Looking out from Leith Volkswagen of Raleigh, across the parking lot and beyond Capital Boulevard, a cell tower rises out of the trees. Dale Diedrichs usually has a very full day, helping customers however he can, but whenever he has a moment, he likes to look up at the cell tower. For a while now, he’s been watching a pair of ospreys build their nest at the top. It’s more common to see them on the coast, but between Greshams Lake, the Camp Durant Lakes, and the Neuse, there must be plenty of fish nearby for them to have settled so close to this dealership. To be sure they are beautiful birds, and it’s just Dale’s nature to notice them. It’s the simple things with him. Take care of those and the rest will take care of itself.
On this gorgeous April day, we were all set to test-drive a 2014 Volkswagen Beetle. Dale was the sales consultant helping us that day. He’s been with Leith for about two and a half years now. Dale likes what he does because he enjoys meeting people, he’s happy to be a part of the Leith family, and he loves the cars that he sells. There’s a 1999 Beetle in his family, so he’s got plenty of experience with the model he’s showing us.
Blue Punch Buggy
The Beetle is a car that really needs no introduction. It’s been the most recognized car on the road for the past seventy-five years, and the 2014 model is the best ever. No longer a perfect arch, the updated punch buggy has a flatter roof where the a-pillar halts and cuts back more drastically than previous versions. It’s a minor adjustment that makes the car look faster while still adhering to the Beetle ethos. The other elements – minimal overhang in front and back, pronounced wheel wells, and a wide yet compact stance – are all still in play. Don’t forget the signature bug eyes. The “sexy lights,” as Dale calls them, have LED running lights and Bi-Xenon headlamps.
Dale had chosen an R-Line variant for us to drive, which outfits the Beetle’s exoskeleton with special trim on the front and rear bumpers and gives it special 19” Tornado Wheels with ten-spoke two-tone rims. As the name suggests, the R-Line looks very at home on the rally track, especially with the rear spoiler. They also come with a set of special color options. Ours was Metallic Blue Reef.
The last thing we did before getting into the car was take a quick look in the trunk. We can preface by saying that people don’t buy Beetles because of their hauling capacity, but the trunk is probably still bigger than you would think. We wager you could fit a few decently sized pieces of luggage in there, and the back seats do fold down if you need some extra room. You won’t have any problem finding space for groceries, and the floor mat is designed to contain spills should they occur. Underneath is a full-sized temporary spare, which will carry you as far as you need. There’s also an option for a handy first-aid kit.
We strapped into the passenger seat first, letting Dale drive us off the lot. The windshield had to be cleared off because as you’re probably aware, pollen season is upon us. We asked Dale what they do about the yellow menace, and he said that there’s really no way to fight it. The effort of cleaning all the cars is wasted when they’re covered again two days later, so it’s better to just wait for rain.
The R-Line specification continues on the inside of the Beetle. In addition to special trim badges on the outside, occupants are also greeted with R-Line Door Sills when they open the door. The seats in our test-vehicle were leather wrapped with the black and blue upholstery option. They’re also a sport variant that gives you extra support when cornering.
Aside from that, the interior is relatively conservative. Volkswagen being a German automaker – the German automaker, in our opinion – the Beetle embodies the German driving philosophy. Simply put, when you’re driving, you’re driving. While other brands see fit to overwhelm you with gadgets and technology, VW includes those features, but as unobtrusively as possible.
We admired the stark cleanliness of the dashboard. There are two glove boxes should you need to keep anything stowed up front. The R-Line comes with three extra gauges at the top of the center stack. One for oil, one for the turbocharger, and a stopwatch for if you want to take the Beetle for a few laps around the track. The integrated flower vase has been removed, which is apparently a point of contention among some long-time fans.
Dale doesn’t miss it, though, and there’s a modest information screen on the center stack that combines hard button and touch screen controls. You can use this system to control navigation and audio settings. The navigation package is particularly intuitive, with built-in knowledge of the area so you can easily figure out where you’re trying to go. You also have the option to store your home address, but Dale wisely suggests that you not do so. In the worst case scenario, if someone were to steal your car, they won’t be able to find out where you live with the push of a button.
As for audio, you’ll be able to listen to whatever you want however you want to. The Beetle comes with AM, FM, and satellite radio. You also have an iPod cable, a CD player, and an SD card reader at your disposal. Lastly, the car is Bluetooth enabled if you want to sync your phone and stream music. Whatever medium you choose, the music you play is going to sound fantastic thanks to the Fender audio system.
Dale was running through the list of features as he was driving, demonstrating his familiarity with the vehicle. He waited to actually demonstrate most of the console’s capabilities until we were safely in park again. Most of the controls for these features are within reach of the steering wheel, so fine adjustments can be made with minimal distraction from the road. After confirming that we had kept up, he let us take the wheel.
Emphasis on Punch
When we do test-drives like this, we prefer that the neighborhood portion of the route come first. It allows us to get acclimated with the vehicle and also has the benefit of saving the fun part for last. In the driver’s seat, we were able to get comfortable quickly. The steering wheel is a sport variant – three spokes and a flat bottom. It telescopes and adjusts up and down. We had plenty of headroom, even for a tall person like us. The armrests felt a bit low, though we should note that we didn’t adjust the height of our seat any, which probably would have remedied that.
Driving on the back roads did nothing but build our anticipation. The Beetle R-Line is equipped with a 2.0L Turbo Straight-Injected engine. It generates 210 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque, and remember this is a small car. Other cars seemed sluggish accelerating after stoplights, but really we were just blowing by them. The Beetle’s engine is paired with VW’s DSG transmission, or Dual-Shift Gearbox for the layman. This is an innovative automatic transmission with two clutches. One for the odd gears, one for the even gears. Together with the straight-injection method, this powertrain ends up being much more efficient than competitors, and it’s noticeable when you’re driving in the way the car never stutters when changing gear.
The Beetle’s turning radius is exactly what you would expect from a car of its stature, and its low center of gravity allows for swift cornering. It still feels very substantial and solid, which Dale says is a testament to VW’s craftsmanship. Passengers are contained within a reinforced steel safety cage. The b-pillars are made up of three pieces of laminated steel, and the doors are a solid piece that give off a satisfying “thud” when closed.
One of the more advanced safety features in the Beetle is its intelligent crash response system. In the event of an accident, the car will automatically turn off the engine, disengage the fuel line (to avoid conflagration if things are really bad), and start flashing the hazard lights. As a final measure, the battery is left on in a reduced energy state, so you can still make phone calls over Bluetooth while the battery lasts longer. Another option is subscribing to Volkswagen’s CarNet service for convenient roadside assistance and monitoring.
Having been built to withstand accidents on the Audubon, you can be certain the Beetle will keep you safe on the beltline, which made up the final leg of our test. We hit the on ramp and punched it, and the turbo engine ever more responded. The speed limit on that stretch of 540 is 70, and we were pushing it. Weaving in and out of traffic, the Beetle gives you total control of the road, and with four-wheel disc brakes, you’ll have all the stopping power you need. Hopefully you won’t need it. The Beetle makes you want to just keep going.
We asked Dale for his opinion on why people love this car so much. What keeps them coming back for it after all these years? “It’s just a great car,” he said. “And you can’t kill it.” Simple enough.
After our spin in the 2014 Volkswagen Beetle, we can certainly see the appeal for people who want a fun car to drive that’s also safe. There are a variety of trim levels that offer you affordability, efficiency, and an incredible value, but for drivers seeking a dynamic package, we can’t recommend the R-Line enough.
We want to extend a big thank you to Dale Diedrichs and everyone else at Leith Volkswagen Raleigh. If you have any questions about the 2014 Beetle, feel free to leave them in the comments or in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and when you’re ready to test-drive one for yourself, you know where to find us.