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Driven: 2014 VW Beetle TDI offers unique driving character

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Today was an opportunity to take a first drive in Volkswagen's cheeky and sporting 2014 Beetle TDI Clean Diesel, which offers up a unique combination of fuel-economy as well as fun to drive character, promising up to 41 mpg.

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A top trim grade Beetle TDI Sunroof, Sound and Navigation mode, ours had the highly sought after 6-speed manual transmission, which nets higher fuel-economy than the DSG automatic model, so we were excited to get some miles on to see how well it performs.

Even base level Beetle TDI's are well equipped, but our had lots of fun features like a full power sunroof which appears much like panoramic ones which are all the rage. It only opens half the way however and the sun shade is made of a mesh which is not entirely opaque.

Front seats are heated and manually adjusted in multiple ways. Seating surfaces even on the full tilt model are leatherette only. Still nice though, they have a carbon-fiber look to the side trims and are exceptionally comfortable both front and rear.

While the roof-line appears lower, there is plenty of leg and head room for the driver. I am 5'-10” and had to keep the seat forward more than in some cars, and no clearance issues for my hat. Back seat passengers will enjoy more head room than in the last generation Beetle.

The dash offers up a playful design with body color panels and a simple layout of switch-gear. While it's a bit retro it still has German bred ergonomics. There's a lot of storage too with two glove boxes, one upper and one lower.

Steering wheel mounted controls for audio and trip computer functions follow the Volkswagen standard, working very well. The center stack is laid out simply with all pertinent switch-gear right where you expect it. The start button in recent Volkswagen fashion is on the console.

Equipped in our Beetle is the touch-screen Fender Audio system with navigation. Missing from the system is the now almost expected back-up camera. HVAC controls remain of the simple to use variety with knobs for temperature, fan speed, and vent locations.

A center mounted gauge pod on the dash is a nice touch for the TDI, including a turbo boost gauge which is very rare for a diesel car. The touch-screen infotainment system on the other hand really could use some improvements in usability and menu layout.

The rear cargo area is larger than on the previous-generation Beetle, with the rear seats offering a split folding expansion for larger items. The Fender audio system has a large sub-woofer back here taking up some space, but it's sound is well worth the tradeoff.

For 2014 the Beetle TDI received the same multi-link rear suspension which used to be reserved only for the high-performance 2.0 turbo gas model. This new suspension offers less unsprung weight, more refinement, and precision for more aggressive driving.

On the road, the Beetle TDI has that solid German car feel. It rides like it weighs quite a bit and well, it does, coming in at about 3100 lbs. Steering is electronically assisted and gives a better than average feel while the brakes offer up adequate power for the base grade hardware.

The chassis and body structure are remarkably solid and tight, with little in the way of rattles, clunks, or jitters over rougher surfaces. While the Beetle is actually built in Volkswagen's Mexico factory, it still feels every bit a German car from behind the wheel.

The 140 horsepower 2.0 liter turbo-diesel engine is one of the smoothest and quietest diesels in the business today, it doesn't smoke. It doesn't pollute any more than most gasoline engines and offers up excellent fuel economy to go with a refined personality.

The engine with its 236 lb-ft of torque offers a nice kick in the back around town. Accelerating onto the freeway is also a bit of fun. While it's not as fast as the high-performance 2.0 turbo gas model, the TDI likely matches or exceeds that of the base 1.8 turbo gas engine.

Driving manners with the 6-speed manual is pretty good, though getting used to shifting at lower rpm than with a gasoline engine may take getting used to for some. I usually prefer manuals and while this one works well, I'd probably option the DSG automatic though it is rated slightly lower for fuel-economy.

The EPA rates the 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI with our 6-speed manual at 28 mpg city, 41 mpg highway with a 32 mpg combined rating. We achieved 36.5 mpg combined in our week with the TDI with a near 50/50 balance of city and highway driving.

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