2018 Volkswagen Beetle Buying Advice
This is the best car for you if you believe what’s old can be new again. Driving Volkswagen’s Beetle is like playing a retro video-game console or sampling some vintage candy. It can bring back memories of days gone by.
The Beetle traces its lineage to pre-World War II Germany. Adolf Hitler commissioned engineer Ferdinand Porsche, who later founded the legendary sports car brand, to design a simple “People’s Car” (aka Volkswagen) that could seat five and cruise at 100 km/h (62 mph). Officially called the Type 1 (Beetle was a colloquial name), the small two-door, rear-engine car was made publicly available in 1938. Mass production didn’t start until after the war ended in 1945. The Type 1 became of the industry’s most successful and longest running nameplates, with more than 21 million units built around the world through 2003. It’s arguably second to the Ford Model T as the most important car in history.
VW debuted the “New Beetle” for the 1997 model year as a modern interpretation of the Type 1. True, it was front-engine and front-wheel drive, not rear-engine and rear-wheel drive. But its quirky design, solid performance, and value pricing earned it enough success for the company to introduce a redesigned version for the 2012 model year. Now simply called the Beetle, it borrows much of its underskin engineering from the 2011-2018 Volkswagen Jetta compact sedan.
Beyond 2019, however, the car’s future is hazy. At the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, Volkswagen’s head of research and development said the Beetle will be phased out and replaced by a “microbus” based on its ID Buzz electric concept vehicle. A company spokesperson in the United States contradicted that claim, saying the automaker has no plans to discontinue the Beetle, at least in this market.
We’re inclined to believe the R&D chief, for two reasons. First, the current Beetle’s engineering is approaching a decade old. Nearly all VW’s other current cars and crossover SUVs use variants of its excellent modular “MQB” platform. With car sales in decline, we find it unlikely the company will invest time and money into adapting the slow-selling Beetle to the new architecture. Second, VW is essentially competing against itself by selling this car alongside the more modern and practical Golf.
Should you buy a 2018 model or wait for the 2019?
Buy a 2018. If there is a 2019 Beetle, it won’t be changed but potentially could cost more. And even if VW confirms it’s discontinuing the Beetle, collector potential isn’t likely to be strong enough in and of itself to justify a purchase.
Instead, buy an ’18 because VW actually improved the car, giving it a new engine with more power and better fuel economy ratings. It introduces a special Coast edition trim level, revises option packages, and covers it with an industry-leading bumper-to-bumper warranty.
The ’18 Beetle is available as a two-door hatchback and a two-door convertible. Both seat four passengers. The convertible comes with a power-folding soft top that can be raised and lowered in less than 10 seconds at up to 31 mph.
The 2018 lineup for both body styles consists of S, Coast, SE, and Dune trim levels, the last with a slightly raised suspension. If there’s a 2019 Beetle, expect the Coast grade to be replaced in favor of a new special-edition model slotted between the S and SE.
Coupe or convertible, the Beetle is tough to classify. It’s not as sporty as a Chevrolet Camaro or Ford Mustang, but it’s hardly a traditional economy car like a Chevrolet Cruze or Ford Focus. Its closest rivals in spirit would be similar fashion-statement small cars like the Fiat 500, Hyundai Veloster, and Mini Cooper. None of these cars is selling well, and while the Beetle is among the very few compact-segment cars to avoid a steep decline in demand (its sales were off just 1 percent through April 2018), its totals are miniscule, with VW on track to move fewer than 20,000 of them for the year.
Styling: The current Beetle’s exterior styling is more reminiscent of the original Type 1 than was the styling of the 1997-2011 car. Still, there’s no mistaking it for anything else. Even people who aren’t into cars know what it is. The exaggerated fenders, large headlights, and rounded nose are all distinctive. The Dune has chunkier tires and a crossover-like 6.3 inches of ground clearance, versus the other Beetles’ 5.7 inches. VW hopes it reminds you of a 1960s dune buggy, which were essentially an open fiberglass body shell on Type 1 running gear. Alas, aside from the tires and suspension, the Dune looks nothing like a classic beach buggy.
Beetle’s retro vibe continues inside. Certain trims have sections of their dashboards and interior doors painted to match the exterior color. This looks striking in black or red but is rather hideous in “Sandstorm Yellow Metallic,” an equally ugly exterior shade for which VW will charge you an extra $250.
The small instrument pod is again reminiscent of the Type 1. We wish engineers found a way to squeeze in an engine temperature gauge. Ergonomically, the rest of the cabin follows modern VW convention. The climate controls are simple and handy. The infotainment system is front and center. S grades come standard with a tiny 5-inch display. Optional on that model and standard otherwise is a 6.3-inch unit, which improves usability but is still on the small side of the spectrum. The upgraded system employs VW’s Car-Net App-Connect with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Its intuitive interface is still present, but operation on our Dune test example was very slow and glitchy. More than once the system outright refused to activate CarPlay when a compatible iPhone was connected.
Drivers will have to acclimate to the Beetle’s upright seating position, but they will be comfortable on the cloth or available leatherette upholstery. Both the driving position and the texture on the seat fabric are other throwbacks to the Type 1. The back seat is a token gesture in which only children will fit. Visibility is OK in the hatchback. The convertible top creates huge blind spots when raised and almost completely blocks the view directly aft when lowered.
Cargo volume in the hatch is a respectable 15.4 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks raised and 29.9 with them folded. Convertibles have just 7.1 cubic feet and no folding seatbacks. Interior storage is rather poor. The center console is tiny, there’s a second glovebox above the main one that’s too shallow to be useful, and the “door pockets” are literally elastic strips spanning a small portion of the lower door panel.
Mechanical: All Beetle models continue to share a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but it’s a new engine for 2018. It’s a variant of Volkswagen’s corporate 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. In this application it produces 174 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It replaces a 1.8-liter turbocharged four that had 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.
Hit the gas and you won’t mistake the ’18 Beetle it for a VW GTI, which has a 220-horse version of this engine. But the Beetle is surprisingly quick off the line. It also has sufficient reserves for highway passing and merging. Credit also goes to the smartly tuned 6-speed automatic transmission that’s standard across the board. The lack of a manual gearbox seems a missed opportunity, but VW is probably figuring stickshift intenders will be looking at a Golf or GTI anyway.
The Beetle is happiest as a boulevard cruiser as opposed to a backroads carver. Not that it handles poorly, but you’ll find more body in fast turns here than in a Mini Cooper or even the Fiat 500. The steering doesn’t have the dialed-in feel we expect from Volkswagen either. The Dune exaggerates these conditions because of its bulky tires and taller suspension. Ride quality is Euro-firm, with excellent body control over large ruts. The Dune’s suspension tuning allows a few more bumps to resonate through the cabin than in other sporty cars.
The hatchback’s slippery body shape helps isolate it from wind noise. Other sources of racket are kept well in check. You’ll hear the engine while accelerating, but it’s a pleasant sound.
Features: S grades are almost economy-car basic in terms of features with their 5-inch infotainment screen, cruise control, power windows/locks/mirrors, and rearview camera. The convertible version of the S gets additional body-color exterior trim and heated front seats.
Hatchback and convertible versions of the other grades mirror each other in terms of standard and optional content. The Coast hatch adds heated front seats while both body styles have unique exterior and interior styling treatment, 6.3-inch infotainment screen, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, keyless access, and pushbutton engine start.
SE grades get dual-zone automatic climate control and additional telematics features from VW Car-Net.
The Dune gains specific upholstery, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, VW’s Fender co-branded audio system, and front- and rear-obstacle detection. At the same time, this grade loses the SE’s extra telematics and is not offered with blind-spot alert.
Advanced driver-assistance feature, such as radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, and pre-collision autonomous emergency braking are unavailable on any Beetle.
All 2018 Volkswagen models now include a 6-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. This is part of an effort to restore buyer confidence and remove the stigma of unreliability that has plagued the brand since the late 1990s.
Beetle pricing is more in line with compact cars than with sporty ones. Including VW’s $850 destination fee, the S hatchback starts at $21,070, the Coast at $23,970, the SE at $24,870, and the Dune at $27,640.
Convertibles are priced from $26,290 for the S, $27,690 for the Coast, $28,890 for the SE, and $32,940 for the Dune.
Certain paint colors add $250. The S offers a Style and Comfort Package that costs $1,475 on the hatchback and $955 on the convertible. It adds the 6.3-inch infotainment screen, satellite radio, keyless access, pushbutton engine start, 17-inch aluminum wheels, automatic headlights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Hatchbacks also include extra body-color trim and heated seats that are otherwise standard on the convertible.
The $895 Coast Lighting Package includes bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, and LED lights surrounding the rear license plate frame.
SE grades offer a $2,500 Premium Package that includes the Coast Lighting Package, fog lights, 18-inch wheels, obstacle detection, Fender audio system, and imbedded GPS navigation.
Beetle fuel-economy ratings are decent for a small, somewhat sporty car. The EPA rates the Dune at 26/34/29 mpg city/highway/combined and all other models at 26/33/29. Our test Dune hatchback averaged 29.1 mpg in our suburban test loop.
All models use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.
Fiat 500, Hyundai Veloster, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Golf