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2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Review By Carey Russ

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2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI


2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI

Are you looking for a car with exemplary fuel economy that is also fun to drive? Do you prefer to shift for yourself, as that is part of the driving (as opposed to operating!) experience? Consider a Volkswagen diesel. VW offers the newest version of its turbodiesel in the Golf, Jetta, and Beetle. My test car for the past week was a Beetle TDI.

If your last experience with a VW diesel was with a slow, smoky late-70s Rabbit, it's time to get out from under that rock, Mr. Van Winkle. Technologies analogous to what has reined in gasoline engine emissions make the latest generation of compression-ignition engines remarkably clean, and with little olfactory or auditory evidence of diesel power. Turbocharging means torque, and plenty of that. The latest version of VW's TDI displaces 2.0 liters and makes 140 horsepower… and 236 lb-ft of torque. That beats the (gasoline) 2.0 Turbo's 207 handily. And as the old saying goes, horsepower is what you brag about, but torque is what you feel. Unlike an old diesel Rabbit, the current Beetle TDI can get out of its own way. Quickly. Ditto for the Golf and Jetta versions.

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It can also go a good distance on a gallon of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. EPA estimates are 28 mpg city, 41 highway, and 32 overall. Unlike with some gasoline-powered cars, real-world driving shows this to be conservative. I usually saw 28-32 strictly around town. Add a little highway and that would increase to 34 or so. Add more highway, get 38-40 easily. On a 60-mile highway trip, up and down hills and at real highway speeds (not 55, or even 65 -- that's an invitation to get rear-ended in the slow lane) I easily got 45 mpg. Worst case? That would be a two-mile trip, all uphill, from cold -- the worst possible conditions for mileage. Result? 20 mpg. Go a bit further and watch that go up another 10 mpg. Go further still, and see above.

My test car had the standard six-speed manual transmission. The automatic choice, for an extra $1100, is the six-speed dual-clutch DSG automated manual. It improves EPA city mileage to 29, and allegedly decreases highway to 39.

The TDI is positioned as the fuel economy alternative in the Beetle lineup, with the Beetle 2.5 (2.5 liter, 170hp inline five-cylinder) the mainstream offering and the Beetle Turbo (2.0 liter, 210hp four-cylinder gasoline) the performance option. The TDI comes in base form for $23,495 (manual), with a sunroof for $25,195, or Sun, Sound, and Navigation (sunroof, Fender Premium Audio, and touchscreen navigation system) for $26,545 at the time of writing. As mentioned above, add $1100 to each for the DSG.

Why the "base" stick when press-spec is usually top-of-the-line? I suspect that VW actually sells more than a few in that specification. The Germans have been the diesel champions on this side of the Atlantic, with VW in the affordable category. VW diesel owners are loyal and can border on the fanatic, and after a week in the latest TDI I can't blame them. The only hybrid offered with a stick is Honda's CR-Z, and I doubt that there will be much cross-shopping between the CR-Z and a VW TDI. The TDI handily trumps the Honda on fuel economy. And while there is that base of diesel True Believers, cleaner and quieter new diesels have been finding homes with people who previously never would have considered diesel. For good reason.

APPEARANCE: Although the iconic shape is familiar, the newest version of the (new) Beetle is chunkier and more masculine than the Nineties remake. It's longer, lower, and wider, if only marginally. The passenger cabin is noticeably lower, with a "chopped" look to borrow custom car parlance. If not quite the Pierson Brothers coupe or 30s Adler Le Mans racer (yes, there is a German precedent), the roofline, the bulbous fenders, and the gently-rising beltline, give the car more than a hint of a vintage performance look without being self-consciously retro. The front bumper fascia is more squared-off, and the rear is more angular. Chrome trim underneath the side windows and under the door -- where the running boards were on the original Type 1 Beetle -- enliven the sides.

COMFORT: Stylistically, VW has changed the inside of the Beetle less than the outside. The body-colored instrument panel face continues to pay homage to the original Beetle; the bud vase is history. Seating surfaces are "V-Tex" leatherette, which feels more like leather than some low-budget leathers. Seat lowers have an interesting faux-carbon fiber look. The front seats are manually adjustable, including driver's cushion height, and the steering wheel, here leather-rimmed with controls for audio and information systems on the spokes, adjusts for both tilt and reach. The main instruments are protected from glare under a hood in front of the driver, while auxiliary gauges for oil temperature, turbo boost, and a timer are atop the dash in the center. Trip information is inset into the speedometer. What looks like the glove box, in the dash in front of the passenger, is merely extra storage. The real glove box is semi-hidden underneath that, in the dark lower IP material. Open storage and cupholders are found in the center console, and are augmented by a fold-down armrest-cum-storage box. My test car had the basic AM/FM/XM/CD/auxiliary jack audio system, which far better than the AM radio found in a `60s Beetle. Higher trim levels mean upgraded audio and even navigation.

Front seat comfort is good, and the extra width really makes itself known in the rear, where two people can fit in comfort. The reshaped roofline adds rear-seat headroom, but still the Beetle trades style for the Golf's space. Which is fine for those who buy one. The rear seatback folds 50/50, and the wide-opening hatch makes loading and unloading cargo easy. There is a space-saver tire under the rear load floor.

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: Like the Beetle 2.5, the TDI has a torsion beam rear axle instead of the Turbo's independent rear suspension. In the real world, that makes very little difference. The suspension is tuned moderately firmly, the steering effort in pleasantly not too light or too heavy, and ride comfort is very good for a small, sporty car. Cornering limits may be less than a GTI's, but the TDI is still an engagingly fun car to drive, helped in no small amount by its torquey engine. Four-wheel disc brakes are far advanced from the original Beetle's four marginal drums.

PERFORMANCE: The TDI's 2.0-liter turbodiesel is a descendant of the 1.9-liter engine found in the previous generation New Beetle. A larger bore increases displacement, while a switch to common-rail fuel injection and many other design detail improvements result in a cleaner and quieter powerplant. Horsepower tops out at 140, at 4000 rpm, with torque peaking at 236 lb-ft at 1750. Which means a nice strong turbo kick, as soon as you press down on the throttle pedal. With the manual transmission, you do have to be careful not to run into the rev limiter. Most diesels don't rev well; this one would like to remind you that its cousins over at Audi have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans seven times. It's also exceedingly flexible, so shifting not necessarily something that has to be done often. Good linkage and moderate clutch effort make shifting enjoyable. 0-60 is a hair over eight seconds. That's moderate by today's standards -- and ten or twelve seconds better than the 1969 Beetle I had long ago. Which never came near the TDI's fuel frugality. Over 40 mpg is easily attained on the highway, with low- to mid-thirties in everyday driving, mostly around town. Figure a useable 14 gallons in the tank, conservative 40 mpg highway, and that's well over 500 miles range. And much more fun than any hybrid.

CONCLUSIONS: VW's Beetle TDI is frugal on fuel and big on fun.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI

Base Price			$ 23,495
Price As Tested			$ 24,560
Engine Type			DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder diesel,
				 turbocharged and intercooled. cast iron  
				 block with aluminum alloy head
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 120 cu. in.
Horsepower			140 @ 4000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			236 @ 1750 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		99.9 in. / 168.4 in.
Curb Weight			3073 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		22
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel
Tires				P215/55R17 94H Kumho Optimo m+s
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  torsion-beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				  front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		28 / 41 / 35
0 to 60 mph				8.2  sec

TDI Monster Mats (set of 4) with heavy-duty trunk
  liner and CarGo blocks				$ 235
First Aid Kit						$  35
Destination Charge					$ 795