The VW Beetle is one of those cars that has been around for as long as anyone can remember. The first Beetles rolled off German assembly lines in 1938, but the Beetles that rolled into Woodstock and other hippie-centric events in the 1960s and 1970s are arguably what boosted demand for the "New Beetle,” released by Volkswagen in 1998, the height of the retro craze. Critics scoffed that the Beetle was simply a next-generation Golf, but nostalgia buffs were giddy over the car and its built-in flower vase.
The Type I or “classic” VW Beetle – 21 million were sold during its life span – was actually produced until 2003, when it was put to rest in favor of the New Beetle. As critics said, the problem with the “New Beetle” moniker is that it wasn’t really new in 2006. At that point it had been around almost a decade. So in 2006, VW gave it a new, squarer shape and a 150-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-five engine and announced it reborn. However, even that TLC didn’t win a whole lot of converts for the old-time nameplate with the modern-day technology.
2007 and 2008 Beetle
Diehard Beetle fans can’t imagine not driving a Beetle, but critics try to sway people toward other zippy compacts, including the Honda Fit and Mini Cooper. It’s not that there’s anything terribly wrong with the Beetle, which in 2007 won a 7.3 out of 10 score on our site. It’s just that, aside from nostalgia, it doesn’t offer a lot.
Yes, critics ranked the 2007 Beetle “better than average,” remarking on its fun styling and decent driving dynamics. It was also easy on the fuel, getting a rating of 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
But critics turned thumbs down on the tight rear seats, limited cargo space, and less-than-stellar reliability ratings.
The 2008 Beetle was available in a new, midrange trim that added 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a sunroof. That model year was also sold as a convertible. But the cars’ overall score was only 7.3, with the interior winning only a 6.6.
2009 and 2010 Beetle
VW dumped some of the special edition models in 2009 – so long Triple White and Black Tie. The automaker also discontinued the SE trim level and made the exterior a bit more sporty. Critics were unimpressed, giving the 2008 models the same basic ratings as the 2007s.
The Beetle’s overall rating fell to 6.9 in 2009 due to a below-average safety rating (poor side-impact crash test results) and gas mileage that dipped to 20 mpg city/29 highway, just as other cars in its class were seeing massive fuel economy gains.
The 2010 Beetle gained some ground, with an overall rating of 7.2, thanks in large part to a boost in safety ratings, although the poor side impact crash test results remained.
VW took a step back after 2010 and reintroduced the Beetle in 2012. That model won a 7.5 overall rating. It remained in the middle of its class for everything from styling to performance and safety.
Critics noted that the 2012 Beetle looked more like its ancestors and had more-powerful engine options. VW also reissued the convertible Beetle.
Once the Beetle was out of the critical hinterland, VW reintroduced some features. In 2013, the automaker offered the Beetle with a diesel engine. It also released a special edition with extras including premium sound systems and leather seating.
2014 and 2015 Beetle
A turbocharged base engine and some new options, including keyless entry, were offered in 2014. The 2015 models included a more-powerful diesel (with 10 more horsepower than the 2014 model). The automaker also introduced a special edition with retro touches, including 17-inch “Circle” wheels. Although the changes upped the cool factor of the Beetle, none of them lifted it out of the low-to-mid 7-range of our scoring system.
The Bottom Line
If you love the look of the VW Bug, buy one. Their cute styling has won them legions of fans. However, there are many more-practical options in the class, including VW's own Golf, which is roomier and better to drive.