Sometimes you need a serious vehicle to get your family, clients or stuff from one place to another. Other times, it’s just you – or a friend or two. In that case, you may prefer a car that’s more fun to drive and ride in.
Two 2014 models we drove last month – the Volkswagen Beetle R-Line and the BMW 435i folding hardtop convertible – are good examples of fun vehicles. They have vastly different price points, however, with the BMW twice the price of the Beetle.
Before going into more detail, we should note that the new 4-Series BMW is actually the 3-Series of old in size and price. For reasons that elude most journalists, BMW has decided that henceforth, even-numbered series will be two-door cars, while odd-numbered series will have four doors. Whatever the number, BMW is offering a responsive automobile.
The BMW and Beetle share a few common denominators, including solid performance and handling.
The BMW has 50 percent more torque and horsepower coming from its inline six-cylinder engine than the Beetle, even with its new turbocharged four-cylinder R-Line. However, power is somewhat offset by weight, because the 435i weighs one-third more than the Beetle.
On the basis of speed and acceleration, the BMW will obviously perform better, but the Beetle sounds and feels as responsive, which is pretty much the same thing.
With regard to handling, the two cars are equally stable going into and out of tight corners and negotiating twisty country roads. For that, kudos to VW, because BMW is known for its responsive steering and confident handling.
Of course, styling serves different objectives with the two cars.
The BMW is much more conservative, but in the same way that a man in a well-fitted suit with narrower lapels and a thinner tie will still stand out in a crowd.
On the other hand, the Beetle is a well-balanced combination of 1950s nostalgia and 21st-century postmodern design. While the 435i quietly states that its owner wants to be recognized as part of a group, the Beetle shouts that it is those who want to be different.
Both cars are practical for their size. Although designed primarily for one or two occupants, they can handle four adults for short journeys.
As a coupe, the Beetle actually has an advantage in the practicality area – the rear seats fold down so that cargo space is limited only by what can be stuffed through the small hatch and the two doors.
With its hardtop up, the BMW has nearly as much trunk space as the Beetle with the hardtop up. When folded down, there’s room for only a few small duffle bags. However, there’s no substitute for a convertible, and we’d be happy stowing our luggage in the backseat. The top goes up in under half a minute.
Good gas mileage
Fuel efficiency is reasonable in both cars, especially when compared with gas-guzzlers of the past. The Beetle has a slight advantage at 26 mpg compared with the BMW’s 24 mpg in combined use, so no one is going to be cross-shopping either car with a hybrid.
But practicality isn’t the point with either car. They are designed for people who still get a kick out of driving, and aren’t ready to let rationality get in the way of buying something that makes them happy on the way to their destinations.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.