Driving Volkswagen’s Beetle TDI convertible with the top down is one of the few times you can tell that there’s a diesel engine under the hood. The sound isn’t any louder than a gasoline engine, just different. It is less noticeable with the top up.
By TOM STRONGMAN
There are two other times when you can tell the Beetle is a diesel: When you tip into the throttle and feel that diesel torque accelerate the car with ease, and when you check the fuel mileage readout and see that you’re averaging 40 miles per gallon while rolling down the highway at 70 miles per hour. I saw that several times while on the highway.
The test car, from Volkswagen’s press fleet, was equipped with a navigation system and the Fender premium audio. Its base price was $30,795 and the sticker was $32,560. That is higher than the base Beetle convertible that has a base price of $24,995 and less than the turbocharged R-Line, $34,495 with navigation, automatic transmission and upgraded audio.
The Beetle is offered with three engine choices: a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter five-cylinder, a turbocharged 210-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and the 140-horseower, 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel. The five-cylinder engine is available with a six-speed automatic, whereas the turbo and the diesel are both offered with a six-speed or a six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic.
I love the DSG because it functions like an automatic yet it can be shifted like a manual. The EPA mileage rating for the DSG automatic is 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway.
The diesel engine may be small, with only 140 horsepower, but it delivers a sizable punch via 236 pound-feet of torque. That’s as much torque as a V-6, and torque is more useful than horsepower because it presses you back in the seat when you prod the throttle. The diesel feels slightly slower off the line, but in just a few feet the torque builds nicely and the car accelerates strongly. The diesel’s torque is also great for passing maneuvers on the highway, accelerating down entrance ramps or climbing hills.
This is the second-generation Beetle and it seems a little more mainstream. The body retains its nod to the shape of the original Beetle but the second-generation model is a bit more angular and less egg-shaped than the first New Beetle.
Open-air driving is easy because the power top is a snap to operate. Cockpit turbulence is not objectionable, especially with the optional wind deflector over the back seat.
The Beetle’s interior is nicely styled and comfortable. The instrument panel has few seams and a soft-looking surface. Brushed aluminum accents are a nice counterpoint. Sadly, the bud vase from the original New Beetle is gone. Three round gauges – tachometer, speedometer and fuel gauge – are arranged in front of the driver. A multifunction display is integrated into the speedometer and that’s handy for providing digital readouts of speed, fuel mileage and distance to empty. The front seats could profit from a bit more contouring, and rear-seat legroom is snug. The trunk is rather small.
The independent suspension delivers a supple ride and reasonably sporty handling. The electronic power steering has good feel.
The Beetle Convertible TDI with Sound and Nav has a base price of $30,795. Options on the test car included a wind deflector, chrome exhaust tip, floor mats, wheel locks and a first aid kit. The sticker price was $32,560.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. All routine service is free for two years or 24,000 miles.
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