Why The Beetle TDI Is The Most Beetle-Like Of All

2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI front 3/4 view
Volkswagen Beetle TDI.
For a car that is an exercise in nostalgia, there is very little that really connects the current-generation Beetle with the one that captured America's hearts from 1949 to 1979.  As I illustrated in my review of the Beetle R-Line this summer, the current Beetle is a much larger car, with styling meant to evoke rather than emulate the original.  It is certainly much more complex, much more expensive (even when adjusted for inflation, today's Beetle costs nearly double what the original did at any point in its production) and, as every wag who used to own one will point out---the engine is in the wrong place.

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI
Volkswagen Beetle TDI.
There is one attribute of the old Beetle that you can replicate, however---by putting the wrong engine in the wrong place.

There was no diesel original Beetle, at least not in America.  But now there is.  And the Beetle TDI is the one that gets closest to the tremendous gas mileage that was the key selling point for so many way back when---especially during the early 1970s oil crisis.

The 140 horsepower, 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder is by no means fast, but it is quicker than an original Beetle and it gets original Beetle-like fuel economy.  The EPA says 28 miles per gallon city, 41 highway, a significant improvement over the 21/30 from the R-Line.

Interior view of 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI
Volkswagen Beetle TDI interior.
Attempts to carry the frugality throughout the car as a theme simply will not fly, however.  The TDI starts at a none-too-cheap $27,495, though you do get a lot for your money. Electronic stability control, anti-slip regulation, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, 17-inch alloy wheels, a power sliding and tilting sunroof, a touchscreen navigation system, a Fender premium audio system with SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, air conditioning, cruise control, a trip computer, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and brake lever are all standard.

In fact, our test vehicle came with no options at all, even keeping its standard six-speed manual transmission, a rarity these days even in press fleets. As-tested price with $820 destination charge was $28,315.

You can get a Beetle TDI for less money.  Even though the window sticker shows no options, ours was the Sunroof, Sound and Nav package, which is folded into the starting price.  Forgo those upgrades, and a TDI can be yours for $24,795. Still none too reminiscent of Beetles of yore, but the infrequent stops at the diesel pump might just make up for it.