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Volkswagen Beetle Hybrid Prototype Quick Drive

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/4/2015 Christian Seabaugh
Volkswagen Beetle Hybrid Prototype Quick Drive Beetle Hybrid Prototype Front Three Quarter In Motion 02© Provided by MotorTrend Beetle Hybrid Prototype Front Three Quarter In Motion 02

I hate marketing as much as the next guy, especially when executives start chatting about “lifestyle vehicles.” Lifestyle vehicles conjure up thoughts of cars designed by aging product planners for bizarrely specific demographics, such as 25-33.5-year-old redheads with a gluten allergy who work at the Gap and have four pet lizards. That said, dangle the keys to a lifestyle vehicle in front of me, and I’ll snag them in a heartbeat.

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I like driving. Sue me.

That’s what happened after a recent roundtable interview with Volkswagen Auto Group board member Heinz-Jakob Neusser at the New York auto show. Neusser was discussing how important lifestyle vehicles such as the Volkswagen Beetle will be to the automaker in the United States in the coming years before expressing his idea that lifestyle vehicles from Volkswagen should be environmentally conscious. He mentioned offhand that the company had begun work on a Volkswagen Beetle Hybrid and had a working prototype here in New York for the show. Needless to say, I had to drive it.

Ostensibly a prototype for the hybrid version of the next-generation VW Beetle, the orange Volkswagen Beetle Hybrid prototype I drove was built from the ground up with off-the-shelf parts that the company currently has in its inventory. The Hybrid prototype is powered by the Jetta Hybrid’s powertrain, a 1.4-liter, turbocharged I-4 mated to an electric motor, good for a combined 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. As is the case in the Jetta Hybrid, power is routed to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Although the next-generation Beetle will be built on Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform, the Jetta Hybrid’s guts still fit easily into the Beetle and its previous-generation Golf platform; the batteries eat up just a little trunk space in back.

The VW Beetle Hybrid certainly drives as if it were production ready. The hybridized powertrain is eager off the line yet seamlessly switches between gas and electric power. In New York City’s stop-and-go traffic, the Beetle happily crept along for blocks with the engine shut off and the motor pulling us along, yet when I dipped into the throttle to beat a taxi to a gap, the gas engine fired up with a sporty burp out back and plenty of pickup. The Beetle Hybrid’s brakes were pretty good, too. The transition from electric to mechanical braking could have used a little less slop in the system, but it was still more linear than more established hybrids such as the Toyota Prius C.

I honestly can’t imagine why VW hasn’t been selling a Beetle Hybrid all along. It seems like a no-brainer in hybrid-friendly and fashion-conscious cities such as New York and Los Angeles. We may have to wait another three years before the Volkswagen Beetle Hybrid, but if my early prototype drive is any indication, the wait will be worth it.

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