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EVOLUTIONARY BUG: Turbocharged R-Line upgrades interior, styling, and performance

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In the realm of auto designs, few are as iconic as Volkswagen’s original Beetle. With 21,529,464 million Bugs produced and sold worldwide over decades, it truly was the “people’s car” around the globe.

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.

_0000_1Our 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.

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