Reborn in 1998 as a retro compact hatchback, based largely on Golf mechanicals, the New Beetle resembled the old in shape only. Gone was the rackety, air-cooled flat four-cylinder in the rear; in its stead was a modern, water-cooled, transverse-mounted inline four-cylinder up front paired with a front-drive transaxle.
Just as important, the original’s swing-axle rear suspension was replaced by a fully independent suspension system.
It was an instant hit, propelled by clever advertising and such offbeat accessories as a cute little bud vase on the dashboard.
Deserved or not, it developed the reputation of being favored by the feminine gender. So when it came time for a 2013 redesign/update, VW decided to try and attract more males to boost its potential clientele base.
While keeping the same basic shape, VW’s stylists butched it up a bit, giving the car a hint of an almost Porsche-like appearance. It does look tougher, with its lower, flatter roofline and less-exaggerated curves.
The cabin too underwent a significant upgrading, with vastly improved gauges and controls – more in line with other modern VW models – higher-grade materials and more comfortable seating.
The Beetle R-Line is the performance model. Powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four, borrowed from the Golf GTI, the sporty little hatch provides a healthy dose of gumption while still managing quite decent fuel economy.
Our Reef Blue Metallic tester featured the six-speed, DSG (direct shift gearbox) automatic transmission. Although it delivers lightning-fast cog swaps, it is hesitant to downshift and overly eager to upshift into higher gears, probably as a fuel-economy measure. You’ll be tempted to leave the lever in Sport; fortunately, steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles deliver a faster response.
The R-Line toggles between firm for taut handling and compliant for a smooth ride. Road noise is well-dampened, and the optional Fender audio system delivers really excellent sound.
Cleverly blending the modern with the funky, the Beetle at last is a fully realized car, without compromises.