2013 Volkswagen Beetle Driving Impressions

As with any new design today, the Beetle's chassis is rigid and the body solid, with subframes front and rear, supporting the suspension. The same torsion beam rear suspension as the old New Beetle and the recently redesigned Jetta is used in the base coupe, and Volkswagen does a good job with this technology that some might call ancient. However, the Beetle Turbo and all convertibles use a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, for a higher threshold of cornering and better bump absorption.

The freeway ride in the Beetle coupe doesn't suffer for the torsion beam. It's comfortable and consistent. Potholes don't hurt, but rough pavement can make the rear end of the car want to dance.

Most new cars are going to electric power steering nowadays because it improves fuel economy. The Beetle uses hydraulic assist for its rack and pinion in base 2.5L models, but switches to electric assist in Turbos and TDIs. If we didn't know the steering was hydraulic in some models and electric in others, we wouldn't be able to tell the difference. In any model, the steering is direct and predictable, with decent road feel. VW seems to be programming its electric power steering better than most manufacturers. Whether hydraulic or electric power steering, the ratio is the same tight 16.3:1.

The base Beetle can handle some fairly aggressive driving, but it has its limitations in the twisties. If sporty handling is what you want, the Beetle Turbo's stiffer suspension and multi-link rear suspension help it hug the road better and rotate more willingly through turns.

The same goes for the Beetle convertible. Despite the loss of the top, the body structure is still impressively solid. That's because VW took several measures to improve rigidity, including adding a central plate in the front roof crossmember, ultra-high strength steel tubing between the B pillars, more sheetmetal in the lower body sidemembers, and an extra rear panel made of high strength steel that also houses the pop-up rollbars. VW also used a thicker interior bar in the front pillars. All of this work makes the Beetle convertible very solid for a ragtop, with little cowl shake and body quake over bumps. It's much more rigid than we expected, offering handling that is a close match for the coupe. That's a credit to Volkswagen.

There isn't a loser among the Beetle's three engines, though the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine is in line to be replaced fairly soon. This transversely mounted, cast-iron block engine makes 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to a 5-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic with a manual mode.

Acceleration performance is adequate, with 0 to 60 mph coming in about nine seconds, and 75 mph on the freeway is smooth and mostly effortless. The engine is a little buzzy, and fuel economy is good, but not great.

For the best fuel mileage in your 2.5L, the manual transmission is EPA-rated higher than the automatic, at 22 City/31 Highway, vs. 22/29 mpg for the automatic (21/27 for the convertible, which comes only with the automatic). We landed in the middle, at 24.5 mpg with the automatic, running about 200 miles on both the freeway and around-town.

We were not wowed by the automatic transmission. It lacks steering wheel shift paddles. Instead, drivers can shift manually by moving the gearshift side to side, which is better than nothing, but it won't inspire boy racers. The manual transmission is more satisfying, and it picks up the car's acceleration, particularly from 0 to 60.

If you want outstanding fuel economy, go for the TDI with its 2.0-liter turbodiesel, which is EPA rated as high as 28 City/41 Highway. Horsepower is modest at 140, but this engine makes 236 pound-feet of torque. It's a proven commodity, as it is used in the Jetta and Golf TDI. It comes either with a manual transmission or VW's double-clutch DSG automatic manual transmission. The TDI will deliver the most fuel mileage by far, while providing similar acceleration numbers as the 2.5.

The 2.0-liter turbo with the DSG transmission is the hot rod, but it offers refined sportiness and it isn't as agile as the GTI. It's a boost thing, and balance thing. The Beetle Turbo is heavier, doesn't handle as well, and its DSG is programmed relatively wish-washy. But that doesn't mean it's still not a lot sportier than the 2.5L Beetle, and more fun. Acceleration is considerably snappier, with 0 to 60 mph arriving in about 6.5 seconds. If what you want first is a Beetle and then sportiness, the Beetle 2.0T works.

In general, we like the DSG. It snaps off pretty quick shifts, and when pushed hard in the Turbo, lets out a cool little rasp between gears. It can, however, sometimes feel a bit slushy, making it a bit of a risk to pull out in front of traffic. Overall, we like it better the harder we drive the car.

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