Where The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle Fits Today

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line
The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line.

There is great ambivalence about the Volkswagen Beetle.  Not the original and not the New Beetle, but the current model, which replaced the New Beetle two years ago.  It was thought the more angular, less round, less cute design would boost sales, and to an extent it has, but this is still nowhere near the phenomenon the original Beetle was in the 1960s.

The May sales figures for the United States show the Beetle selling 29th among small cars, lagging behind such automotive rarities as the Hyundai Veloster, Nissan Juke and Buick Encore. Dodge sells nearly three times as many Darts.  And the Dart is not a car that is setting the world on fire.

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line
2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line.

How to combat this?  One way is to make each trim level of the Beetle seem to be something special. Last year, it was the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s editions.  This year, it is by introducing two performance versions, the R-Line and the GSR.  Both have 2-liter turbocharged engines producing 210 horsepower, getting 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway.  The differences are in content and price, with $5,000 separating the R-Line from its more expensive GSR sibling.

Our test vehicle was the R-Line.  The base price of $24,995 immediately jumps to $27,595 when you specify the Sunroof and Sound trim, which adds a sunroof and an upgraded Fender audio system. The R-Line also has a sport suspension, a six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed automatic is available as an option) 18-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, a rear spoiler, brushed aluminum appearance pedal covers, powered heatable exterior mirrors and power windows. The only option on ours, four Monster Mat floormats and a heavy duty trunk liner, added $235 to the price, which with $820 destination charges, came to an as-tested $28,650.

It is nice, but it is a hot-rod Beetle, not that different from a Golf underneath the bodywork.  And with the 2015 Golf and GTI about to appear in dealer showrooms, you have to wonder why anyone wouldn't simply choose one of those for their more user-friendly layout. I suppose the answer is nostalgia.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR and Classic Beetle
2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR and classic Beetle.

And, to an extent, the Beetle, though a truly modern car with styling that really only suggests a classic Beetle---park the current and classic Beetles side-by-side and you will see what I mean--provides that. But it illustrates a deeper truth: The car that once revolutionized how Americans saw automobiles, that set sales records 50 years ago that only the Ford Mustang could top, is now a niche vehicle.