2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

   • SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyers Guide


The original Type 1 Volkswagen sedan was a worldwide phenomenon, but it had its greatest success in the United States, and later in Latin America. Nicknamed Beetle or Bug for its rounded, insectoid shape, the Type 1 was the first successful mass-market import in the US in the 1950s. When American cars were huge, thirsty behemoths, the Beetle was small and economical to operate. It had a small air-cooled engine in the rear, behind the rear axle. In many ways it was a protest car agains the excesses of 1950s Detroit, and it found its way into American culture. It prevailed against British and European imports in the `50 and `60s, but, despite more changes than were ever apparent, competition from Japanese imports and, especially, the first emissions regulations saw its demise. There was no way a simple air-cooled engine was going to pass emissions requirements, and Volkswagen met that and other challenges by creating the Golf, a water-cooled, front-engined, front-wheel drive hatchback.

Production continued for Latin American markets, however. And that production, in Puebla, Mexico, continued until 2003. By that time, over 21 million Beetles had been built, in a 65-year production run.

In 1994, VW showed its Concept One concept car on the international auto show circuit. One of the first "retro-style" cars, it reached production for model year 1998 as the New Beetle. Early production was at VW's home in Wolfsburg, Germany, but the bulk of cars for the North American market were assembled in Puebla. The New Beetle lasted through 2010. If its 14-year run didn't begin to compare to the original's, it handily outlasted the many "retro" models from competitors that it inspired.




The current Beetle (no more "New") has more in common with the New Beetle than the Type 1, with the same transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive layout and same relation to the current Golf. Styling is less "cute" and more masculine, and the car is ever so slightly lower, wider, and longer. Last year saw the debut of a fuel-thrifty TDI turbodiesel. 2014 sees many important changes. Gone is the rear torsion beam axle, all models now get independent rear suspension. The base 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine will be phased out for the same new 1.8-liter turbo as is found in the Jetta and Golf. There is a new limited-production special edition named GSR in homage to a 1970s car, GSR meaning "Gelb Schwarzes Rennlauer" or "yellow-black racer" and any color you want as long as it's yellow with black accents.

And the Turbo has been renamed R-Line and given more aggressive styling and trim. Top of that line is "R-Line With Sunroof, Sound, and Navigation", which is exactly what the name implies, and is my most recent test car. Since the 1.8 turbo engine will find its way into the base-model Beetle, the rename and upscale emphasis for the 2.0-liter turbo model makes sense. The Sunroof, Sound, and Navigation model also gets unique 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, and leather seating.

It's a stylish and sporty nearly near-luxury car, and a long way in character and performance from an old original Beetle. I know -- my first car was a hand-me-down 1969 Bug. If it had the advertised 50 horsepower, those were small horses. 0-60? Maybe 18 seconds, better downhill or with a tail wind. Brakes? Four drums… engine compression braking is your friend. It did have the semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension, not the notorious swing axles, so, with good tires, it could be fun and even quick in corners. Just learn to carry speed through, as it wasn't coming back any time soon. The two-door, no hatch (engine back there, remember?) configuration made moving memorable. Mileage? Low twenties around town, low thirties on the highway, 25 overall.

Which is what the top-of-the-line R-Line Sunroof, Sound, and Navigation got during my time with it. But it could go up any hill without downshifting a gear or two, had a great working heater and air conditioning (and power windows and everything else), and strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes. This one had the six-speed automanual DSG transmission, which works as well as a good torque-converter automatic and more efficiently in D and shifts quickly in manual mode as well. The R-line Beetle is equivalent to the GTI, but with a different style and so a different character. It's a nod to Volkswagen's past, but every bit a contemporary, and very enjoyable, automobile.

APPEARANCE: The shape is recognizable, but the cute is gone. It's more muscular and masculine, with a lower passenger cabin giving it a "chopped and channeled" hot rod look. It's a long way from a 1949 Mercury lead sled, but still unlike anything else made today. The major cosmetic change from the lower models is a more aggressive front bumper fascia. LED accent/running lights and a large tray-type spoiler are the other notable changes. The GSR is based on the R-Line.

COMFORT: There is less change inside than out, but don't look for the bud vase. In R-Line trim, seating is leather, very good manual sport buckets with three-level cushion heat in front and a 50/50 split folding contoured bench in the rear. The rear seat is honest, for two only. As has been the standard with VW, the driver's seat cushion is height-adjustable and the steering wheel adjusts for tilt and reach, all manually. The R-line wheel is flat-bottomed, with logo trim, and audio and information system controls on the horizontal spokes and gearshift paddles behind them. Instruments are easily visible, with the speedometer, tach, and information display in front of the driver. Oil temperature, a clock/timer, and boost gauge are on top of the center of the instrument panel. Sunroof, Sound, and Navigation means that those are included. The panoramic sunroof slides open partway and also tilts. The Fender audio system sounds good and has AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, CD, and external audio via jack and USB inputs. It and the navigation system are controlled through a hard button and touchscreen interface, with buttons for the main functions and screen touch for details. It's simple and intuitive. Compared to a Golf, the Beetle has less rear seat and cargo room. But it has always emphasized style more than function, and still has more than adequate room for both.

SAFETY: A crash-optimized front structure, the Intelligent Crash Response System (which turns off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and turns on the hazard lights if an airbag deploys), antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-pressure distribution (EBD), hydraulic brake assist (HBA), and electronic stabilization control (ESC) are among the VW Beetle's safety features.

RIDE AND HANDLING: As the Beetle equivalent to the Golf's GTI, the R-line has a firm tuning to its fully-independent front strut, rear multilink suspension. It's properly sporty, but supple enough for comfort, and deals well with poor road surfaces. The electrically-assisted steering is not over-assisted, and transmits some information about the road surface to the steering wheel. Its four-wheel disc brakes are far ahead of the original Beetle's marginal drums. Lovely powertrain, good suspension and steering, and great brakes ensure a fine driving experience.

PERFORMANCE: With 210 horsepower (at 5300 rpm) and 207 lb-ft of torque (peaking at a low 1700 rpm and strong everywhere), the R-Line has more than four times the power of my old Bug. 0-60 takes about one third the amount of time, so there are no worries when needing a quick merge into traffic or passing slower traffic (like an old Bug). The latest development of VW's long history in turbo technology is a jewel, with a fine combination of useable power (torque, really) and good fuel economy. Many automakers are touting turbocharging and direct fuel injection as the means to those ends; VW was the first to do so and keeps refining its engines. Transmissions are six-speeds, of either stick or the DSG automated dual-clutch variety. The stick is more engaging, but the DSG works just as well, and is less stressful in heavy traffic. D is fine most of the time, with S (sport mode) getting the gear right 99% of the time on backroads, and manual shifting quick and easy when wanted.

CONCLUSIONS: The Volkswagen Beetle R-Line combines style with substance.

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

Base Price $ 31,095

Price As Tested $ 32,030

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable intake cam phasing

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.

Horsepower 210 @ 5300 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 207 @ 1700 rpm

Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual

Wheelbase / Length 100.0 in. / 168.4 in.

Curb Weight 3104 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 14.8

Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline

Tires 235/40 R19 92H Conti ProContact

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS and ESC standard

Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 24 / 30 / 25

0 to 60 mph 6.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Security Wheel Locks (set of 4) $ 80

First Aid Kit $ 35

Destination Charge $ 820


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