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VW Beetle TDI Packs Plenty of Punch for a Diesel

Njuguna Kabugi | 8/28/2013, 3 p.m.
With the VW Beetle TDI, you are getting an extremely fuel efficient diesel power plant in a usable, fun and stylish package. (Photo courtesy of Volkswagen of America, Inc.)

Brazilian author and sage Paulo Coelho muses in his best seller "The Alchemist" that coincidence is the language of the stars. “When you see signs or coincidences, the universe is talking to you,” he writes.

But in my fiercely rational journalistic universe, Coelho’s observations mean zilch. Luck is just a string of coincidences. There’s nothing magical or beneficial in claiming wisdom from the random omens strewn along life's path until you realize, as I did recently, that on occasion, coincidences do matter.

On an otherwise hot and muggy Aug. 10, I’d been driving the 2013 Tornado Red VW Beetle TDI non-stop for close to 200 miles; driving nowhere and everywhere because the car was so much fun. The day before, I’d driven from D.C. to Baltimore, telling my colleagues that I had to dash to the credit union.

Truth be told, I didn’t have to drive the 40 miles to Charm City because there is a very convenient branch in Alexandria, Va., just 10 minutes across the river. I was passing time, all the while marveling that despite all those miles, the fuel gauge was still way north of three quarters and that the Beetle was a lot more fun to drive than the Toyota Prius I’d just returned a few days earlier.

It then dawned on me that I was experiencing a coincidence that only a car-nerd would appreciate. How interesting was it that on that very day 120 years ago, Rudolf Diesel had succeeded in making his first engine that ran on the compression-ignition principle, one that is more commonly known by his surname – the diesel.

Diesel, who died 100 years ago this September – could not have possibly conceived how the engine bearing his name would revolutionize the world’s transportation systems. And, no doubt, he would have been surprised and delighted that Volkswagen, and a half dozen other automakers continue to design clean diesel engines that delight drivers with their excellent fuel mileage, smooth running, and mid-range torque that gives effortless passing power.

Among small cars sold in the U.S., the 2013 VW Beetle TDI stands head and shoulders as one of the best executions of diesel technology. Thanks to the TDI's engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection clean diesel that produces 140 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, the car does not need a whole lot of prodding to prove its talents.

Coming from a standstill, the bug propels like a rocket on the slightest nudge, with the torque coming on almost instantly, and the acceleration continuing even into high revs. While there is a little understeer at turn-ins, the diesel engine allows you to squirt out of corners remarkably quickly, even if you're in a higher gear.

The Beetle TDI is extremely frugal on gas, proving that hybrids aren't the only game in town when it comes to good fuel economy. In and around Maryland, Virginia and the District, the six-speed manual delivered 33 mpg in the city, 41 on the open road – numbers better than the EPA-assessed mileage.

The interior is also aesthetically pleasing, utilizing handsome, black leatherette upholstery and trim panels that repeat the metallic paint on the body. On the down side, VW hopes you overlook the fact that because the Beetle has only two doors, the only way to get passengers to the rear seats involves flopping the front seats forward. Though the two doors are wide, sitting in the rear is semi-spacious, fit over longer distances only for children and smaller adults.

Starting at $23,050 including a $795 destination fee, the test car came loaded with a sunroof and a premium sound system.