With styling that harkens back to the very beginnings of the Volkswagen brand, the 2016 Beetle continues to offer a distinct look among compact cars. Its iconic design makes some concessions in comparison with the typical four-door hatchback, but the VW Beetle succeeds with a pleasing driving experience and interior quality that’s among the best in class.
The Volkswagen Beetle is a two-door model that’s offered in hatchback and convertible body styles. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, and a six-speed automatic transmission is available. The 2016 Beetle is offered in 1.8T and R-Line configurations, with the latter featuring a more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine and different transmission choices.
For 2016, the VW Beetle 1.8T is offered in S, SE and SEL trims, while the R-Line model is available in S (convertible only), SE and SEL trims. Volkswagen is also offering Dune and Denim special editions this year. The Beetle Dune is available as a coupe or a convertible, while the Denim model is offered exclusively as a convertible. A new touch-screen audio system that offers integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also available.
Iconic styling is a hallmark of the Volkswagen Beetle, and the latest model continues to succeed as a car that’s instantly recognizable from any angle. The base model is distinguished by 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler, while higher trims bring in larger alloy wheels, heated windshield washer nozzles, LED daytime running lights and bi-xenon headlights.
Our Beetle Dune included unique styling cues inspired by the Baja Bugs that first emerged in the late ‘60s. These include rugged body cladding and Dune-specific bumpers and wheels. There’s also 0.4 inches of additional ride height, which contributes to a more purposeful stance.
It has retro-inspired styling working in its favor, but even five years after its redesign the Beetle still has one of the nicest interiors in its class. Sure, it makes some concessions in terms of cargo and passenger space, but the 2016 Beetle continues to offer exceptional fit and finish, with high-quality materials and an attractive design that conjures a little bit of nostalgia, especially if you’re old enough to remember when the original air-cooled Bug was a common sight on our roadways.
The four-seat cabin offers exceptionally comfortable front seats, and the rear row also has a surprising amount of room for a car that’s sold exclusively in coupe and convertible body styles. Folding the rear seats opens up a maximum of 29.9 cubic feet of space, with 15.4 cubic feet available when all seats are in use. Naturally, the Beetle Convertible gives up some utility with a 7.1-cubic-foot trunk.
The Beetle’s interior upgrades start to appear on the SE trim, where you’ll find leatherette upholstery, heated front seats and ambient lighting. SEL models gain a sunroof and proximity key with push-button start, while leather seating is exclusive to the R-Line SEL model.
Much like the Volkswagen Golf, the 2016 Beetle offers refined performance that’s surprising given its small stature. The ride is impressively comfortable for the Beetle’s compact size, and while it may fall short of athletic, the Beetle is certainly alert with composed handling that makes it fun to drive.
Our test Beetle Dune came with the engine found in the base model: a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. That’s more than enough power for most driving situations, and we found it difficult to catch the turbo-four and six-speed automatic transmission off guard during a week’s worth of driving.
If you want more power, R-Line models come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 210 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. That engine is mated to your choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic.
Regardless of whether you choose the five-speed manual or the six-speed automatic, the Beetle 1.8T gets an EPA-estimated 25/34 mpg city/highway. With its slightly taller ride height, wider profile and all-season tires, our Beetle Dune gets lower estimates of 24/31 mpg. Models with the 2.0-liter turbo get 23/31 mpg and 24/31 mpg with manual and DSG transmissions, respectively.
The base Beetle offers a class-competitive set of standard tech features, including a USB port, Bluetooth and a 5-inch touch screen. The SE trim brings in satellite radio and an upgraded infotainment system that adds voice recognition, smartphone app integration and a 6.3-inch touch screen.
Our test Beetle featured the larger touch screen, which offers a clear display and user-friendly menus. Pairing a smartphone was effortless, and the settings that you would normally want to adjust on a regular basis are easily accessed by knobs or the traditional buttons on the left and right margins of the screen.
Like the VW Golf, the Beetle deserves recognition for being among the first small cars to offer integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. When connected, the Beetle’s touch screen mirrors the appearance of your smartphone display, providing a familiar user experience and access to selected apps, including Pandora, Spotify and Apple Maps.
The 2016 Beetle earned a top five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its overall performance in crash tests.
It also earned top scores of Good in most tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The only exception was the small overlap front crash test, where the Beetle received the second-lowest score of Marginal.
SE and higher trims come standard with a rearview camera, while the SEL model brings in blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Front and rear parking sensors are also offered, but the Beetle is not currently available with a forward collision warning system.
The 2016 Beetle starts at $19,795 plus an $820 destination charge, essentially slotting between retrostyled competitors like the 2016 Mini Cooper and Fiat 500 in terms of base price. More powerful R-Line models start at $25,995, and the Beetle convertible is priced from $25,490.
Our test Beetle Dune came with options that included Sandstorm Yellow Metallic paint ($250) and a Dune Technology package ($1,695) that adds a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, a Fender audio system and keyless access with push-button start. After destination, our Beetle Dune carried a suggested price of $26,760.
While we enjoyed the Beetle Dune’s performance, we couldn’t help but wonder how much more fun an R-Line model – which brings in unique styling cues, a sport-tuned suspension and an additional 40 horsepower – would be. We’d be willing to forgo some of our Beetle Dune’s options to keep an R-Line comparably priced, and a Beetle R-Line SE will ring in at about $26,800 with the six-speed manual transmission.
The Beetle always favors form over function. Maintaining its iconic style means that this small coupe or convertible will never be as practical as hatchbacks like the related Volkswagen Golf. However, there’s plenty to appreciate beyond its reminiscent looks, including two willing engine choices, desirable tech features and a stylish, high-quality interior.
While it may not be for everyone, the 2016 Beetle is still a great choice for buyers who appreciate evocative styling and an enjoyable driving experience.