Beetle Juice Beetle Juice. The 60s darling is back for 2013 with new sheet metal, a new interior (that basically mimics the Jetta and Passat) and new engine choices. Choosing an engine used to be very simple: power or efficiency? But now we have smart turbos and efficient combustion, so you can have your horsepower cake and eat it cheaply too.
Such is the case with VW’s 2.0 turbo 4-banger, which makes 200HP and 207ft-lbs of torque, but still cruises at 30MPG highway (21 city). It’s an excellent engine, with full torque down low, powering all the way through the swing. The Volkswagen Beetle I had sent power through VW’s 6-speed DSG transmission (a $1,000 option), and a good unit it is. The paddles engage rapid-fire shifts, but it’s happy to chill in auto mode as well.
The result of this pairing was a legitimately fast Beetle Convertible. “A what?” It surprised me too. 200HP isn’t much to speak about today, what with the Focus ST and all, but with road feel like a slightly-overweight GTI, the Beetle 2.0T is a quick ball of nostalgia that sticks to a squiggly road and gallops down highways. No one will mistake you for an enthusiast, making the surprise that much greater when you sprint away from a light. The 2.0T has given the love bug a little attitude.
But do the people want a bad bug? The original Beetle wasn’t for hot rodders, it was for the hippies, the friendlies, and the common. Racing and horsepower is for a certain population, the Bug was supposed to be for everyone. And what’s more flower child than a diesel engine? Who do you think figured out french fry oil could propel you down a road? It wasn’t auto-crossers, I can assure you.
So we have the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Convertible; same car, same soft roof, transmission, same force-fed displacement, leather, NAV the price is even close ($29,000 for our optioned up 2.0T, $28,000 for the diesel). It’s the same car; they just use a different colored nozzle at the pump.
The diesel motor, however, is down many horsepower; 60 to be exact, for a total of 140. Not a lot, but that’s diesel for you. But as always, it has a large posse of torque: 236ft-lbs. That lump of grunt is why the Beetle Convertible TDI is only .3 seconds behind the 2.0T to 60MPH, yet on a highway it goes 11 more miles per gallon (28/41MPG), and that’s quite a bit. Normally diesel cars carry an insurmountable price premium, but our cars were equally nice inside, had equally small trunks and back seats, and had the same dash. So, really, it comes to feel.
The feel of the diesel is slow. Very slow. I don’t know why, on paper it’s near identical, and usually torque feels quick. But there’s lethargy in the engine and the transmission. I never thought a diesel would feel reluctant to spool up, but this one does. The gasoline engine downshifts fast and serves power hot and early. But the diesel takes its time. Even when the turbo has spooled, you feel like you’re dragging a tree. If you want a Herbie with bravado or sportiness, this isn’t it.
What should you buy? I genuinely don’t know. The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 2.0T (gas) surprises you, and carries some machismo the Beetle convertible lacks. It’s a GTI with none of the practicality. The diesel has none of that, but the engine just fits this car. It’s economical, environmentally friendly, and yeah, I’d put biodiesel in it.
If performance is what you want, Beetle money is better spent elsewhere. But finding a car with the cache, heritage, and fairer-sex appeal that’s also as efficient as the diesel Bug is near impossible.
(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Volkswagen.)