Review: 2013 VW Beetle TDI

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Cars are not simply about getting from Point A to Point B. Cars can define a time in history, influence our culture, even change our perception of what we want, or expect from a car. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Volkswagen Beetle stands in an elite group of one of the most significant automobiles of the 20th century. Yet, the Beetle rests a bit uncomfortably from the very country who invented it. And this is where automotive culture kicks in. The history of the Beetle is well known. Adolf Hitler asked Dr. Ferdinand Porsche to design a simple, affordable car, with the intent of offering German families a new car in their driveway. Here in the US, the Beetle is often associated with the counter-culture in the Vietnam era, was blessed with a brilliant advertising campaign, and, simply put, was just a great little car that was practical, efficient, and dripping with personality.

The last old school Beetle sold in the USA was in 1979, but remained in production for years to come in foreign markets. The Volkswagen Golf is now VW’s best seller, offering a sporty ride and superior build quality. So, then, why the Beetle? In all seriousness, this is actually a sensitive subject. Contemporary Germans see the Beetle as a symbol of a Nazi regime, during a very dark chapter in the history of their country. In America, however, we had no such misgivings for the Beetle. Far from it. And Volkswagen knew it. In 1994 in Detroit, VW unveiled Concept 1, a re-imagined Beetle, to gauge public reaction. The car was a sensation. And Volkswagen knew they had to build it.

For the model year 1998, Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle. And buyers, in North America at least, went nuts for it. Waiting lists. Dealer inflated pricing proved the demand was strong. And demand came from buyers young and old. Baby Boomers wanting to recapture memories of their youth, as well as younger buyers attracted by the whimsical styling. The problem with the New Beetle though, was for a car with retro roots, where do you go from there? What is the follow up act? Yes, Beetle Turbos and a convertible followed, as well as some special editions, but after the initial fury, with little in the way of development, the New Beetle carried on largely unchanged (save for a minor refresh in 2006) for a staggering twelve years. To go on that long without much change is unheard of, and it seemed as Volkswagen lost interest in the New Beetle, so did buyers, and the sagging sales figures prove it. Although there was a Final Edition, the New Beetle ceased production in 2010, and even us Beetle-crazed Americans did not seem to notice, or care.

But, Volkswagen had not given up. At the 2011 New York International Auto Show, The Garage met the new 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. There was nothing awful about the New Beetle, but there was a major issue-its perception as being a chick car. Cute, petite curvy lines, and a bud vase on the dash all pointed to the fairer sex. And few men want to be seen driving a car that most dismiss as a chick car. The Beetle addresses that stigma head on while not alienating the New Beetle faithful. The bud vase is gone, and face it, it is not a Beetle without some familiar curves, but the Beetle cuts a more aggressive look, appearing lower, wider, and slightly more aggressive than the car preceding it.

With the new Beetle (it is no longer New Beetle), VW delved further to the original car rather than refining the Concept 1. This approach seems to have worked, as I received several compliments about the car-from guys, so it is clear the differences are significant enough that the average person can tell, and that is important to VW’s efforts. Another clever twist is VW going into its old paint catalog and resurrecting some familiar, vintage hues. Our test car was finished in a distinctive Denim Blue, which certainly set it apart from the crowd. For the more conservative buyer, VW does offer colors in line with modern tastes, so fear not. Our car was fitted with nondescript 17″ alloys, a shame, since I have seen the latest Beetle rolling on cool looking reproduction dog dish style wheels, which would have perfectly complimented our car’s retro paint color.

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Anyone who has driven a modern VW will be instantly at home in the Beetle, but as expected, the Beetle offers far more flair. Upper door panels and dash painted to match the exterior brighten things up, which was welcome in our Titan Black interior. A two tier glove box is unique, and again, a nod to the original Beetle. Passengers are greeted with an airy cabin with plenty of room for all. Fit and finish and build quality are on par with what we expect from a VW built for a global market, as opposed the latest crop of dumbed down and cheap feeling American VW’s. But perhaps the crowning achievement of the Beetle interior proves you can be retro, funky, and functional at the same time, a point completely lost on the interior designers of the MINI Cooper.

The Beetle is available with an array of engine choices, starting with the base 2.5L inline five cylinder, a 2.0L turbocharged four, and our test car’s 2.oL TDI-a turbocharged diesel. This is an engine The Garage has sampled before, and its smoothness, punchy torque and excellent fuel economy continue to impress. We cannot overstate just how far VW has come along with diesel technology. Throw out your perception of the loud, smoky diesels of the past. Had I not told people this was a diesel powered car, they never would have know it. It is that good. And with EPA mileage figures of 29/39 MPG city/highway fuel economy figures, that is near hybrid levels but with a far more engaging driving experience. Beetle TDI buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or DSG manual automatic. Our test car was fitted with the DSG, which generally worked well, but some buyers might be miffed at the lack of shift paddles.

The Beetle TDI is a great little car, and in VW fashion, well, you are going to pay a little extra. While a base 2.5L Beetle comes in at just under $20,000USD, the most inexpensive TDI with a six-speed manual starts at $23,495. Our test car included the Sunroof, Sound and Navigation Package, which included a Fender premium audio system with XM satellite radio, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, Bluetooth, and push-button start. Including destination along with a couple minor accessories, our Beetle TDI rang in at $28,360. That’s a good chunk of change for a Beetle, but for a funky, diesel powered two door hardtop, from a price standpoint there is not much to compare it to.

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I am glad VW decided to go another round with the Beetle when it seemed as they had all but forgotten about the car. And for all the retro-inspired cars out there, the Beetle easily qualifies as one of the most practical and easiest to live with. Yes, a MINI Cooper will outhandle you, but the Beetle has ergonomics you can actually understand at a glance. The Fiat 500 may have more charisma, but the Beetle has a backseat that can actually accommodate real humans, as well as far superior luggage space. The Beetle proves that you can be fun without compromise. Sure, it gives up a few things to the MINI and Fiat, but when it comes down to a car you own and live with year in, year out, what the Beetle has on offer makes it the most practical choice.

The latest Beetle won’t generate the hype and madness as when the New Beetle arrived, even though it is a vastly superior car. We’re accustomed to seeing Beetles back on the road. Of course, VW is coming out with a Beetle convertible, but what the future holds from there is unclear. Why, you ask? This is not a car VW needs to make. They have the Golf for Europe, and the Jetta for America as their respective best sellers. For now, the Beetle is new, but will VW wait another twelve years before another overhaul? We shall see, but for now, the latest Beetle is definitely worth a look for anyone in the market for a practical car with a retro touch.

VW Prices Beetle TDI

In case you hadn’t heard, Volkswagen has redesigned the Beetle with a slightly more aggressive, and less feminine shape than before. The Garage recently sampled the new Beetle, and you can look forward to our review in the near future. While the new Beetle has been available with the familiar 2.5L five cylinder and 2.0L turbo four, the Beetle TDI is now making its debut. The 2.0L TDI has 140hp, but prodigious amounts of torque. Equipped with a manual transmission, VW claims a Beetle TDI is good for 32/41MPG city/highway. The Beetle TDI can be had three ways, and we’ve broken it down for you below.

Beetle TDI: $23,295USD

The starter Beetle TDI comes standard with one-touch power windows, leatherette seating, Bluetooth, multi-function steering wheel, keyless entry, push button ignition, SiriusXM satellite radio with an iPod cable and 17″ alloys.

Beetle TDI w/Sunroof: $24,895

The sunroof package adds-guess what-a panoramic sunroof and touch screen audio controls.

Beetle TDI w/Sunroof, Sound and Navigation: $26,195

The top-spec Beetle TDI, additional features include GPS Navigation and premium Fender audio system.

All Beetle TDI’s come standard with a six-speed manual transmission. If you can’t, or won’t shift for yourself, a six-speed DSG dual clutch automatic is available for an extra $1,100. The prices shown do not include the $770 destination charge. The 2013 VW Beetle TDI will be on the showroom floor in August.

Back In the Berkshires!

Longtime readers of The Garage may recall that the month of October is not complete for me without our annual trip to the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. It is an autumn rite of passage for me and my family, and this year was no exception. Thanks to our friends at Lexus, we were provided with a Lexus HS250h for our annual pilgrimage this year. An easy two hour drive from our home in Connecticut, the Berks are one of the most popular fall destinations in New England, and is an easy drive for those of you in southern Canada as well, so put it on your bucket list.

Foodees that we are, we do not skimp when it comes to eating. Once there, we always start out with lunch at the historic, and reportedly haunted Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. The Red Lion is the cornerstone of the Norman Rockwell, post card perfect town, and has served visitors since 1773. After a satisfying lunch at Widow Bingham’s Tavern, one of my greatest pleasures is to grab a Steel Rail Ale by Berkshire Brewing Company and enjoy it on the expansive porch at the Red Lion Inn and people watch. Pure bliss. On a gorgeous and unseasonably warm day, watching my son play on the enormous pumpkins outside the entrance, it was paradise. Once finished, I hit an indie record shop, and picked up an Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong CD, which would prove to be the perfect music companion for the rest of the trip.

As lovely as Stockbridge is, we were eager to head off to Great Barrington, but before we hit downtown, we had to check in at Windy Hill Farm, who arguably makes the best apple cider ever made. I came to know Great Barrington back when I was a teenager, and staying at the local church with my choir. The town’s beatnik style has always held a strong appeal to me, and I truly feel at home each time I visit. Though my son would argue the toy stores are the talk of the town, for us it is Rubiner’s, the town’s famous cheesemonger. Housed in a former bank, vault still intact, Rubiner’s is a must visit. Out back is Rubi’s, a bar/coffeehouse that also makes gourmet sandwiches. Guests can eat/drink outdoors or in the converted bank’s boardroom, complete with fireplace and wood-paneled walls. The ambience is nothing short of spectacular.

But, you came for the cars, and I hope I did not disappoint. As always, Alfa’s Unlimited, just south of the Massachusetts border was a must-see. It’s my few minutes of the year to reconnect with Alfa Romeo’s, one of my favorite cars I ever owned. New for this year was another stop outside Sheffield, MA, with an eclectic collection of Euro and American iron in various states of restoration or decay. I sincerely hope you enjoy the pics as much as I.

VW Debuts 2012 Beetle

Volkswagen has taken the wraps off a fresh redesign of the Beetle. Note, the word ‘New’ has been dropped from the familiar, but somewhat stale New Beetle that was first introduced in 1998 for the third generation car. Since its 1998 introduction, VW has done little than the occasional update or special edition, and I personally questioned if the company would follow up at all with a new model. While baby boomer North Americans associate the Beetle with the 1960′s and the Hippie counter-culture movement, for some Germans, the Beetle is a painful reminder of a car born out of the Nazi regime. In either case, the VW Beetle, created out of the genius of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, is one of the most iconic cars in the history of the automobile, and lives to see another day.

Recreating a retro car is not an easy task, and VW elected to not simply update the New Beetle, but to go back to the original car, and seek styling cues to interpret into a modern car. This idea is not new-witness what Ford did with the redesign of the 2005 Mustang, by creating a “new” original. The result is still instantly recognizable as a modern Beetle-sorry, no realist can possibly expect an air-cooled rear-wheel drive Beetle in 2012. The 2012 Beetle is lower, wider, and longer than the New Beetle, but most notable is the sportier and more aggressive lines-what I see as a means to attract more men to the Beetle.

Not much new to report as far as engines go, as the Beetle is powered by motors we’re well familiar with, starting with a 2.5L inline five cylinder rated at 170hp, a 2.oL TDI diesel good for 140hp (but boasting 236 lb. ft. of torque), and a 2.0L turbo with 200hp. The five cylinder Beetle is available with either a five-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, while the TDI and gas turbo fours are available with either VW’s 6-speed dual clutch DSG auto, or 6-speed manuals.

VW is also making the 2012 Beetle available with modern, or updated features likes a panoramic sunroof, premium Fender audio system, keyless access, navigation, Bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights. But I see VW as facing an uphill battle with this Beetle. You can’t keep a car on the market for thirteen model years, and expect the buying public to once again run to the dealer’s door. Back in 1998, the New Beetle was hot stuff on the showroom floor, but times have changed. The nostalgia factor for baby boomers has worn off, which leads VW to the greater challenge of luring premium small car buyers away from the MINI Cooper and other stiff competition. The 2012 Beetle has its work cut out, and we wish it luck.