Executive wheels: Meet the new New Beetle

2014 VW BEETLE R-LINE

A venerable car is one that has survived for a long time in a recognizable form while most other platforms cease to exist. There is no more venerable vehicle on the world scene than the Volkswagen Beetle, first introduced by Nazi Germany in 1938, which became, in the decades after World War II, one of the most iconic automobiles ever.

The venerable Beetle – officially the Type 1 – ceased to exist in 2003, and disappeared in the American market as a new car after the 1996 model year. The Type 1 was replaced with the so-called “New Beetle,” featuring a front engine and front-wheel drive. The new New Beetle, now officially called the Beetle, debuted in 2011.

The new New Beetle is instantly recognizable as a VW Beetle, carrying on with that iconic exterior. It is, however, a different vehicle from the New Beetle:  Longer, with an edgier look. It is built in a factory in Mexico alongside of VW’s popular Jetta and Golf models. Indeed, once you get over the iconic Beetle exterior styling and get behind the wheel, this new New Beetle feels and performs almost exactly like the Jetta and Golf.

Don’t get me wrong – that is a very good thing, and this is a very good car. I like Jettas, and I overall like VW, but generally there is something about each particular model that appeals to certain drivers that speaks to its marketability. Here it’s just a matter of exterior styling.

This is actually a bad thing for VW. This old-line German manufacturing company has been losing sales in the U.S. Sales in the line dropped 22 percent from June 2013 to June 2014, an unbelievable number, and the month was the fourth this year alone that VW experienced double-digit sales declines.

While VW is one of the largest auto makers in the world, with global sales of more than 3 million units in the six months through June of 2014, only 180,000 of them were sold in the U.S. during that time. Compare that with six-month sales of a single Honda model, the Accord, of 739,000 units in the same time period in the U.S. alone and you can easily see VW’s competitive problems.

I am making this sound as if I didn’t like the 2014 Beetle, and nothing could be further from the truth. I enjoyed driving it – especially this R-Line model. Before I get to the why, let’s give some background.

The Beetle for 2014 comes in an unbelievable 14 trims, although according to my sources two of them – the 2.5-liter and the same with sunroof – are being discontinued. There is also, on top of the 14 minus 2, a Beetle convertible model. The base model features a 1.8-liter turbo charged engine that puts out some 170 hp and is rated at 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway, and then there’s that 2.5-liter 4 banger that is not turbocharged and also features some 170 hp (rated 22/31). There is also a TDI diesel model, rated at 28/41 and featuring 140 hp. These trims go for a base of $20,295 up to about $24,895 depending on things like sunroofs, sound and navigation technology packages.

The R-Line features a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine putting out 201 hp (rated 24/30) and I have to say after driving it for a week that it felt like much more power than that. This car is sneaky fast and powerful in the city and gets right up to speed and will pass just about anything without blinking on mountain highways. The greatest part of this is that all of this happens – speeding up, cruising, whatever – in one of the more quiet vehicles I have been in for a long time, especially any vehicle in what is considered the lower, non-luxury end of the price spectrum.

The Beetle also handled quite well – cornering wonderfully, and handling traffic and lane-changing nimbly. If I have any complaint in this area it is that in all Beetles in my experience, and many VW models, they have made the mirrors particularly small. This is especially true of the very small rear-view mirror in the middle of the interior; I would have liked to be able to see more out of the back. Also the side mirrors, while stylish to look at, were small enough to make me lean in and out all the time to check my surroundings. They need to go larger on the mirrors.

As I said, this is essentially a Jetta in the interior. It had a nice power sunroof (standard), and a very nice system for touch-screen navigation (also standard). Then it had a great sound system, with satellite radio, a Fender (like the guitar) premium audio system (also standard on this top-of-the-line model), and all of the Bluetooth and Media Device connectivity everyone seems to expect these days. I also loved the leather seats and that stiff-yet-comfortable German seating.

Okay, so I liked it. But the real question is, would I buy it?  Not this model. The Beetle R-line w/Sunroof & Nav., as it says on the sticker, carries a MSRP of $31,395, $32,215 when you add in destination. Great car, but that is a lot of money for a Beetle. I realize they have packed a lot of extras into the MSRP here, but I would feel more comfortable paying that much for a four-door Jetta with more back-seat room and a larger trunk. The Cute Factor here works for me only to about $25,000.

RATING 3 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)