The most important thing when driving new vehicles is to keep an open mind. Before driving any car for the first time one may have preconceived notions; an opinion based previous experiences or perhaps what we have read or heard from other sources. Then there is the time when you drive a vehicle which you have zero interest in, and the fact that it’s in the worst color ever, does not help things – makes it difficult to stay open minded.
This is how I felt about Volkswagen’s new for 2012, Beetle. The only thing it had going for it was the fact that it was powered by Rudolph Diesel’s compression ignition engine which was connected to a six-speed DSG transmission. Otherwise, I wanted nothing to do with the yellow bug, which to me is just another retro redesign of an iconic car without actually being iconic. I was just going to drive it to New York City (Edgewater, NJ actually, mom’s house) in order to attend the New York Auto Show, and drive it right back to Boston. That’s it.
Funny thing happened along the way…
Let’s get it out of the way – it’s yellow, very yellow. It’s yellow inside too. The good news is that it can be had in other colors. It’s looks different, but the aura of the ’98-’10 New Beetle still lingers around for the average person. Fortunately, everything else is just great!
The typical Beetle proportions yield impressive headroom inside. The rear seat is very spacious too, two kids’ seats fit side-by-side, and there is actual leg room back there too, unlike most small coupes. Windows are large and visibility is generally great. Open the hatch and you’ll be greeting by a spacious trunk.
The dash layout is simple, and that’s a good thing. Everything is easy to use and is placed where you’d expected to be placed. There are no fancy infotainment systems (nav is available) and the climate control consists of three knobs, as it should. Icing on the cake is that everything seems to be of high quality and well screwed together – that something that could not have been said about Volkswagens of the past.
Quality is visible everywhere; closing the doors or the hatch results in a solid thunk. Seat levers have well-defined notches, steering-column stalks have a nice feel to them too, and you know what position each one is in. Window switches, door locks, radio controls, all are, dare I say, very nice to use. I really did not expect that from Volkswagen.
The engine is the biggest surprise of all. I have not driven any U.S.-spec TDI-powered cars before and even though I am a fan of all things diesel, I did not really know what to expect. Fortunately it’s all good news, power, specifically torque, is in abundance. Step on the gas pedal, and the sound of rushing air will push you back into the seat, even at speed. The Beetle TDI is not a fast car, but it feels quick, and is fun.
The DSG transmission should be thought of as an automatic, because, well, that’s what it is. Does it really matter what’s in the box? A torque-converter, a belt, or a clutch or two? No. Put it in D and it responds well to throttle inputs but is tuned for fuel economy. Put it into S and it responds perfectly to all throttle applications. This is definitely the transmission to have if you spend even a fraction of your commute in traffic.
People usually think economy when they’re thinking diesels, and here too the little Beetle does not disappoint. How does nearly 38mpg overall on a 400-mile journey, in mostly highway driving, sound? And I wasn’t hyper-mile-ing it either, because I don’t know how too. I was driving like I do normally, with somewhat of a heavy foot but not excessively fast. There were hills, on-ramps, and passing – all normal northeastern stuff. In all my years of driving between Boston and New York City, only the Prius got a better result, that of 48mpg.
Overall, once I got over the yellowness, I developed respect for the little bug. But at the end of the day, to me and many others, it’s still the New Beetle, which meants a retro redesign of a classic, which it will never be. Give me this engine and this transmission in the Golf body and add some chassis bits from the GTI. Give it an interesting name too, one that hints of performance and diesel economy, perhaps call it “GTD”, and I’ll buy one.
Disclaimer: Volkswagen provided me with the car. I returned it dirty, as seen in pics, after my trip to NYC. Sorry. And apologies about the pics too, not my best work.