is available for 2017; manual gearboxes are gone. Volkswagen’s post-collision braking system is newly standard.
Bumpers have been modified for the 2017 model year. A new limited-production #PinkBeetle trim level is offered.
Beetles come in two body styles: hatchback coupe and convertible, each flaunting a uniquely rakish, low-roofed profile. For 2017, the lineup has shrunk slightly, but seven trim levels are offered.
In base S, SE, SEL, Classic, Dune, and new #PinkBeetle models, a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 170 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque. Each Beetle uses a 6-speed automatic transmission.
For a modestly sportier experience, the R-Line SEL holds a 2.0-liter turbo four that develops 210 horsepower and 207 pound-feet, mating with a dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Curiously, a hashtag symbol precedes the new model’s name: #PinkBeetle. Only 2,000 are to be manufactured, inspired by a California dealer who painted some Beetles pink. Officially named Fresh Fuchsia Metallic, its paint isn’t truly pink.
Dune editions are slightly wider and taller, brandishing side sills, black cladding and other distinct styling touches, atop 18-inch wheels.
Despite the contemporary Beetle’s vintage design cues and perky demeanor, beneath the surface it’s a conventional hatchback, based upon the prior-generation Golf model. All Beetles have front-wheel drive.
Visibility is good all around. Big mirrors provide helpful sight lines when driving in traffic. As expected, rearward views from the driver’s seat of a top-up convertible are more restricted.
Advanced safety features are in short supply, lacking collision-avoidance technology. A rearview camera is newly standard on all Beetles. So is automatic emergency braking, which applies brakes when detecting an imminent collision. SEL trim includes blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
In crash-testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a Beetle coupe scored five stars overall, but four stars for frontal impact and rollover protection (a calculated score, not an actual test). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the coupe Good ratings in all tests, except for Marginal in the small-overlap frontal collision.
Beetle S coupe ($19,995) or convertible ($24,725) comes with 1.8-liter engine, cloth seating surfaces, rearview camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, automatic headlights, auto-dimming mirror, 50/50 split-folding rear seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-speaker audio, Bluetooth, and 5.0-inch touchscreen. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $820 destination charge.)
Beetle Classic coupe ($20,475) or convertible ($24,995) get heated front seats, cloth/leatherette seating surfaces, satellite radio, a 6.3-inch touchscreen, rear spoiler, VW Car-Net apps, and navigation.
Beetle #PinkBeetle coupe ($21,890) or convertible ($26,795) feature fuchsia/pink highlights with pink/black cloth upholstery.
Beetle 1.8T SE coupe ($22,450) or convertible ($26,750) come with 17-inch wheels, heated front seats, leatherette seating surfaces, pushbutton start, 6.3-inch touchscreen with VW’s Car-Net vehicle services apps, and satellite radio.
Beetle Dune coupe ($23,995) or convertible ($29,395) have special bumpers, foglamps, a sunroof, rear spoiler, side sills, black cladding, cloth/leatherette seating surfaces, 18-inch wheels, and parking sensors.
Beetle 1.8T SEL coupe ($25,975) or convertible ($30,275) feature 18-inch wheels, navigation, parking sensors, Fender audio, VW Car-Net Guide/Inform, automatic climate control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a sunroof (coupe).
Beetle R-Line 2.0T SEL coupe ($32,550) holds the 2.0-liter engine and dual-clutch automatic, plus specific sport-tuned suspension, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, Fender audio, and 20-inch wheels.
Few cars look as distinctive as the Beetle, marketed in its current form since 2012. At that time, a roofline that suggests the old Porsche 356 edged aside the previous (1998-2011) generation’s taller, rounded roof.
Cleanly simple body lines have helped the Beetle age surprisingly well. Styling touches include flat wheel arches and subtle fender flares. SEL models get Circle alloy wheels that appear to hold chrome hubcaps.
When its power-folding fabric top is up, the convertible is comparatively quiet. At up to 31 mph, the convertible’s roof can be raised in 11 seconds and lowered in 9.5 seconds. A detachable wind guard may be installed above the back seats.
Both Beetle body styles are spacious and comfortable for as many as four occupants, though a pair of adults in back might not be thrilled. Supportive front seats promise ample head, hip, and leg room.
Even in the better-bolstered R-Line, seats are satisfying for long journeys. Seat-adjustment controls are easy to access.
Retro-themed interiors, though practical and simple, exude a rather low-budget aura. In some models, the upright dashboard features bold colors. Though attractive, making use of modern digital systems, the dashboard contains sizable hard plastic surfaces.
The styling of the Beetle does not result in the most space-efficient design. The low roofline can impede head space, while a tight back seat isn’t so easy to climb into. Rear seats are narrower than those up front, and considerably shorter. With front seats normally positioned, rear leg space nearly disappears.
Long doors can be a hindrance in perpendicular parking spots. Cargo space is limited in convertibles, but trunk volume in the hatchback coupe totals an expansive 15.4 cubic feet.
Ride and handling are strong points, helped by precise, controlled steering. Beetles promise a sense of all-around refinement, along with a compliant ride. Suspensions effectively absorb pavement flaws. Ride comfort leans toward the soft side.
Cornering smartly, Beetles suffer minimal body roll even when driven energetically. Even in R-Line form, though, they aren’t as sporty in nature as their appearance and reputation might suggest.
Not only are convertibles a bit heavier, they’re slightly less rigid. Yet, the driving experience differs little between body styles unless the fabric top is lowered.
Volkswagen’s smooth 1.8-liter engine yields solid acceleration, working well with the automatic transmission. With 40 more horsepower emanating from its 2.0-liter four, the R-Line is livelier, better able to pass confidently. The dual-clutch transmission shifts promptly, without annoying clunks.
Noise is hardly absent. Wind, engine, and road sounds blend into a dreary roar, particularly in R-Line models.
Although the Beetle Dune sits slightly higher than its mates, it’s still quite low. Don’t expect off-road potential.
Reasonably fuel-efficient but not quite thrifty, most Beetles are EPA-rated at 24/33 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. Convertibles and coupes get the same estimates. Dune models are rated at 24/31/27 mpg, while the R-Line is EPA-rated at 23/29 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined.
Beetles present decent value, but are short on high-tech features â€“ which sounds like a description of the original. Even base (S) trim is well-equipped. Volkswagen offers only a handful of option packages. Certain compromises, including the snug back seat, are inevitable in vehicles that stress style over practicality.
Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.