Prelude To A Beetle Speedster?
Driving $2 million prototypes on public roads is risky, so rather than increase the count of gray hair on their heads, Volkswagen's public relations team invited us up to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to spend some time in its all-electric E-Bugster Concept. But don't think the German automaker handed us the keys and set us free on the famed racing circuit – our drive was on the near-empty perimeter roads and our top speed was limited to less than 20 mph.
Tooling along at an insect's pace (pun intended) was hardly electrifying. But as it turned out, driving impressions weren't our primary objective. Not only did Volkswagen want to showcase its electric technology, but they also wanted to give us a sneak peek of the next-generation Beetle Convertible and gauge consumer interest in a potential Beetle Speedster model. With more than a sedate drive on our agenda, our leisurely cruise through the hills of Monterey became much more interesting.
Our first glimpse of the Volkswagen E-Bugster Concept came just before the 2012 Detroit Auto Show when Volkswagen released a slew of pictures for our first post and a gallery. The next day, we aimed our lenses at its glistening paint and fixed hard roof live from the show floor. Three months later, the automaker rolled it out again – sans top – at the Beijing Motor Show.
It is not much of a stretch to realize that the E-Bugster Concept is an early look at the next-generation Beetle convertible – expect it to officially debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this year. Ignore the burly flared fenders, crafted to encapsulate the 20-inch two-piece alloy "Fuchs-style" wheels, and peer beyond the trick front and rear fascia to see the upcoming drop-top. We don't need to remind you that the E-Bugster's chopped windshield won't make it to production for the standard vehicle (more on that later), but the real deal won't stray much from the design. Overall, thanks to its more masculine character traits, the new Beetle is going to make one great-looking convertible when we first see it in late November.
The E-Bugster Concept is an early look at the next-generation Beetle convertible.
The E-Bugster Concept is an all-electric vehicle (EV). Hidden beneath its meticulously painted skin (in person – and it seems only in direct sunlight – one can make out blue metallic flakes over the pearl white paint) is a powertrain adapted from the automaker's e-Golf. Like that five-door, the E-Bugster features an 85 kW electric motor (114 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque) driving the front wheels through a single-speed transmission. Energy comes from a 695-pound lithium-ion battery with an energy capacity of 28.3 kWh (note it has slightly higher capacity than the 26.5 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy storage in the e-Golf).
Volkswagen boasts that the central electric module weighs just 80 kg (about 176 pounds), and that helps to keep overall vehicle weight down. The engineers on site wouldn't give us a curb weight, but they did say that the E-Bugster came in lighter than the e-Golf (so we figure it has a curb weight of about 3,300 pounds). That power-to-weight ratio translates to a 0-60 sprint in just over 10 seconds and affords a range of at least 180 km (about 110 miles) in a city cycle.
Find the proper power supply, a level 3 DC fast charge unit able to provide the Volkswagen's Combined Charging System with enough juice, and the two-seater can be "refueled" within 35 minutes. At home, with a more conventional charging station (single-phase with AC current), one will need to keep it plugged-in overnight. The interface for the charger is conveniently located behind the conventional fuel-filler door.
Its power-to-weight ratio translates to a 0-60 sprint in just over 10 seconds and a range of at least 110 miles.
As mentioned, Volkswagen allowed us to cruise its expensive one-off E-Bugster concept – sans fixed top – around Laguna Seca at very slow speeds (the wheels are made by hand, thus explaining their apprehension). The German engineers had electronically limited the top speed to 30 km/h, or just 18 mph, meaning the combustion-engine chase vehicles were riding their brakes just to keep pace. In addition, the drive-by-wire throttle had been remapped so accelerator inputs were insanely lethargic (the vehicles at Disneyland's Autopia ride have quicker throttle response).
After dropping behind the steering wheel (so brilliantly white that we felt guilty touching it), we were given a tour of the tastefully executed cabin. Directly in front of the driver is a primary instrument cluster housing the a digital screen with the speedometer and other charge indicators. To the driver's right, in the center of the console replacing the audio/navigation unit, is an integrated LG touch-screen tablet (while the screen on the device was washed out in the bright daylight, the unit arrives complete with an electronic version of "Punch Buggy" designed to save your shoulders from bruising). Centrally located at the top of the dashboard are the digital outside temperature gauge and a state-of-charge display (bar graphs and digital numbers). All other controls, from the headlights to the blinkers, are rather conventional.
An integrated LG touch-screen tablet replaces the audio/navigation unit.
The start button activates the drive system (Volkswagen calls the complete electric drive unit "Blue-e-Motion"), which simultaneously powers everything up and starts the light show – yes, the light show. The interior is first immersed in a white light, followed by a blue light. The pulse, for lack of a better description, emanates with a small dash on the instrument cluster. It eventually works its way around the cabin as a thin (one millimeter wide) beam at shoulder height moving across the dashboard and door panels. Although it was nearly impossible to see in stark daylight, it was visible while we filmed our Short Cut video.
The Bugster's transmission (PRNDB) has two different forward drive modes. In "D" the EV acts much like a traditional vehicle. This means it coasts well, and there is limited regenerative braking. However, when placed in "B" mode the regenerative braking is much stronger and the vehicle quickly slows when the driver's foot leaves the accelerator pedal (this mode significantly extends the driving range). For our slow drive, only the "D" mode was software-enabled.
Unlike most prototypes, the E-Bugster drove very well on the asphalt roadway.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed silently cruising around the grounds in the concept. Unlike most prototypes, which are quite rickety as they only need to resemble something cool under show lights, the E-Bugster drove very well on the asphalt roadway. The steering was solid, the tires never rubbed the bodywork even in tight turns and the chassis didn't squeak. The multi-piston brakes (stolen from an Audi TT-RS) even had a chance to demonstrate their strength when we exceeded the 30 km/h speed coasting down the long hill – we took a scolding from our Volkswagen passenger in the process.
With our short drive completed, the tone of the conversation changed as the public relations team started to ask us the questions – they had a friendly ulterior motive. The inquisitive interrogation reminded us of our Audi TT-RS preview, more than two years earlier, when the Germans teased us with a car and asked us if we thought there was a domestic market for it (we all know how that ended, as the 2012 Audi TT-RS rolled onto our shores late last year).
Is there room in the Volkswagen lineup for a sharply sculpted Beetle speedster?
So, what if Volkswagen's board of directors gave a Beetle Speedster variant a green light? Theoretically, its shape would nearly mirror that of the E-Bugster, right down to the chopped windshield and two-passenger cabin. As for power, we'd expect nothing less than a turbocharged 2.0-liter mated to a six-speed manual or DCT. Realizing that the automaker is already offering a Beetle, Beetle Turbo, Beetle TDI and Beetle R, is there room in the Volkswagen lineup for a sharply sculpted Beetle speedster with limited passenger room... but plenty of unique style?
New Car Test Drive
Convertible joins sleek, new lineup.
The Volkswagen Beetle was completely redesigned for 2012. For 2013, Beetle convertible joins the lineup.
As with the coupe, the 2013 Beetle convertible is longer, lower and wider than the New Beetle, which is what we called the old one that was phased out after the 2010 model year. Today's Beetle has a roomier interior than did the pre-2012 models, with more headroom, legroom and shoulder room. It feels like a capsule inside than it did before.
Front legroom is plentiful, but the Beetle coupe's rear seat has just 31.4 inches of legroom, which is 1.9 inches less than the subcompact Toyota Yaris, on a wheelbase that's 1.1 inches longer. Still, two adult passengers will fit back there; they just sit rather upright.
The rear hatch area of the Beetle coupe is spacious at 15.4 cubic feet. With the rear seat folded, the coupe has nearly 30 cubic feet of cargo space, and the high-swinging hatchback enables giant things to fit inside, making the coupe handy for hauling. The Beetle convertible has a trunk with only 7.1 cubic feet of space.
The Beetle seats and trim are neat but not fancy. The bucket seats are simple and comfortable, with excellent bolstering.
Instrumentation is so clean it's memorable for its rarity. In the center of the big clear speedometer there's a multi-function digital display, accessed with a flick of the driver's right thumb, scrolling a small wheel on the steering wheel. All of the trip computer information you need to know is right there, almost automatically without thinking or searching for it. It makes for safe driving.
The 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine, with an iron block and dual overhead cams, carries on, delivering 170 horsepower. Torque is 177 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. Acceleration with the 2.5-liter engine is adequate, and 75 mph on the freeway is smooth and mostly effortless.
A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a 6-speed automatic transmission optional. The automatic did not wow us. The automatic has manual shift capability, but it's done with side-to-side movements using the lever. It's better than nothing, but it's not racy. The manual gearbox is satisfying and gives the car pep when accelerating. We recommend the manual.
A 2.0-liter Turbo model is also available that comes with a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automated manual that VW calls a DSG for Direct Shift Gearbox. The Turbo also has sportier suspension tuning. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque at a low 1700 rpm, and it gets about the same fuel mileage as the 2.5-liter engine although on more expensive Premium gasoline. It's hot, with acceleration not far behind a Mini Cooper S.
Also available is the turbocharged TDI Clean Diesel engine, which delivers jaw-dropping torque and fuel mileage on the far side of 40 mpg (EPA Hwy). The 2.0-liter turbodiesel delivers 236 pound-feet of torque. Torque is that powerful force you feel propelling you from intersections and the diesel has a lot of it. The TDI engine has been used successfully for some time in the Golf and Jetta models and is well-proven. It's clean and runs quietly.
Coupe or convertible, the Beetle chassis is rigid and the body solid, with subframes front and rear, supporting the suspensions. VW did a lot of work to make the convertible impressively rigid.
The base coupe uses a torsion beam rear suspension, but the Beetle Turbo and all convertibles use a more sophisticated multi-link, for a higher threshold of cornering. The freeway ride in the base coupe doesn't suffer for the torsion beam. It's comfortable and consistent. Potholes don't hurt, but rough pavement can make the rear end of the coupe want to dance. The other models are more composed over rough pavement.
The 2013 Beetle model lineup includes 2.5L, Turbo and TDI models in coupe and convertible body styles with additional models defined by extra equipment. Special edition 1950s, '60s and '70s models are also available in the convertible lineup. The base engine is a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 5-cylinder. Turbos get a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. TDIs are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine that makes 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.
The Beetle 2.5L coupe ($19,795) comes with V-Tex leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, air conditioning, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, height-adjustable front seats with driver's side lumbar adjustment, heated front seats, split folding rear seat, heated power mirrors, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, auxiliary input jack, iPod interface, Bluetooth cell phone link, theft-deterrent system, and P215/55HR17 tires on alloy wheels. The Beetle 2.5L convertible ($24,995) adds an interior air filter, satellite radio, trip computer, outside-temperature indicator, rear spoiler, and a power convertible top.
The Beetle coupe is offered with three additional 2.5L models. They start with the 2.5L Sunroof ($22,295), which adds a sunroof, a center console, keyless access and starting, satellite radio, and steering wheel audio controls. The 2.5L Fender Edition ($24,440) gets the Sunroof equipment, plus a Fender sound system, bi-xenon headlights, and P235/45R18 tires. The 2.5L Sunroof/Sound/Navigation ($24,095) gets the Fender equipment, plus a navigation system, though it deletes the bi-xenon headlights.
The Beetle convertible comes with four additional 2.5L models, including two special editions based on cars from the past. The '50s Edition ($26,095) comes with tan leather upholstery, a center console, black paint, and unique alloy wheels inspired by steel wheels from the 1950s. The 2.5L Technology model ($26,695) adds a center console, keyless access and starting, satellite and HD radio, and steering wheel audio controls. The 2.5L Sound/Navigation ($28,495) gets that equipment, plus a navigation system, the Fender sound system and P235/45R18 tires. The '70s Edition model ($28,595) comes with the Sound/Navigation equipment, plus Toffee Brown paint, tan upholstery, and chrome disc-style wheels.
The Turbo coupe ($23,395) and convertible ($27,795) add to the 2.5L model fog lights, sport-tuned suspension, and P235/45HR18 tires. The coupe also gets cloth upholstery, a center console, and a rear spoiler. The Turbo coupe is offered in Sunroof/Sound, Fender Edition and Sunroof/Sound/Navigation models that mirror the equipment on similar 2.5L models. The Turbo convertible also gets a '60s Edition model ($32,395) with the navigation system, leather upholstery, 6-speed automated-manual transmission, center console, keyless access and starting, Fender sound system, satellite and HD radio, and steering-wheel audio controls.
The TDI coupe ($23,295) and convertible ($27,895) add to the 2.5L steering-wheel audio controls, center console, keyless access and starting, and satellite radio. The convertible also gets HD radio. Like the other models, the TDI is offered with additional equipment. The coupe comes as the TDI Sunroof and TDI Sunroof/Sound/Navigation models, while the convertible adds only the TDI Sound/Navigation model.
Safety equipment on the coupe includes dual front airbags, front side airbags, antilock disc brakes, brake assist, electronic stability control, traction control, a tire-pressure monitor, and Volkswagen's advanced Intelligent Crash Response System that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights under some crash situations. The convertible also adds automatic pop-up roll bars. Rearview camera is optional.
Today's Beetle is more dynamic and muscular than the pre-2012 models. It's not quite as cute and feminine, but it is just as identifiable as it's ever been. The coupe's coefficient of drag is 0.37, a good number that still lags behind some competitors, and reveals the legacy of a round bug. The Beetle convertible comes in at a close 0.38 Cd. The 2012 Honda Civic, by comparison, slips in under 0.32. (A lower number is better.)
Looking head-on at the Beetle, it's wide and chubby enough that the lines are actually horizontal. A narrow black mouth under the bumper spans the face like a pinched grin, under perky headlamps like eyes, and a hood seam that seems to define a wide nose, having one chrome nostril with VW in it.
At profile, the good-looking roofline is like a stylish tight arc, reminiscent of the 2005 concept car called the Ragster, which had the look of a chopped-top hot rod.
The wheel cutouts are perfect semi-circles dropping down toward the pavement. In contrast to the smooth curves of sheet metal everywhere else, the fender flares have squared edges, offering contrasting definition to the shape.
The Beetle coupe might be called a hatchback. The rear gate is massive. You could probably load a refrigerator in there, a short one anyway. VW had to make no compromises to the car's shape for the utility of cargo loading. When the hatch is closed, it flows invisibly into the car's roundness.
The convertible, on the other hand, has a trunk that sits below the hold for the convertible soft top. The top opens in just 9.5 seconds and closing in 11 at speeds up to 31 mph. A leatherette top boot cleans up the look, but most people won't use it.
We take pleasure in saying that every control is easy to access and understand, making driving a joy because you can think about driving. It's like the old bug, in a welcome way.
Volkswagen does gauges well, and the Beetle's are super clean. There's a big speedometer in the center, insanely optimistic at 160 mph, with organic white numbers and red needles. A small tach sits to the left of the speedo, balanced on the right by a big analog fuel gauge. The TDI has an additional instrument pod with oil temperature and turbo boost gauges, plus a stopwatch.
In the center of the speedo VW provides a multi-function digital display. It is accessed with a flick of the driver's right thumb, scrolling a small wheel on the steering wheel. Everything you need to know is right there, almost automatically without thinking or searching for it. It makes for safe driving.
The base radio is excellent. A big screen tells you what's playing. Big dials and buttons are easy to reach, and you can spin through the many satellite stations. You can get in this car for a first time and easily tune the radio. We're guessing that we can only do that with maybe one out of every three or four cars we test nowadays. We used to blame this complexity on German thinking, but the Beetle disproves that.
However, VW has two other touchscreen radios that aren't so easy to use, one with a navigation system and one without. The graphics are quite attractive, and the layout is pretty simple, but we found the system to be slow to react at times, making the navigation functions especially frustrating on occasion. Despite the screen, VW does not offer a rearview camera.
There's a decent amount of room inside the 2013 Beetle, 85 cubic feet in the coupe, 81.4 in the convertible. Rear headroom, and front legroom and shoulder room are greater than in the New Beetle, so it doesn't feel so much like a capsule.
Front legroom is plentiful, and with the Beetle's standard tilt-telescope steering wheel, drivers of all sizes can fit with no problem. The bucket seats are comfortable with excellent bolstering.
The two doors are wide, and the front seats flop forward easily, so access to the rear seat is good, especially in the convertible. But it's not so roomy in the rear, with just 31.4 inches of legroom, which is 1.9 inches less than the subcompact Toyota Yaris, despite the Beetle being nearly 14 inches longer. However, that excess length is mostly overhang; the Beetle wheelbase is only 1.1 inches longer than the Yaris. We found that a pair of adults can fit back there, but they sit bolt upright, so long trips will become uncomfortable. Kids will have plenty of space. The backseat accommodates only two, not three.
The coupe's trunk has a spacious 15.4 cubic feet of cargo space, and with the 60/40 rear seat folded, there's a vast 29.9 cubic feet behind the front seats. The rear trunk lid is like a hatchback or wide liftgate, so larger boxes will fit inside. We were astounded when our Beetle swallowed three huge boxes from Harbor Freight. With the dear old VW bug, there would have been no way, for even one of them. The convertible, on the other hand, has only 7.1 cubic feet of space in a small trunk instead of a hatch. Thankfully, the convertible top doesn't intrude on trunk space when folded down and VW still provides fold-down rear seats.
That convertible top works very well. It lowers in just 9.5 seconds and raises in 11, and there is no need to pull a lever or secure a latch. The top can be operated at speeds up to 31 mph. It fits tight, too, with little wind buffeting on the road. VW offers a wind blocker for use when the top is down, but it's only sold as an accessory. It features a smart design that folds and stows away out of the way in a slot at the top of the turnk.
With either the coupe or the convertible, the Beetle has good visibility out the front and rear, even with the low roof and high beltline. And it's a quiet ride. The base engine is smooth for a five-cylinder and the other two engines are even smoother.
Volkswagen says that some of the interior colors and shapes harken back to the original Beetle. For example the extra glovebox, called the kaeferfach or Beetle bin. We also like the old school simplicity of the control layout.
In the small convenience department, VW provides a big flat cubby on the dash, a small cubby forward of the shift lever, and a coin cubby and shallow console under the flip-up armrest between the seats. There are also two cupholders, and door pockets with elastic straps that are a bit lame.
As with any new design today, the Beetle's chassis is rigid and the body solid, with subframes front and rear, supporting the suspension. The same torsion beam rear suspension as the old New Beetle and the recently redesigned Jetta is used in the base coupe, and Volkswagen does a good job with this technology that some might call ancient. However, the Beetle Turbo and all convertibles use a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, for a higher threshold of cornering and better bump absorption.
The freeway ride in the Beetle coupe doesn't suffer for the torsion beam. It's comfortable and consistent. Potholes don't hurt, but rough pavement can make the rear end of the car want to dance.
Most new cars are going to electric power steering nowadays because it improves fuel economy. The Beetle uses hydraulic assist for its rack and pinion in base 2.5L models, but switches to electric assist in Turbos and TDIs. If we didn't know the steering was hydraulic in some models and electric in others, we wouldn't be able to tell the difference. In any model, the steering is direct and predictable, with decent road feel. VW seems to be programming its electric power steering better than most manufacturers. Whether hydraulic or electric power steering, the ratio is the same tight 16.3:1.
The base Beetle can handle some fairly aggressive driving, but it has its limitations in the twisties. If sporty handling is what you want, the Beetle Turbo's stiffer suspension and multi-link rear suspension help it hug the road better and rotate more willingly through turns.
The same goes for the Beetle convertible. Despite the loss of the top, the body structure is still impressively solid. That's because VW took several measures to improve rigidity, including adding a central plate in the front roof crossmember, ultra-high strength steel tubing between the B pillars, more sheetmetal in the lower body sidemembers, and an extra rear panel made of high strength steel that also houses the pop-up rollbars. VW also used a thicker interior bar in the front pillars. All of this work makes the Beetle convertible very solid for a ragtop, with little cowl shake and body quake over bumps. It's much more rigid than we expected, offering handling that is a close match for the coupe. That's a credit to Volkswagen.
There isn't a loser among the Beetle's three engines, though the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine is in line to be replaced fairly soon. This transversely mounted, cast-iron block engine makes 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to a 5-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic with a manual mode.
Acceleration performance is adequate, with 0 to 60 mph coming in about nine seconds, and 75 mph on the freeway is smooth and mostly effortless. The engine is a little buzzy, and fuel economy is good, but not great.
For the best fuel mileage in your 2.5L, the manual transmission is EPA-rated higher than the automatic, at 22 City/31 Highway, vs. 22/29 mpg for the automatic (21/27 for the convertible, which comes only with the automatic). We landed in the middle, at 24.5 mpg with the automatic, running about 200 miles on both the freeway and around-town.
We were not wowed by the automatic transmission. It lacks steering wheel shift paddles. Instead, drivers can shift manually by moving the gearshift side to side, which is better than nothing, but it won't inspire boy racers. The manual transmission is more satisfying, and it picks up the car's acceleration, particularly from 0 to 60.
If you want outstanding fuel economy, go for the TDI with its 2.0-liter turbodiesel, which is EPA rated as high as 28 City/41 Highway. Horsepower is modest at 140, but this engine makes 236 pound-feet of torque. It's a proven commodity, as it is used in the Jetta and Golf TDI. It comes either with a manual transmission or VW's double-clutch DSG automatic manual transmission. The TDI will deliver the most fuel mileage by far, while providing similar acceleration numbers as the 2.5.
The 2.0-liter turbo with the DSG transmission is the hot rod, but it offers refined sportiness and it isn't as agile as the GTI. It's a boost thing, and balance thing. The Beetle Turbo is heavier, doesn't handle as well, and its DSG is programmed relatively wish-washy. But that doesn't mean it's still not a lot sportier than the 2.5L Beetle, and more fun. Acceleration is considerably snappier, with 0 to 60 mph arriving in about 6.5 seconds. If what you want first is a Beetle and then sportiness, the Beetle 2.0T works.
In general, we like the DSG. It snaps off pretty quick shifts, and when pushed hard in the Turbo, lets out a cool little rasp between gears. It can, however, sometimes feel a bit slushy, making it a bit of a risk to pull out in front of traffic. Overall, we like it better the harder we drive the car.
The 2013 Beetle wins in almost every area. It's smooth, quiet, comfortable, economical, and fast enough to flow with traffic. Instrumentation and controls are beautifully simple. Rear legroom is tight, but access is easy. The hatchback and fold-down rear seats create huge cargo space, and the convertible offers open-air fun for four. For performance there's the Beetle Turbo, and for fuel mileage the diesel-powered Beetle TDI. The Beetle offers something for everyone who likes its retro-cool styling.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses reported from the Pacific Northwest on the Beetle, with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago on the Beetle convertible.
Volkswagen Beetle 2.5L ($19,795); Beetle 2.5L convertible ($24,995); Beetle 2.5L Sunroof ($22,295); Beetle 2.5L convertible 50's Edition ($26,095); Beetle 2.5L convertible Technology ($26,695); Beetle 2.5L Fender Edition ($24,440); Beetle 2.5L convertible Sound/Navigation ($28,495); Beetle 2.5L Sunroof/Sound/Navigation ($24,095); Beetle 2.5L convertible 70's Edition ($28,595); Beetle Turbo ($23,395); Beetle Turbo convertible ($27,795); Beetle Turbo Sunroof/Sound ($26,395); Beetle Turbo Fender Edition ($29,130); Beetle Turbo convertible Sound ($29,195); Beetle Turbo Sunroof/Sound/Navigation ($28,995); Beetle Turbo convertible Sound/Navigation ($31,195); Beetle TDI ($23,295); Beetle TDI convertible ($27,895); Beetle TDI Sunroof ($24,895); Beetle TDI Sunroof/Sound/Navigation ($26,195); Beetle TDI convertible Sound/Navigation ($29,195).
Options As Tested
Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 2.5L ($24,995).
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