Sixty-five years after the first Volkswagen Beetle arrived in the United States as a distinctively shaped, little car, the Beetle keeps attracting buyers with its more-spacious-than-ever, flexible interior, turbo engine power and modernized iconic look.
For 2014, the Beetle lineup gets a new, performance-oriented trim name — R-Line — with beefier bumpers and a limited-edition, bright yellow GSR model.
In addition, all Beetles now have independent rear suspension for an improved ride.
The 2014 Beetle three-door hatchback also received the top overall score of five out of five stars in federal government crash testing.
Meantime, buyers of all 2014 Beetles, even the base model, get standard Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity; six-way adjustable front seats with lumbar adjustment; power, one-touch side windows; leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel, and three-color ambient interior lighting.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $21,115 for a base 2014 Beetle with 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated, gasoline four cylinder and five-speed, manual transmission, according to VW's consumer website.
The lowest starting price for a 2014 Beetle with an automatic transmission is $22,215, or $1,100 more, and this is with the 170-horse five cylinder.
To get a turbocharged Beetle, buyers must move up to a diesel-fueled model that has a starting retail price of $25,415 with six-speed manual, or a gasoline turbo model with a starting retail price of $25,815 with manual, according to the VW consumer pricing website.
The lowest starting retail prices for 2014 Beetles with turbos and automatics are $26,515 with TDI diesel engine and $26,915 with gasoline turbo.
All Beetle turbos have four cylinders. All Beetles are front-wheel drive and have seats for four.
Competitors include other small, European hatchbacks, such as the 2014 Fiat 500L that has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $19,995 with 160-horsepower, turbocharged, gasoline four cylinder and six-speed manual.
Meantime, the base, 2014 Mini Cooper hardtop with 134-horsepower, turbocharged, gasoline, three-cylinder engine and six-speed manual has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $20,745.
Note that the 500L has seats for five people, while the Mini Cooper hardtop has seating for four.
The Beetle's first year of U.S. sales in post-World War II 1949 totaled just two cars. But popularity with young Baby Boomers swelled cumulative sales and production beyond that of the Ford Model T, to more than 15 million by the early 1970s.
In its third generation, today's Beetle posts modest numbers. Last year's U.S. sales of 43,134 were on par with U.S. sales of Fiat 500s and 2,000 shy of Mini Cooper car sales.
The 2014 Beetle, classified by the government as a compact, looks larger than expected. At 14 feet in length from bumper to bumper and nearly 6 feet wide, it's slightly longer and wider than the Fiat 500L and Mini Cooper hardtop.
The Beetle can feel surprisingly roomy inside, too, particularly in the front, where VW's supportive and well-shaped seats alleviate fatigue from long travels.
Rear-seat headroom is 37.1 inches, and front-seat headroom tops out at 39.4 inches — a tad less than the minimum 40.5 inches and 40.3 inches in the 500L and Mini Cooper hardtop, respectively. Still, all but the tallest, bulkiest passengers could find a comfortable seat in the test car.
Rear seatbacks split 50/50 and folded down easily in the test Beetle, giving flexible seating and cargo-carrying options. Maximum cargo space is 29.9 cubic feet.
Windows on the Beetle's doors are lengthy and sizable, so front-seat riders don't feel hemmed in on the sides, except for thick metal pillars at the sides of the windshields.
The major adjustment in visibility came via the rear, where the tops of the rear seats clipped off some of the view. And while VW officials announced that during the 2014 model year, top-of-the-line Beetles would get rear camera availability, this feature was not on the test Beetle that had a price tag of $32,330.
Seat adjustments were manual on this test car and included round plastic dials at the sides of the front seats for seat recline that can be difficult to operate.
The 2-liter turbocharged/intercooled, gasoline four cylinder gave sprightly performance, albeit with considerable engine noise, in the tester. Low-end "oomph" came on easily, and torque from this powerplant peaks at a commendable 207 foot-pounds at a low 1,700 rpm.
This surpasses the turbo torque in the base Mini Cooper hardtop and 500L.
Note that Beetles with this 2-liter turbo four are renamed R-Line this model year. They used to be called Beetle Turbos. VW is replacing the Beetle's base, non-turbo, five-cylinder gasoline engine with a smaller, 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter, turbo four cylinder and wants to differentiate the upper-level 210-horse, 2-liter turbo models with the R-Line label.
The R-Line turbo that was in the tester required premium gasoline, so filling the Beetle's 14.5-gallon tank at today's average price for premium can top $57.
With six-speed Tiptronic automatic, the tester nearly averaged the federal government's 26 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel. But Beetle shoppers seeking the most mileage will want a diesel, where the combined city/highway fuel mileage average is 32 mpg.
Passengers heard a lot of wind and road noise in the test Beetle, which had uplevel 19-inch tires, and the ride was more compliant than sporty.
Interior buttons, knobs and other controls were clearly arranged and not gimmicky. The information display screen in the center dashboard, however, looked a bit small compared to those of other carmakers such as Toyota and Honda.
The 2014 Beetle's predicted reliability is worse than average, according to Consumer Reports magazine.