By on November 8, 2013

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Every couple of years, somebody releases a study claiming to show that the average palate can’t differentiate between a good red wine and a cheap red wine, a good red wine and a good white wine, or a good red wine and a tumbler-full of Thunderbird mixed with antifreeze and raw gasoline. Survey says: it’s all the same juice, right?

Previously, amidst the vineyards of the Napa Valley, EIC Pro Tempore / sommelier Jack Baruth decanted a few forced-induction Germanic vintages and ran us through the tasting notes. He left one machine off – the turbocharged version of VW’s Beetle. So what do we think: GTI wine in a rotund bocksbetuel?

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Aside from the “VW Candy” of the not-yet-available-here seventh-generation GTI and Scirocco R, the cars most prominently featured at the driving event were the Beetle GSRs. A yellow and black painted homage to a mildly juiced up 1970s Bug, the “Gelb-Schwarzer-Renner” boasts cosmetic enhancements and exactly no extra power. It also looks like Bumblebee guy off the Simpsons.

Stepping past Señor No Es Bueno brought me to my plain black test vehicle, a six-speed manual. For a work-through of all the little exterior details that make up the new-for-2012 bug, please see Sajeev Mehta’s excellent dissection here.

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Briefly, I think this thing looks a wee bit badass, all glittering carapace and chunky 18” alloys. The idea of retro-design might not appeal to everyone, but there’s a little extra flavour here, and it’s done right. The slightly extended, stretched-out looks of the Beetle give it genuine road presence: it’s now a car, not a clutch-purse.

For 2014, all Beetles with the 2.0L Turbo get the R-Line, VW’s package of aerodynamic-look fascias, a rear spoiler, and those big rims; the car also changes its name from Beetle Turbo to Beetle R-Line, what with the base engine now a snail-fed 1.8. Power is slightly up by a who-cares extra 10 for a total of 210hp.

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Inside, this mid-trim tester came with a carbon-fibre-look dash, silver-ringed instrument binnacle and dashboard gauge pod. The cloth seats had decent bolstering, and I liked the patterning. Actually, given the excellent headroom and usable back seats, I like the surroundings in here better than the current GTI.

As soon as I rolled off the line, I changed my mind. It’s not that there’s anything specifically wrong with the boosted Beetle, it’s just that all the dynamics are about 10% less good than the GTI. The accelerator doesn’t seem to react as quickly. There’s more body roll. The seating position is just a little too high. The steering is a bit lighter, a bit looser, and a little more numb.

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But 90% GTI is still a passing grade on anyone’s report-card, unless you’re a mechanic. Stirring up the Beetle’s torquey two-litre via the six-speed shifter, I flung the little car down the winding canyon roads VW had mapped out. These were excellent, and relatively traffic free. The Bug hopped through the bends like a flea down the wrinkle of a Shar-pei.

That’s a flea with combat boots, however. You can get ridiculous 19”s on the top-spec R-Line Beetle, but even these 18”s are a little too heavy for backroads carving. Those fat 5-spokes have a considerable amount of mass cast into them – hazarding a guess, I’d say somewhere in the mid 30 pound range.

Bah hum-bug. Give me a set of forged 17”s any day with proper offset to clear the brakes. Last month I dropped by HPA out here in BC – the lunatics who boosted one of the original New Beetles into the high 400hp range – and they set all their 200mph-rated big-brake kits to fit behind 18”s. The R-Line brakes are only just acceptable, and shouldn’t require the diameter upgrade.

Leaving the heavy footwear aside, the turbo’d Beetle can actually be a lot of fun. After slowing for some construction, I followed a touring sportbike through a series of winding curves – he was probably going 20%, I was going more like 80% – and the Vee-Dub seemed to find some flow. Hammering through these switchback corners in a rear-wheel-drive 5.0 ‘Stang (which isn’t far off in terms of a price comparison) and a wrong move would put you off the road and embedded straight into the terroir. The Bug was a bit of a rhythmic challenge, but the rewards were there.

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If the incentives were right, if the price-tag on this car got low enough, if some dealer was motivated to move a narrow-appeal manual-transmission unit off the lot… hmm. I’m thinking reflash & tune, maybe some beefier sways, bit of a mild drop in height perhaps – there’s some potential here. It’s not as sharp a tool as the GTI, but sometimes, using the not-quite-best instrument has an appeal all its own. There’s a bit of Herbie potential here and-

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Sweet mother of pearl: have I just advised that somebody void the warranty on a Volkswagen product by modifying it? I gotta call Saul!

VW Provided the cars tested, flights and accomodation.
As-tested, the car stickered at $27,595 (US)

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41 Comments on “Review: 2014 VW Beetle R-Line...”


  • avatar
    anti121hero

    Great little review and nice bb comment at the end

  • avatar

    This probably the only VW vehicle I could see myselg owning without harboring massive second thoughts. Not about reliability, as I think VW can do well there, but just in terms of the car’s design. Could probably even get used to the ride and seating.

    I think this car is a big improvement on the first. The first was a good external design, but I really didn’t like the interior. Seems they have fixed it up pretty nicely in this instance.

    Now if VW would just tone it down a bit. Much less chrome and smaller, saner wheels would go a long way. Foe ME. I know almost everybody here loves those awful huge wheels.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    $28k and no digital climate control? Seriously, clickety knobs?

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Personally I prefer “clickety knobs”, especially the pointer-based ones (instead of the round ones.) You can adjust them to the precise setting you wish without taking your eyes off the road. (Not to mention that the system is simpler and easier/cheaper to repair of something goes wrong.)

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        Amen. Clickety knobs and buttons allow you to go by feel alone and are much easier to replace when they break.

        • 0 avatar
          Spartan

          When they break? My beater is a 1994 Ford Taurus SHO with digital climate control and it’s worked for the past 20 years.

          That A/C setup looks completely out of place in that interior.

          • 0 avatar
            krayzie

            The HVAC fan that goes behind the glovebox do break. The Climatic one is around $100 while the Climatronic one is over $500 from the VW stealership parts counter. Same fan, slightly different electronics (probably two bucks difference in cost).

  • avatar
    el scotto

    “in a rear-engined 5.0 ‘Stang”. Does anyone proofread?

  • avatar
    markf

    No matter what VW does to this it will always be a chick car.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      Women are 50% of the market and influence 80% of car buying decisions. What is wrong with offering a car that caters to their tastes, like the Mini?

      • 0 avatar
        markf

        Nothing wrong with it but VW has been open in their effort to “man up” the Beetle and change the perception that it is chick car. So while you may be ok with it, VW obviously is not.

    • 0 avatar
      noxioux

      I wish I had a nickel for every time someone told me that about my Miata. They usually clam up after a ride in it.

    • 0 avatar
      CarGal

      I wouldn’t own one. Most of my female friends never expressed any interest in owning one.

      There is no such thing as a “chick car” If women suddenly expressed more interest in owning a 1974 Barracuda, would that turn it into a “chick car”?

      As long as a guy keeps his car clean, I could care less what he drives.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Yowzah! More comments, please!

      • 0 avatar
        markf

        There is most definitely such thing as a chick car and this is the queen bee. Just look at the driver of the next beetle you see on the road.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheatridger

          There’s a certain age, about 4-6, when all kids delight in calling out the boys from the girls. Most of us grow out of it. Those who don’t either become blog commentators or experts in the Romance Languages, such as French and Spanish, where every noun has gender.

          The rest of us just find this compulsive sexual sorting silly and repetitious.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    As I age gracefully (I hope) I am liking cars that are easy to get into and out of. You mentioned that the seat was a little too high for you, I’ve also heard that about the Fiat 500.

    When I drove the 500, i found the seating position higher that i’m used to. I got over it quickly, tho. Everything falls to hand, and ingress and egress is much easier than I expected. I’m wondering if this is the case here also? Would be appreciated.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Durn tootin’… my sole criterion for my next purchase beyond 4-cyl gas mileage is that the top of the driver’s door opening must be higher than my chin. So EFFIN’ tired of cracking the side of my head on modern rooflines. Plus I wants me some ride height for snow.

      • 0 avatar
        Mach

        Sounds like you want a truck, or at least an SUV/CUV. Tall roofs and high ground clearance isn’t what “car” designers are thinking about when they put pencil to paper, especially when looking at fuel economy as closely as they all seem to nowadays.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Right on all counts. The five years since 2008 are the only time in my life where I didn’t have my own, the family’s or a company truck/van. But I traded my Silverado back then to be cheap with gas.

          So now we have two fuel-efficient cars and I’m effin’ miserable. Luckily a son with a ’13 Grand Caravan lives 45 min. away. In fact he’s at the house right now and I’m fixin’ to mooch it again.

  • avatar
    mjz

    This just looks too damn big to me. It looks like a caricature of itself. Reminds me of those huge bloated Mustangs from the 70′s. It should be based on the smaller Polo platform, not the larger Golf. It’s a decent design, particularly the interior, just too big.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Meh, this is as about as far as you can get from the original idea of the VW Beetle.

    How the heck does adding a silly bodykit give a car 10 more hp? Maybe the Honda guys are onto something!

  • avatar
    Charlie84

    I think this thing looks amazing. I would rock the shit out of one if it was more of a hardcore hot-hatch. But it would need to be considerably lighter, have quicker steering, a proper LSD, and Honda-esque snick-snick shifter. It won’t happen…but if it did, I’m pretty sure I’d be putting a kidney up on eBay tout de suite.

  • avatar
    pietalian

    “If the incentives were right, if the price-tag on this car got low enough…”

    Isn’t that like saying “I’d choose anyone in the bar if my beer-goggles were strong enough?”

    Also, no Wagon Mafia stickers allowed here.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    What publication is it that said, “The answer is always a Miata”? In this case, the answer is always, “Get the GTI”.

    I like the Beetle, always have. Like Don Draper, I was swayed by those brilliant ads in the 60s and made a mental note to own at least one in my lifetime. But every time I’ve come close to considering one –New Beetle Turbo, Turbo S, Beetle R — the enthiast side of me says the GTI is the better choice in all regards. Hence a string of GTIs have graced my garage (Rabbit GTI, Mark V, R32, and currently a Mark VI) and darned if I can ever see a case where the slightly slower and less nimble Beetle would break that streak. The lighter and more powerful Mark VII GTI has been garnering rave reviews, including from our own esteemed E-I-C, so I think it’s inevitable that I will get the GTI rather than any Beetle that VW can come up with. It’s a pity, as I still like them, but I can’t see sacrificing the performance for the sake of style.

    Saul? I hear he’s managing a Cinnabun in Tulsa.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Having owned both, the big difference is how others react to your car. My green NB was a one-car parade. I felt welcome wherever I went, even the truck stops. Folks would bore me with tales of their old Beetle, and I’d bore them back with TDI talk.

      If the NB made friends, my GTI is more polarizing. Soon after buying a used MKV, it was keyed badly by, who knows? Twice one day, two cars (both gray Accords) roared angrily past me, one on the left shoulder. It really seems to provoke some guys when I don’t speed, or won’t race them. So I’ve peeled the GTI badge off the back, and the madness seems to have calmed. Other GTI owners smile when I tell this story, so it’s not just me.

      If I wanted a small VW with the 2.0T and two doors, this would be the choice, wouldn’t it? So the (new) Beetle serves a purpose. But does it make people happy and friendly?

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        A fair point. I do remember the first time I saw a New Beetle in person back in the late 90s. It was 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning in a Whole Foods parking lot, and there was a crowd of twenty people gathered around it, all pointing and smiling. I’ve never seen a reaction like that, even from Ferraris or other exotic cars.

        I’ve never been challenged to a street race in any of my GTIs, but that may be because I don’t routinely drive on the strips where the local racers hang out. There are enough GTIs around town driven by middle-aged bald guys (me being one of them) that I suspect we are just automatically considered not interested and left alone.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I don’t understand this car. I had a 1960 and 1966 Beetle and while the shape is nostaligic it does nothing for me. Personally I’d be embaresed to be seen in it. Now put this package in the new A3 (especially the manual!) and I’d gladly pay a few thousand more for it. If that makes me a badge whore will phuck it, I know what I like.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    That top photo breaks my heart.

    Don’t do it, little bug!
    There’s always something to live for!

  • avatar
    tedward

    If you are going to do rear sway-bar, wheels and springs/dampers then there really isn’t much difference between the Beetle turbo and the GTI. Not one worth quibbling about anyway. Buy whichever one looks better to you.

    If keeping it stock forever I’d go with the GTI.

    Also, that steering rack is (three way) adjustable with a VAGCOM, I have the same unit in my car and selecting the lowest assist setting made a tremendous difference. It is truly bizarre that they all don’t come that way from the factory.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    For the life of me I can’t understand why they didn’t let the nostalgia thing die when they put the New Beetle out to pasture. Why does this thing exist? Why does Volkswagen insist on living in the past with a car that shares few of its styling cues and none of its pricing philosophy with the original, and does little more than take (a few) sales from other cars in the Volkswagen showroom?

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I like that car’s appeal, once I can get past the price. I think it looks awesome, would be a good DD,etc…… but… after having a 01′ Jetta in our fleet, sure it has 237,000 miles, but they have been far from trouble-free.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I like the interior, but those 3 ‘tuner’ gauges perched up on the dash would annoy me. I left that styling touch behind thirty years ago.

  • avatar
    z9

    I can’t stand the new new Beetle design, either inside or out, and I loved the old design — we owned two different Turbos back in the day. My wife almost broke down in tears the first time she saw one of these new ones. And this R design monstrosity is just beyond the pale.

    I am happy to hear the car handles reasonably well. That was not necessarily a high point of the old one.

    Back to you John.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I really like the New New Beetle. Makes me smile to see them.

    Shame about the wagon wheel silliness. Lightweight wheels really do make a huge difference. My winter wheels and tires are nearly 15lbs lighter per corner than the stock summer wheels and rft tires on my BMW – the difference is not subtle at all. I figure it is half weight and half not being rfts. Though the winters are z-speed rated, so not exactly cushy.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I find these more attractive, with a more aggressive look than the previous generation. Plus it’s not a bad deal compared to a Mini.

    Wonder how many former Saab 900/9-3 owners would be attracted to these since it is FWD, 3 dr hatch, turbo, manual with a Saab like upright seating position and a similar looking dash, except for the 3 gauge add on pod.

  • avatar
    Pat26.2

    I leased a Beetle Turbo last May after a long string of stick-shift Accords dating back to 1997. I was going to get a Focus ST, but the lease rates were horrible, plus the wife hated the lack of rear visibility. We had almost settled on a Ford Fusion when I decided to check out the Beetle. The test drive put a smile on my face so I ordered a red turbo with a stick shift. The wife said “no, must be grey or silver and automatic”. So, I ended up in silver DSG Turbo.

    It is fun to drive, comfortable and practical. I always liked hatchbacks and this one is quite commodious. The rear view is fine, once I’d removed the rear seat headrests. The blind spot is easily checked because the B pillar is so far back.

    If you don’t watch the speedo, you can hit autobahn speeds very quickly. I have the ticket to prove that. Lately, I’ve been driving for economy. I typically get 30mpg on my commutes, which are a mix of city driving (9 stop lights) and freeway. On a longer trip, I got 40mpg driving at traffic speed. Driving for economy means avoiding braking. So, on corners, where most people touch their brakes, I don’t. The Beetle just powers around the bends while I’m fighting the instinct to brake.

    After 7000 miles, I’ve had no problems to report, unlike my last (ever) Accord, which stranded me in traffic when the clutch failed at 900 miles.

    The wife is not much of a driver but she likes it. It feels much safer than our last Accord, according to her. She used to have a VW so this was an easy sell. The GTI or Jetta? No way. The Passat, maybe.

    It has some nice little touches I’d not seen before. If you nudge the turn indicator, you get five clicks, which is just right for indicating a lane change or turn. The cruise control has a rocker switch that you can use to increase or decrease the cruise setting by 1 mph. It is sort of fun trying to drive in traffic using just that as your accelerator and brake.

    I don’t usually like automatics, but the DSG is great. Up changes are are very fast and smooth. If you want to make the car more responsive, snick it into Sport Mode and plant your right foot. That’s how I got that ticket. I don’t have paddle shifters, but you can row your own using the shift lever. It just isn’t the same as a true stick shift, so the novelty of doing that soon wore off.

    Assuming it gets through the 3 year lease without any major issues, I’d be happy to get another one. Or maybe the next generation GTI.


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