I first saw the new VW Beetle up close at the New York International Autoshow this past year. I was very excited to see that the new version had become more of a sporting machine and less of a decorated flowerpot. On the surface the Beetle is on the same chassis as the Golf, and the one I was interested in, the Beetle Turbo, basically has the same mechanics as the famed GTI. This made me wonder how similar they really were to each other because I know VW would not want to steal sales from themselves. I decided to go try them both out back to back and compare.
When approaching the white Beetle Turbo in the lot, its looks really enticed me. It looks playful, yet somehow lets on that it is much more serious than its predecessor. The shape is very much like the original Volkswagen, especially from the side, but with a little bit of Porsche flare thrown in that gives it a very modern and sporty appearance. The “Turbo” decal on each side borrows directly from Porsche as well. A playful nod to the big boys that helps give this Beetle its character. It is a very cool and trendy car to be in, and this approach continues on the inside as well with a painted, customizable dashboard and a lot of style for style sake. It is all very fun and “hip”, but thanks to the Beetle’s now more unisex appeal, guys can feel comfortable behind the wheel as well.
Driving wise the Beetle feels great. It has a nice amount of sporting aspects, but in measured doses so that it will not alienate more average drivers. I found the steering lacked some feel, but offered good response. Acceleration was quite good thanks to the 2.0T that had plenty of power to have fun with and/or be able to merge onto the highway. The car I drove had the DSG gearbox, and I must say it is the best VW DSG I have driven so far. They are really getting it to be both immediate and smooth now, not jerky like in the R32 I drove a while back. In corners the Beetle did have some noticeable body roll, but was well planted once the car had settled. The seats are very well bolstered as well, so they hold you in place nicely when there is lateral g-force at play. All in all the Beetle Turbo drives pretty damn well.
The GTI has a different attitude than the Beetle. It has a much more serious character, evidenced by its more aggressive looks. The car’s design is sleek, modern, and was heavily influenced by the European VW Sirocco that America wanted but never got. The GTI still has the cool factor going for it though, with its unique plaid seats.
Very quickly it becomes evident that the GTI is just a bit better of a drives car in all ways than the Beetle. Right away I can feel that the seat is even tighter than the Beetle’s, with larger side bolsters. The steering is a little sharper, nicely weighted, and has a lot more road feel. Despite having the same engine, the GTI felt like it had a little more under the hood as well; it felt just a little bit quicker. The GTI I drove also had a manual transmission that had a very smooth gear change and a clutch that was light but had a lot of feel. In the corners the difference is really felt though. The GTI is lower and stiffer than the Beetle, so it corners flat and with almost no body roll at all. Its composure through turns encourages the driver to push it even harder, and it feels very neutral all the way up until it’s limit, where it will finally understeer. The GTI could offer some serious fun on some winding back roads when no one is looking.
Now, each car had a different transmission, and I found something interesting. At 80mph in 6th gear the Beetle was at 2200rpm and the GTI was at around 3000rpm. I am not sure if getting the manual on both cars will give you this tighter gearing or if the GTI just has tighter gearing in general than the Beetle. It may be something to consider when looking at fuel economy though if you are comparing both cars and transmission options. Also, it is clear that the GTI will offer a bit more trunk space than the Beetle as well, so those of you with a lot of practical needs may be limited in your choices. Finally, for those of you who really want the Beetle’s retro style, but also want the hardcore performance of the GTI, I should say that it felt like just some stiffer springs and maybe some sway bars could bring the Beetle up to the GTI’s handling level.
Going into this comparison, I was looking for some dividing factor in each car’s appeal. I found that despite the fact that these cars share most of the same mechanical bits, they are really two completely different flavors. The Beetle is more stylistic and playful. It is a fun car to be in and be seen in, much like a Mini or a Fiat. It has good dynamics and can offer a lot of fun, but it is really geared more towards the average driver. The GTI on the other hand is the enthusiast’s choice of the two because it offers just a bit more in every dynamic area. With these two cars it is really a case of function over form vs. form over function, although neither car lacks too much in the other category either. Coming out of this test I found the Beetle Turbo to be the car I had hoped it would be, and I found myself with a new level of respect for the GTI. Both the Beetle Turbo and the GTI are fantastic cars, just go for whichever one suits you better.
WoM Score: VW GTI
Primary Function: Performance: 1.5
Secondary Functions: Practicality(2), MPG(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 1
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 8.5/10
WoM Score: VW Beetle Turbo
Primary Function: Performance: 1
Secondary Functions: Practicality(1), MPG(2): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 8.5/10