Cute, of course, and with a slight attitude. Right to the end
Travelling by air nearly often leads to a bit of adventure at the rental car counter. You arrive with a vague sense the type of vehicle to expect, sign all the paperwork, and at the end of the transaction the agent on the other side of the counter reveals what car is your "prize" for your stay. "Tell him what he's won, Johnny!"
My prize on a recent trip to Tampa, Florida, was a bit of a pleasant surprise. I usually rent something on the small side, so I figured I would end up with either a Toyota Corolla or a Nissan Versa for my three-day visit. Instead, I was handed a key to a 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo. Its good to get something outside your expectations once in a while.
Visually - jabs at the Porsche 911 for its vaguely similar lines aside - there really is no mistaking the Beetle for any other car. VW was an early entrant in the "cute compact" wave when the New Beetle was introduced in 1997 (the Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth Neon predates the Beetle by two years). Its very rounded design doesn't quite copy the old Type 1, but the resemblance is obvious. And even after 22 years on the road and some updates along the way, the look of the Beetle still draws positive comments.
The interior is also unmistakably VW. Fit and finish are spot on, and very little looks or feels cheap. From the front seat, anyway, the interior feels big, especially for a compact, though rear seating is tight. It feels uncluttered, right down to the layout of the controls, which are kept simple. It is all appropriate for a car channeling the soul of the original, down-to-basics Beetle.
The instrumentation is kept simple and clear, too, with a large speedometer flanked by a smaller tachometer on the left and the fuel gauge on the right. A red LED display with selectable information fills the lower quadrant of the speedometer. The default information shown on my example was coolant temperate, which held steady at 195-degrees Fahrenheit. VW felt I needed to know this.
Simplicity extends to the 6.3" touch screen audio system as well, making it easy to operate while driving.The example I drove came equipped with a single-disc CD player, along with a slot for an SD card and a USB port, as well as AM/FM radio. Audiophiles won't applaud it but it is a decent sounding system.
There are a few knocks, though. For starters, the shape of the steering wheel takes some getting used to. Its cross-section is oblong instead of round, and feels weird at first. The shiny expanse of the dash on the passenger side initially seems like a reasonable touch for this car, except for the reflections it gives on sunny days. Over time it will likely be prone to scratches, and might become a chore to keep clean. Finally, the doors feel heavy and awkward, and their size makes for a long and uncomfortable reach back to grab the seat belt.
The 2017 Beetle was built on VW's PQ35 platform, which it shared with the Jetta and Golf, and was powered by a 1.8L turbocharged four that makes 170-hp and 184 lbs-ft of torque. Newer models may have slightly different numbers. VW made only six-speed shiftable automatic transmissions available in the Beetle, except for the R-Line edition, which allowed the option of a six-speed manual. I experienced typical delays in shifting with the automatic, and that may have hidden any lag from the turbo when pushed for hard acceleration. In fact, it was difficult to tell when the turbo had indeed kicked in, as there was no boost gauge or any other indicator that it was functioning. In the short time I had with the Beetle, as long as I could make full use of the 170-hp, I didn't mind.
South Florida is relatively flat with lots of straight roads, so I wasn't able to push the Beetle's handling much. The suspension is relatively firm, but not so much that the ride was jarring or uncomfortable. Acceleration was more than adequate, though not blisteringly quick. That was saved for the R model. The brakes were a bit grabby, though, and took some time to get used to modulating them properly. Even so, the Beetle had more bite than its cute face would suggest, and was fun in traffic.
Would I buy one?
Probably not for myself, but I could recommended it to others. In the long run, the cuteness factor isn't really for me, personally, and the back seat I did find cramped. It also wasn't available with a manual transmission until you step up to the R version (which seems to be missing from current production), and, to me, that is important. Power is good, though, the seats are comfortable and there is a lot of room in the front.
Production of the Beetle is expected to end in July 2019. I have to admit that I found VW's announcement in September that the upcoming model year would be the last one for the Beetle a little sad. I have been a VW owner since 2004, and while I haven't owned a Beetle (or "New Beetle," as we used to call it), I do understand the importance of the Beetle to VW's history. It IS its history. So getting a chance to drive one for a few days was a welcome treat.
7 November 2018 ..... Written by: Todd Nielson ..... Photos & Video by: Todd Nielson