Rental Review: 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8 TSI

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
rental review 2015 volkswagen beetle 1 8 tsi

This will likely come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who get your news through glass bottles tossed into the ocean and carried by persistent currents to the remote island on which you’ve been stranded by the crash of your FedEx plane, but Volkswagen is in a little bit of trouble due to some questions about diesel emissions. I think it’s a safe bet that the fellow I saw on Route 71 the other day with “TDI LOVE” as the license plate on his Jetta isn’t feelin’ it.

While the New New Beetle — now called just Beetle — was available as a TDI prior to the current kerfuffle, the version that I rented on Monday is powered by the same turbocharged gasoline engine that I liked in the Jetta TSI earlier this year. As tested, it’s $22,615.

So, should you buy one?

My plans to deliver a comprehensive review of this vehicle to you, the TTAC reader, were slightly sidelined by a motocross injury suffered Wednesday morning. So I’ll be calling on my hospital chauffeur, the infamous Danger Girl, for her input throughout the next few paragraphs.

I drove the Beetle about eighty miles on Monday with one question on my mind: Who would buy this over the equivalent Golf?

Let’s start with the aesthetics of it. For better or for worse, it looks more like an original Type I Volkswagen than the New Beetle did. I think that’s a good thing; it’s not quite as cutesy and the visual link to other watercooled descendants of the original VW, such as the Porsche 991, is quite apparent. The baby blue paint of our rental car did not make it any more likely to be driven by a man, however.

It’s once you get inside that the revised proportions really pay off. The windshield is close, and it’s nearly vertical. What a lovely feeling, to not have a GM Dustbuster van’s worth of remotely deployed dash surface in a subcompact car! This immediately makes the Beetle feel like a “real” vehicle and not some sort of oddball lash-up. The painted airbag cover with its “Beetle” logo is a nice touch even if it’s not strictly retro-correct.

The rest of the controls are of the same approximate quality that you’d get in a new Golf. It might be my imagination running away with me, but I think they’re from a shelf above the stuff used in the Jetta. The “V-Tex” chairs are supportive. As you’d expect, backseat room is tight but I was still able to fit a 5’9″ female friend back there for a ten-mile trip.

On the move, the Beetle is much like a shorter-wheelbase Golf, which it fundamentally is by 3.8 inches. Steering feel is acceptable. The TSI is cheerful about its work and rarely feels out of breath. VW would like to sell you one of its sunroof-and-sound-system packages and for that reason the base Beetle skimps on everything from auto headlight to a reversing camera. (They’ll have to fix that last omission in the next two model years or so.) Steering and braking effort are high but not obtrusively so.

We’ll now hand the microphone over to Danger Girl. What did she notice?

“I really don’t like the blind spots.” That’s fair — there’s a lot of sail panel on the car and the placement of the passenger headrest manages to obscure the right rear quarter window.

“It goes very fast and I keep speeding by accident.” DG has been driving my V6 Accord, which will obviously perform a bloody vivisection on any TSI Volkswagen including the Golf R in a street race but which doesn’t twist the crank very hard at 2,000 rpm. The TSI, on the other hand, delivers power early and consistently.

“It should have a backup camera”. Agreed; this is not a car with splendid rear visibility.

“I don’t like the knob that adjusts the seats.” Get used to it, kiddo. That’s the Volkswagen Way.

In truth, the manual seat knob is not great for cars with multiple drivers, but if you are, say, a 45-year-old single elementary-school teacher like every Beetle owner in North America it’s not a problem and it offers more precision in adjustment.

“I like how the back seats give the impression of being bucket seats.” Fair enough.

“To use both cupholders, you have to put the little wanna-be center console up.” VW has always struggled with cupholders. Even my Phaeton had lousy cupholders, albeit ones of Byzantine complexity with high-quality veneers in Eucalyptus or California Walnut.

“There’s no Bluetooth.” I think she’s right — most entry-level VWs can’t match Kia in this regard.

Asked the question, “Would you rather have this Beetle or a four-cylinder Accord?” Danger Girl came down on the side of the Beetle. “Four-cylinder Accords are for people who can’t afford a real Accord.” Thinking about the implications of women believing such a thing makes my leg hurt. It also makes me think of the breakdown in the OutKast song “Prototype” where Andre3000 says, “I can’t afford to not record.” DG did, however, say that she’d rather have a Fiesta ST than a Beetle TSI, and that’s a fair price comparison.

Had this car been the first New Beetle, VW might be in a much stronger position today. Since it wasn’t, and since the mothership apparently didn’t care for the idea of meeting emissions standards, and for many other reasons closely related to the company’s occasionally arrogant dismissal of the North American market, they’re in a pickle. The affordable excellence and accidental chic of the Type I saved VW after World War II, but I wouldn’t look for this inoffensive niche model to do much more than temporarily occupy the showroom space typically devoted to its compression-ignition brethren.

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  • Spyked Spyked on Oct 11, 2015

    I'm sure that thing has bluetooth. I just bought a 2012 base model Beetle (5 cylinder, 5 speed manual) and it has bluetooth phone and bluetooth audio streaming. The buttons are on the ceiling since it doesn't have steering wheel controls in the base model. Mine is that same denim blue color, but it has the base black wheels with silver REAL hubcaps. Love it. The 5 cylinder sounds great at 3k and above, the 5 speed feels nice. And I love the body colored dash and door trims. Why does the car in this article have black instead of body colored dash I wonder? As a man cresting 40 looking for a commuter to save the miles from my "nice" car, this is a fun alternative to an Accent or Sentra or whatever. Even in denim blue...I feel like with black wheels and squashed roof, it looks gangsta! Of course, I've had 2 Miatas and countless small VW's, so no insecurities here.

    • Spyked Spyked on Oct 11, 2015

      Looking more closely, that car has black mirrors, black door handles, and black door trim along the bottom. WHY? Mine has body color mirrors and door handles, with chrome door trim along the bottom. That might be a rental car trim that can't be bought by retail customers?

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Oct 20, 2015

    A fellow co-worker bought a red 2013 last year with low mileage and the 2.5 engine with automatic. He only had it 6 months and traded it in on a 2014 Chevy Cruze LT. The reason- it had 3 very annoying problems that the dealer just couldn't seem to correct. It vibrated at 60 MPH and tire balances and rotation just didn't fix this issue. We thought it had a bad wheel but the dealer refused to listen and wouldn't replace it. Despite having only 21K on the clock it used a lot of oil between changes and caught him off guard while trekking on a long back road with the low oil indicator going off. VW said it is normal for 2-3 quarts of oil use between 3K mile change intervals. Yikes! The third issue was the transmission. It sometimes felt like it was slipping and often hesitated on downshifts and upshifts. Other times it shifts really hard from 2-3. VW re-flashed it but the issues persisted. Seeing this just re-affirmed my suspicions about VW quality and I would personally never recommend one to anybody else after this. His 2014 Cruze LT has been flawless BTW and he is thrilled I recommended it to him. No issues to report and it now has about the same mileage as the Beetle as it was a certified used car.

  • Tassos What was the last time we had any good news from Ford? (or GM for that matter?)The last one was probably when Alan Mulally was CEO. Were you even born back then?Fields was a total disaster, then they go hire this clown from Toyota's PR department, the current Ford CEO, Fart-ley or something.He claims to be an auto enthusiast too (unlike Mary Barra who is even worse, but of course always forgiven, as she is the proud owner of a set of female genitals.
  • Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).
  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.