Review: 2014 VW Beetle R-Line

Brendan McAleer
by Brendan McAleer
review 2014 vw beetle r line

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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-

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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2 of 41 comments
  • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on Nov 10, 2013

    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.

  • Pat26.2 Pat26.2 on Nov 11, 2013

    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.

  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.