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2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review

by Jeffrey N. Ross
April 20, 2012
7 min. Reading Time

2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: What Is It?

The Volkswagen Beetle could very well be the most recognized vehicle on the planet, and with the reintroduction of a diesel version for 2013, the car is adding to its icon status with more fun and better fuel economy. After a complete redesign for the 2012 model year, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI was unveiled at this year’s Chicago International Auto show with the automaker's torquey and fuel efficient TDI diesel engine under the hood. The 2013 VW Beetle TDI won't be available until later this summer, but we had the chance to spend an afternoon with the new diesel Beetle in the rolling hills of California. Like the Beetle itself, diesel cars have come a long way since the 1960s, and as fuel prices continue to rise, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI could be in a great position to give buyers the styling and driving satisfaction they desire to go with the even greater satisfaction of saving green... both the environment and the kind that goes in your wallet.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: Pricing and Trim Levels

Set to go on sale this summer, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI will be available in three trim levels: TDI, TDI with Sunroof and TDI with Sunroof, Sound and Navigation. Official pricing has yet to be announced, but we'd expect this oil-burning Beetle to be priced just under the Beetle Turbo which starts at $23,395. In line with current Beetle prices, the TDI with Sunroof should raise the starting price by at least $2,500 and the fully loaded TDI with Sunroof, Sound and Navigation (what we had for this first drive) topping out somewhere right around $27,000.


2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: What It's Up Against

By itself, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle is already a hard car to cross shop, but add in the ultra-fuel-efficient diesel engine and the list of cars gets narrowed down even more such as the sporty Chevrolet Sonic Turbo and FIAT 500 or the fuel-efficient Scion iQ and Mazda Mazda2. So far, the redesigned and reinvigorated Beetle has seen strong sales in 2012 with 1,969 units sold in March and 4,673 sold year to date. While there was not 2011 model year for the Beetle (making for percentage increases in the thousands), these sales figures still look impressive when compared to the 2010 calendar year when VW sold 11,874 hardtop New Beetles and a grand total of 16,537 when including the Cabriolet. Of course, once the 2013 Beetle Cabriolet hits showrooms early next year, it should spur sales further and make it even harder for the competition to keep up.


2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: Exterior

  • Unique 17-inch wheels
  • Additional exterior chrome accents
  • TDI badge on the hatch

As just the third major body design for the car since it came out in 1938, designers were tasked with making the new 2012 Volkswagen Beetle more modern without losing its retro appeal. Mission accomplished! The flattened roofline, inspired by the 2005 Ragster Concept, gives the new Beetle a sleeker, sportier design that is also wider, lower and longer than the outgoing car. The same basic design language found on the original Beetle and the more recent New Beetle can also be readily seen in the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, but the instead of the previous car’s cute, rounded edges, the new design features more square-off edges especially in regards to the roofline and the front and rear fascias. One of the key styling elements dating back to the original Beetle are the exaggerated fenders which are present and accounted for on the new model, but the square-ish shape of the headlights and taillights prevents this new car from looking too cute. As for the 2013 Beetle TDI, sharp eyes will notice a handful of small changes that include unique 17-inch wheels with a sporty split-spoke design, the addition of chrome exterior accents along the side greenhouse and, of course, TDI badge affixed below the VW logo on the rear hatch.


2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: Interior

  • Unique instrument panel gauge pod
  • Stylish, more conventional interior design

Similar to the exterior design, the cabin of the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle gets a more conventional styling that now has more in common with other VW models. Volkswagen made sure to give the Beetle a few distinct characteristics inside such as the "Beetle bin" (a second glove box) and a unique gauge cluster. While the previous New Beetle had a single, massive pod housing all of the gauges, the third-generation Beetle has a cluster that now features three separate gauges with a central speedometer flanked by a smaller tachometer on the left and a fuel gauge on the right. Unique to the Beetle TDI, a trio of gauges atop the instrument panel with an oil temperature gauge, a stopwatch and turbo boost gauge. The look of the Beetle's interior is finished off with a sporty, flat-bottom steering wheel and painted body-color inserts on the instrument panel, steering wheel and door panels.

The larger size of the 2012 Beetle means that there is more interior space for both passengers and cargo. Despite what appears to be a lower roofline, the new design actually affords more headroom to front and rear occupants with an increase of 1.2 inches and 0.4 inches, respectively. There is also more cargo capacity than the previous New Beetle with 15.4 cubic feet of space with the rear seats in place and 29.9 cubic feet with the 50/50 split rear seats folded flat.


2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: The Extras

In base form, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI comes standard with power windows, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, an eight-speaker audio system and keyless push-button start. Stepping up from the base model, the 2013 Beetle TDI with Sunroof will add a larger power sliding panoramic roof than the previous car, and the insulated glass can block up to 92 percent of heat energy for a cooler cabin. This package, which we would expect to cost around $2,500, also includes an upgraded audio system featuring a touch-screen display, six-disc CD changer and an SD card reader. Finally, the TDI with Sunroof, Sound and Navigation upgraded to VW's touch-screen navigation system (which is on the small side with its five-inch display) and the premium Fender audio system. We would expect this package to start closer to $5,000, but audiophiles will definitely appreciate the crisp, clear sound of this excellent sound system that was originally introduced on the 2011 Jetta.



2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

  • diesel engine
  • six-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission
  • expected to get up to 39 mpg on the highway

The engine line-up for the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle will read just like most other Volkswagen models with the base engine being the 2.5-liter inline-four, the performance Turbo model getting the 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four and the TDI getting the diesel 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct injected engine. Unlike the 1.9-liter diesel that the Beetle used from 1998 through 2006, the new clean diesel engine used in many other Volkswagen and Audi products runs quieter, smoother and cleaner while being noticeably more powerful with an output of 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. Legal in all 50 states, the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI is expected to receive EPA fuel economy estimates of 29 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway which is slightly lower than the previous New Beetle diesel that had estimates of up to 32 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Along with the bigger diesel engine compared to the previous New Beetle TDI, the 2013 Beetle TDI will also offer two new transmissions. The base transmission will be the six-speed manual gearbox (replacing the old car's five-speed manual) while the optional transmission will be VW's advanced quick-shifting dual-clutch DSG six-speed automatic transmission. As is the case with the 2012 Beetle, the DSG will likely be offered on all three TDI trim levels with a price of $1,100.



2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: How It Drives

The whole purpose of buying a diesel car like the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI is to see a return on fuel economy, which this car does, but it is impossible to overlook how much fun VW’s TDI cars are to drive with its gobs of low-end torque and a suspension setup that is tight and responsive but still very comfortable. While some other automakers have managed to hit the magic 40-mpg highway rating by sacrificing vehicle performance for fuel economy, the new Beetle TDI still delivers a quick and engaging ride to go with fuel economy estimates that, based on other current VW TDI models, should be easy to surpass in the real world. Our experience with the new 43-mpg Passat TDI last year returned highway numbers closer to 53 mpg without any changes in driving style, so we’d expect drivers should have no problem beating the Beetle TDI’s claimed figures. During our short time in the car, we saw right around 35 mpg which was mostly in city driving along fun and twisty California roads. Regardless of whether you stick with the standard manual transmission or opt for the more advanced DSG gearbox, the Beetle TDI is an absolute blast to drive, and while the TDI has the same torsion beam rear suspension layout as the base 2012 model (as opposed to the multi-link setup under the Beetle Turbo), it was hard to distinguish any handling differences between the TDI and the Turbo in back-to-back comparisons.


2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: Is It Safe

Although the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI is not on sale, we don't see any reason why this new TDI should stray from the current safety ratings available (if nothing else, they might get better). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the only agency to release crash safety ratings for the redesigned Beetle, and the results were promising with a four-star overall rating as a result of the four-star rollover and frontal-impact protection and the five-star side-impact rating; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not tested the new Beetle. Most official information for the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle has yet to be released, but based on the spec sheet for the 2012 model year, all models come standard with active front head restraints, daytime running lights (DRL), electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, Electronic Stability Control, VW's Intelligent Crash Response and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).


2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: Final Thoughts

Volkswagen did its best to make the redesigned Beetle acceptable for more buyers in terms of the car's overall styling (read: looking to attract more male buyers), but at the same time, it also managed to make the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI one of the most fuel-efficient small cars on the market. With its advanced clean diesel engines, Volkswagen has definitely proven that fuel-efficient cars can not only be responsible to own but also exciting to drive and, more importantly, fun to be seen in. The redesigned Volkswagen Beetle is bringing back a whole new level of swagger to one of the most iconic vehicles on the globe, and in its second model year, the 2013 Beetle TDI will add a fuel-efficient diesel engine into the mix for drivers to combat that pain at the pump as well as the cure for the common subcompact.



2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI First Drive Review: Pros and Cons

  • excellent fuel economy
  • sportier, more aggressive exterior styling
  • fun and engaging to drive
  • still a compromise in space compared to a Golf TDI
  • diesel fuel still has higher pump cost
  • small navigation screen

Volkswagen provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross



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