By on July 13, 2015

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-003

Once upon a time, Volkswagen’s iconic Beetle sold primarily on its low sticker price, durability reputation and ease of maintenance. VW’s new Bug, however, sells on retro style and a healthy dollop of nostalgia.

The Bug before us today is the second generation “New Beetle” first resurrected in Europe as a 1998 model based on VW’s Golf and A3 platform. It was then redesigned for 2012, sharing its bones with the MK5 Golf and Jetta.

Redesigning retro is always tricky. This explains why the original Bug barely changed over the years and why the other retro-flashbacks like the PT Cruiser and Chevy HHR turned into one-hit wonders. If you don’t change enough, shoppers won’t see a reason to trade Herbie in for a new time capsule. Change it too much and you’re left with a caricature. Either way you slice it, retro comes at a cost.

Exterior
The original “New Beetle” rocked cutesy-bubbly good looks, headlamps that screamed for aftermarket eye-lashes, tail lamps that begged to be flower-powered and a bud vase built into the dash. VW’s second take on the retro-bug is deliberately more masculine, or so I’m told. The classic fender bulges and retro-inspired wheels are still here, but this bug is longer, wider, and lower than ever before. Making this profile semi-circular like the last gen model would have been tricky since it’s nearly half a foot longer, so they didn’t even try. Instead the engineers penned a kink where the windshield meets the roof for a more traditional roofline up front. The changes make Herbie look like a bug that’s been stepped on slightly or stretched in the middle — take your pick.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-006

The 2015 model is still instantly recognizable as a Bug, but I think I actually miss the “cutsey” new bug’s overall style. The new front bumper seems especially out-of-place as it exaggerates the front overhang and the crisp creases don’t jibe with the oval lamps and bubbly fenders. The design struck me as a paradox: It is as conservative as we expect from Volkswagen, but slightly discordant with the rest of their product line. For a manufacturer known for elegant, restrained and monolithic styling, the Beetle strikes me as almost cartoonish. Almost. VW offers a fix, however: the Beetle drop-top. By removing the lid, the Beetle loses the “squashed” look and somehow gains rear headroom as well.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-007

Interior
The interior borrows parts from the corporate bin and wraps them in retro styling. We get plenty of painted plastic trim and two glove boxes as a nod to the past. If you’ve recently taken VW’s new Golf out for a spin, you should know that this Beetle is related to the 2015 Jetta, not the 2015 Golf and Audi A3. This means you find plenty of hard plastics inside, and the cabin doesn’t have the “discount Audi” feel you find in VW’s hot hatch. Is that a problem? Not necessarily. The Golf has an unusually nice interior for its base price tag and the Beetle is merely class average. Of course, the Beetle is also an odd product to classify as its only real retro competition comes from the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper.

Even on our loaded 1.8T tester ($27,805), VW decided not to borrow the Jetta’s power seats or automatic climate control. Although I found the front seats comfortable for my body shape, the range of motion is limited compared to other compacts. The Bug’s rear seats have become a tad more spacious in this generation, but should still be considered “emergency” seats due to limited leg room. Headroom is tight in the rear, but suitable for folks under 6-feet tall. Compared to the internal competition, you’ll find about 4-inches more rear legroom in the 3-door Golf and nearly 8 inches more in the Jetta sedan. If that surprises you, then you may also be surprised to hear that the Fiat 500 actually gives you more rear legroom than the VW, although cargo room is unquestionably more limited.

Once upon a time, you couldn’t get leather in your Beetle and we’ve come full circle to your choice of cloth or V-Tex leatherette — VW-speak for pleather. Of course, the Beetle is all about retro styling and that’s most apparent in the Classic trim, which is well equipped, bargain priced, and comes upholstered in checkered cloth and brown pleather.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Infotainment

Infotainment
No, our tester didn’t come with a CB radio, but there is something retro about VW’s long-serving infotainment systems. Base models get an AM/FM radio, single CD player, Bluetooth and VW’s MDI interface for iDevice/USB integration. In an odd twist, the new Beetle Classic trim and the top-end trim get VW’s touchscreen navigation head unit while the middle two models do not.

The 5-inch touchscreen is shared with the Jetta and, at this point, is far from a spring chicken. Compared to the latest offerings from the competition, VW’s nav system is slow, less polished, less intuitive and the screen is small. Although the 2015 Golf uses a newer system, the one you really need to wait for is the 2016 “MIB II” system with its larger screen and thoroughly modern software package — but it is expected to feature on other VW models before the Beetle. On the bright side, the optional 9-speaker Fender audio system is totally groovy.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8L Turbo Engine-001

Drivetrain
I never really minded the odd-ball 2.5L five-cylinder VW used to put under the Beetle’s hood, but there is no denying the new 1.8L turbo is a huge improvement. Also found under the hood of the Golf, Jetta and Passat, the 1.8L engine cranks out a respectable 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. Making the 1.8T even more attractive, all 184 lb-ft happen at just 1,500 RPM. Classic models come only with an Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic transaxle while other trims start with a five-speed manual. Opting for the slushbox will give you the best gasoline fuel economy at an EPA rated 25 MPG city and 33 highway.

Also shared with the Jetta is the Beetle’s refreshed 2.0L turbo diesel, good for 160 horsepower and 238 lb-ft of torque. Although it’s a little slower than the 1.8L gasoline turbo, acceleration is aided by a standard six-speed manual and an optional six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (DSG) transmission.

If neither of those drivetrains float your boat, you can still get the Beetle R-Line with the last generation GTI’s 2.0L turbo engine with 210 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of twist. All those ponies are routed to the front wheels via the same six-speed DSG as the TDI model or a slightly tweaked six-speed manual.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Backup Camera

Drive
Out on the road, the differences between the Jetta, Golf and Beetle are readily apparent. The Beetle is noisier, more softly sprung and slightly slower than the all-new Golf hatchback. Comparisons to the more closely related Jetta are again a little more appropriate than with the Golf. When driven hard, the Beetle exhibits predictable dynamics with plenty of body roll and protest from the tires. At just under 3,000 pounds, the Beetle isn’t a heavy car for the 21st century, but neither is it overly light. A similarly equipped Jetta is a hair lighter despite being longer and the new VW Golf weighs about 100 lbs less. To put that in perspective, the Fiat 500, which could be seen as the only real competitor in this price bracket, is nearly 500 pounds lighter. (The Fiat is, of course, much smaller.) Handling improves on the top-end 1.8T model thanks to wider 235/45R18 tires all the way around, but you’ll need to step up to the R-Line before suspension changes address the soft springs our tester wore.

Acceleration in the 1.8T model is excellent for any car in the $20-26K range with 60 happening in 7.5 seconds, notably faster than the old 2.5L five-cylinder model. Although I wish VW had paired this engine to their six-speed manual, the base five speed is well matched to the engine. Shifter feel is excellent, shifter travel is moderate and the clutch pedal had a linear engagement we’ve come to expect from the Germans. The turbo engine’s low-end torque makes hill climbing a breeze and if you get the manual there’s less gear shifting than a comparable naturally-aspirated engine. Steering feel is average for the compact segment with moderate steering effort.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Instrument Cluster

The 2.0L R-Line model I sampled briefly from a local dealer seemed underpowered compared to the modern crop of direct-injection 2.0L turbos on the market, but it is notably faster than the Fiat 500 Abarth. Additionally, the six-speed DSG is a dynamic partner on your favorite winding road. The downside to the R-Line is that it isn’t the same engine you get in the current GTI. The new GTI 2.0L turbo has considerably more torque, a bit more horsepower and it all comes to the boil a little sooner than the old engine. That means the R-Line is not the Beetle-GTI hybrid you may be hoping for. It’s also a little rough around the edges thanks to less sound deadening material in the Beetle.

After a week with the Beetle, which happened to be shortly after my spin in a 2015 GTI and 2015 e-Golf, there’s just no way to sugar coat it: The Jetta and Golf are better options unless you value style over practicality, efficiency and performance. The Beetle is unquestionably more car for your dollar then you’ll find at the Fiat dealer, with more luggage room and a snazzier stereo. The problem is the new Golf is sitting right next to the Beetle on the lot. The Golf is more efficient, roomier, has a bigger trunk, handles better, it’s slightly faster and has a much more premium interior. For about the same price.

Now there is a twist here, and that is the VW Beetle Convertible. At $25,595, the Beetle convertible is better looking than the hard top beetle and it’s one of the best drop-top deals in the USA. VW also offers a 2.0L R-Line convertible and a diesel convertible with a six-speed manual. If you’re contemplating a Beetle and want style, there’s nothing wrong with the hardtop — go right ahead. If you’re on the fence, take my advice and either get the Golf or drop a few more bills and get the Beetle convertible.

Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review. 

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.6 Seconds

0-60: 7.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 28.2 MPG

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43 Comments on “2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T Review (With Video)...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    So overall, it’s much better than the old one, still not that great, and not as good as the other things for sale next to it at the same price. Great job VW! That interior is indeed a huge step up over the last one, but still blech – especially when we consider the whole dash is color coded, and will be MORE offensive in colors other than silbermetallikt.

    I think the days are gone when these would sell in massive numbers, as the retro-cutesy days of the PT, HHR, Thunderbird, SSR, Prowler, etc. are gone away. Thank god. But man I do love that wheel design. It would look equally at home on a nice new Phaeton. Or a D2 A8 if it had a different logo at the center.

    Around here lately, I’ve seen one of these Beetles in retro paints driving around, it’s blue with white fenders. I wondered if it was a factory job or a special trim level or something.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Colour-coded dash was the only way you could buy a Beetle until the crash regulations forced the addition of a (black) padded dashboard in the early 1970s (or was it 1969?). So that’s definitely a retro element.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      When I think of “vintage Beetles” I think of frequent repairs, carburetors, constant tweaking, oil spills, tiny unsafe brakes, expensive yet badly made aftermarket replacement parts, occasional electrical fires…

      I never did get the whole “retro” car fad, gimme a Golf or an Audi A3 hatch.

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        YOU know. YOU remember.

        The only thing to celebrate about the original Beetles is one’s luck in being alive today.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          After a battery fire and a radio that BURNED my Moody Blues tape, I have to agree.

          Some local kid drives a 70’s vintage Bug as a pizza delivery car, always jumps the clutch at every stoplight, wears a goofy hat.

          Or he USED to drive it around, I think he wised up and got something newer.

      • 0 avatar
        Old_WRX

        And, let’s not forget the original Beetle’s wonderful heater.

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        Hey,why all the hate for vintage bugs? My ’58 was WAY better than my buddy’s ’59 Chevy: he got 10mpg, I got 30; girls loved my “cute” car, he never gave rides; my car was fun to drive, his was a tank. There was no “frequent repairs, constant tweaking, oil spills”- just a Swiss army knife basic car that got me to school.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Because its 2015, not 1962.

          In 1960 they were the Honda Civics of their time, simple, cheap, EASILY modified or tuned to crazy degrees. Though Beetles fight rust better than most Civics.

          50 years later Beetles are no longer cheap nor are that many of their parts. And you will be working on them, any car 20+ years later will need things replaced.

  • avatar
    GTL

    Regarding your comments on the exterior styling, generally I agree, but I think you missed something – this new body shape evokes the Porsche 356 as much as it does the original beetle. Smooth out those fender flares and it’s a ringer. Was that unintentional? I doubt it.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      this new body shape evokes the Porsche 356…

      Yup, I’ve always said that. This new shape is the nicest kit car retro Porsche ever built.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Re: Porsche, the curved door edge seems to be a nod to recent-ish Boxsters and 911’s. First-gen New Beetles had straight door edges that were a hallmark of the original Beetle.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      As someone who owned 2 original Beetles, I think the redesign does a much better job of evoking the original. The previous version always looked liked a child’s toy version of a Beetle. That said, the real charm of the Beetle was its simplicity of design and execution. While I wouldn’t ever consider again driving around with the gas tank up front and the engine in back, I would consider something that went back to basics the way Beetles once did.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        All three retromobiles – Beetle, Fiat 500, Mini – were icons in their respective regions of the world. The VW and Fiat were the cars that really got their home countries on wheels. There’s no real way to duplicate that now, no one’s going to buy a car that simple and crude these days, so what we are left with three stylish coupes with retro styling. My sister had a ’71 Super Beetle while we were in high school, hers had the semiautomatic transmission to make it even slower. The car had a certain amount of character that modern cars don’t. Would I want to drive one on a regular basis today? Nope, not at all.

        I think of all the cars on the market today in the US, the Mirage is the closest to the Beetle in intent. In Canada, you have the Nissan Micra as well.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    To my mind they dropped the ball with the taillights. They should have stuck with the distinct circular design rather than going the new more generic design.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      If they had, there’d be entirely too much blank plastic, unless the diameter of those circles was HUGE. It would look like someone had taped giant Skittles to the back.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Convertible with diesel and 6-sp manual.
    Well you have to give them props for having a full product selection.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Meh.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    Interesting that VAG is finally getting into the 21st century with automatic transmissions…no more crappy VW autos. I don’t see the allure to these little retro-styled cars, and while I might drive a Mini, depending on the color, there is no way on earth I would drive a Beetle or 500.

    I will say that a short ride in a friend’s 2014 Passat SEL TDI was impressive…nice materials, nice Fender stereo, strong running and quiet diesel. Not a fan of VW, in general, but that Passat was a nice place to ride shotgun.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    All the She-Boomers who wanted one of these bought one. The nostalgia niche is inherently limited. I’m surprised VW is still trying.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      GoodCarBadCar says otherwise: http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2011/01/volkswagen-beetle-sales-figures.html

      They sold 2,282 of them in June and 2,685 in May, and even 1389 in January, which looks like an outlier low month.

      It’s a niche, but one that’s evidently still quite popular enough to justify the car.

  • avatar
    sproc

    I realize this is a statement car that is either loved or not, but considering you can get an SE trim 2-door GTI for about the same price as this loaded 1.8T, I’m definitely in the “don’t get it” camp.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Nice work, Alex. Detailed, reasoned criticism that offers real help in assessing the pluses and minuses of this car. Your reviews are among my favorite features on this site.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Alex’s review are some of the best on the web as far I see. Just enough common man and rarely gee-wiz-bang.

      I like this issue of New Beetle much better than last – it pays homage to the Beetle but sprinkles a little 356 in there. However I’m much too pragmatic to pass over the Golf for this. It’s even rumored the Golf convertible may be heading this way.

      Looking at the numbers, I doubt there will be a New Beetle III.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I like it, myself, though I’m not a coupe guy.

        If I had Piles Of Money to throw at a silly car, I’d get a Beetle Classic.

        Otherwise, no.

        But I’m not the target market – and people *are* buying them, to the tune of a few thousand a month.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Time to call Terminix on the Beetle.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    To me, if VW is going to insist on offering the Beetle, they should make it their version of the Nissan Versa Note or the Hyundai Accent; their entry-level model. The styling is different enough from the rest of the line up that they could decontent the heck out of the Beetle and sell it to the youths in the $10k range. Mexican production should make this more doable than it would be with European production. Make it the cheap car the Beetle always was and sell a boat load to younger people and the seniors who were buying Scions.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      “the seniors who were buying Scions”

      You must mean gen 1 xBs?

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      The best Beetle EVER – and $5,000 too expensive. A shame, really.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      All things considered its probably cheaper to build then their Golfs n Jettas, less options, less doors, less glass…

      Yet even the basic “classic” model costs a good $3k more than its shared platformers

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Volume means low cost.

        If they could sell it in Jetta/Golf volumes, worldwide, maybe.

        But without taking that risky leap, well … gotta amortize those costs for the dies and the interior parts that aren’t parts-bin somehow.

        And that means higher prices.

        (One thing to remember is they’re pushing the current Beetle as “The Sporty Icon”; the base engine is the 1.8T.

        The cheaper base Jetta has a slug of a 2.0L; the Jetta T Sport with the 1.8 is … more expensive than the Beetle Classic.)

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          “The Sporty Icon”?

          Sure, Beetles were truly sleeper rockets back in their day. They’d blow pass Corvettes, Ferraris, etc

          Well maybe with a Porsche engine they would.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I have to say I like the “squashed semi-circle” profile, reminds me of the streamlined American cars of the late 1930s. I’d love to see somebody do a modern take on that in a sedan, instead of yet another 4-door sports coupe.

  • avatar
    John

    “Aggressive this” and “aggressive” that. VW took a perfectly good chick car, that sold well, and went with the “aggressive” fad, turning it into a diesel dyke, that doesn’t appeal to most men or women. I see one of these about once a year. The previous Beetle – still see plenty. Marketing disaster.

  • avatar
    EAF

    As much as I DETEST everything that is VW, this iteration of the Beetle intrigues me. I would not risk $28k of my hard earned money on it, however, in the off chance that it were gifted to me I may just accept it.

    I like the way the 1.8t sits in the engine bay, it doesn’t appear as cluttered as other models and that is important for someone who does their own work. It also means I won’t have to charge you triple for routine maintenance!

    Let’s see how they hold up!

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      “Let’s see how they hold up!”

      Bingo. This, at least to me, is everything in the context of VWs history over the past 40 years or so. I’d love a silver classic model or a convertible. But I can’t bring myself to spend that much of my own money on something from VAG. At least not yet.

  • avatar
    vtecJustKickedInYo

    It also helped that the new beetle was in the junkyard at 80k because people didnt maintain them like a VW/Audi. The new beetle was truly a garbage car, but it worked in Europe because 150000km is a lot of driving. I love VWs and will defend all early 2000s models except this one.

    Hopefully these ones are able to stay on the road.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    This has become one of my favorite rentals.

    I had one in Scranton and another in Florida. Each time, I put well over 500 miles on the car. It’s not a rocket, it’s not a numbers car. And yeah, it’s a bit cutesy, but much less so with the redesign.

    What the Beetle really is, is a damn good drive it every day, take it on road trips, have a smile on your face car. I love the hatch and the surprising amount of usable space it provides. I love the freeway composure, the grunt, the steering, and the overall handling. I’m in the minority, I’m sure, because I prefer the sound and character of the 2.5 5 cylinder and its hydraulic steering. But the 1.8 is nice too.

    The only concerns I would have, is the long term reliability of the typical German variety, such as window regulators and electronics.

    These suffer from stiff depreciation, so they are plentiful on the used market for not a lot of dough. As such, I would not buy a new one.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’m a fan of the chrome retro wheels combined with dark colors. Add some Eibach prokits, with a little raked stance, and an upward angled chrome exhaust tip and you’ve got a cool cruiser. If only there was a way to outward hinge the rear hatch like the old school VW hot rodders haha.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    > I never really minded the odd-ball 2.5L five-cylinder VW used to put under the Beetle’s hood, but there is no denying the new 1.8L turbo is a huge improvement.

    Given the potential for IHI turbo failure in the 1.8 and 2.0 EA888 engines, holding on to the vehicles equipped with the bullet-proof 2.5 5-cylinder is beginning to look like a stroke of freaking genious.

  • avatar
    Delta88

    I think a lot of the commenters here, and the author, completely missed the point about the styling. This is actually closer to the shape and proportions of the original Beetle than the New Beetle. The original was full of ovals and a long arching roof. It was the New Beetle that was a caricature of the original. Yes, to me it is butched up but it also looks more nostalgic than the previous one.


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