2017 Volkswagen Beetle Review

2017 Volkswagen Beetle - VW's Sporty Coupe checks all of the boxes.

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The Volkswagen Beetle is a retro-themed two-door that's available as a hatchback or convertible. Competitors include the Fiat 500, Hyundai Veloster and MINI Cooper. S, SL and SEL trims are offered with special models that include the Classic, Dune and R-Line. All have front-wheel-drive. Convertible models have a power-operated canvas top with glass rear window.

Two engines are offered. All save the R-Line get a turbocharged 1.8 liter four-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower. The R-Line comes with a 2.0-liter four that makes 210 horsepower. Both engines mate to a six-speed automatic, however, the R-Line comes with a dual-clutch version that's designed to provide crisper shifting.

Coupe pricing starts at $19,995 and climbs to $32,550. Convertibles add about $3000 to the base price of each trim level. The R-Line is special order only.

The 1.8-liter turbo engine that powers 99-percent of all Beetle models provides adequate acceleration for around-town driving and above average passing response. When pressed, the engine will propel the Beetle from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. Faster than the Fiat 500, but a tick behind the MINI Cooper S. The engine is smooth and refined and mates well to the slick-shifting six-speed automatic.

Official EPA estimates for the Beetle with the 1.8 engine come it at 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. Those numbers compare favorably with competitors. More impressive are real-world numbers that often top 30 mpg in an even mix of suburban commuting. Throw in some gentle highway cruising and you can push 38 mpg overall. Volkswagen recommends regular-grade gasoline for the Beetle.

S, SE and SEL ride with the best balance of comfort and control. They offer a compliant suspension that's neither too firm nor flaccid and provides a modicum of athleticism when the road gets twisty. The Dune model has a slightly raised suspension and widened track that provides a little more ride comfort, but that comes at the expense of road-holding capability. R-Line is the sports car of the bunch. It's more than a match for most sports coupes in the handling department. All models have sharp steering that boasts good road feel. Brakes have a somewhat numb-feeling pedal, but stopping power is a plus.

Interior noise levels tend to be lower than those found in either the Fiat 500 or MINI Cooper. Both road and wind noise are nicely contained and the engine only intrudes in hard acceleration.

The Beetle boasts an open and airy interior with a definite retro flair. Materials are a cut above except for the body-color inserts that have a flimsy plastic feel. Design and layout of controls and gauges is very straight forward -- highlighted by simple climate controls. The available touch-screen infotainment system is intuitive in operation and includes support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play.

Front seats are modestly cushioned and provide enough support for spirited driving, but more adjustability would be nice. Head and leg room are exceptional for a car of this size. Rear seat room is marginal for adults with the biggest downfall being knee space. Outward visibility is great and entry/exit to the front seats is a snap. Rear-seat access requires a bend-and-twist maneuver, but at least there's a handy pull strap to assist.

Beetle's hatchback design provides a versatile cargo space that can be expanded from 15 cubic feet to 30 cubic feet by folding the rear seatbacks. Interior storage is modest with a few open and covered bins throughout. Sadly, Beetle eschews traditional door pockets for netted slots that are nearly useless.

Sporty coupes have, by their nature, limited appeal. Of all, the Beetle may be the most versatile. It offers good visibility, exceptional front-seat room, a wide variety of trim packages, an elite performance version in the R-Line and affordable pricing. Throw in good fuel economy, a sporty nature and full compliment of safety and technology features and you have the right mix for many buyers.



Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and hardcover automotive titles.

In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on ABC TV, Fox News, and Speed Channel as an automotive consultant. Previously, he was a regular on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show and now fills in for Paul Brian on the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.

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