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New VW Beetle Reliability?

Looking at the December issue of Consumer Reports the other day, and there’s an article on the most reliable and least reliable cars. What’s surprising to me is the new VW Beetle ratings (not the old air cooled version, the new water cooled one). It seems to appear far, far down on the CR reliability list. But other VW’s, like the Golf and Jetta, those cars pull respectable rankings.

Anybody care to speculate what’s going on with the VW Beetle? You’d think the power train technology would be the same for the Beetle, the Golf, and the Jetta. So why the difference?

I’m going to say something unpopular here

I believe many of the European brands have been pretty unreliable, some notoriously so


I know I left some out

Guys, please fill in the rest of the “eurotrash”

I wouldn’t seriously consider buying any recent Audi or VW

I wonder if the responders to the Consumer Reports survey who drive the VW New Beetle treat their vehicles differently than those responders who drive the Golf and Jetta. Years ago, I owned a 1971 Ford Maverick. It had a rather poor repair record. On the other hand, the Mercury Comet that was essentially the same car (engine, transmission, body) but with a different nameplate and a different grille and tail lights had an acceptable repair record. I wrote a letter to CR asking about this discrepancy, because the Maverick and Comet were essentially the same. The response I got in a letter from CR was essentially “that is the way the data came out”.
To me, as a statistician, this response didn’t make sense. I finally stumbled on what I think was the answer while reading Popular Mechanics in the barber shop waiting for a haircut. There was an article about the Plymouth Volare/Dodge Aspen twins where the owners of these vehicles had filled out a survey. The average age of the Dodge Aspen owner was about 7 years greater than that of the Plymouth Volare owner. I went to the library and found in another issue of Popular Mechanics a survey of Ford Granada/Mercury Monarch owners. There was about the same difference in age with the owners of the Mercury Monarch having an older average age. I surmised that the older owners bought the Mercury Comet and the younger group bought the Ford Maverick. The older group probably serviced their cars more regularly and didn’t drive them as hard. Hence what came out in the data of the CR survey may have be more attributed to the age group of the owners rather than any differences in the Comet vs. the Maverick.
It may be that the driving habits and attention to maintenance may be different for the New Beetle drivers as opposed to the Jetta drivers.
I often think about the example one of my statistics professors used. It seems that infant deaths in a New York hospital could be predicted from a measurement of the hardness of the asphalt on the street outside the hospital. The softer the asphalt, the higher the infant mortality in the hospital, while the harder the asphalt was, the fewer the infant deaths in the hospital. This doesn’t make sense until one realizes that the study was done in the 1930s when the hospital wasn’t air conditioned. The hot rays from the sun softened the asphalt and kept the temperature high in the hospital thus leading to more infant deaths. Correlation does not imply cause and effect as obviously the softness of the asphalt on the street has no direct effect on infant mortality in the hospital. In the case of the VW, it probably isn’t related to whether the drive train and engine are installed in the Jetta or New Beetle, but the type of driver of the New Beetle vs. the Jetta.

I have to agree.

I don’t know of too many people who have fared well with these models.

You’re far better off considering a domestic badge over the euro’s.


Just my 2 cents but I don’t put much creedence into rankings by CR. J.D. Power, or various automotive magazines, etc, and I agree with Triedaq about the influence of various factors that may skew things.

Another example might be the Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougars. On average, which one of those 2 models is likely to be driven easier and maintained better? The Cougar of course.

CR also uses some subjective opinions in their testing; or so they say.

I have found the New Beetle to be very reliable in needing service or repair on a very regular basis.

@Tridaq You hit on something there. In the 80s when all GM full size cars (Chevy, Pontiac, Olds, Buick) were cookie cutter equals, except for trim and badges, the same thing happened.

Pontiacs had the most problems, while Buick came out best. Chevy was average and Olds a little better.

In those years, Pontiac sold ATTITUDE and the drivers’ behavior reflected that. Buick was an old man’s car, as was Olds, advertised by Dick van Patten, a balding Casper Milquetoast guy.

Chevies were the work horse and were generally well maintained.

Consumer Reports adjusts the repair frequency for mileage, but not the age and psychology of the drivers.

Having said all that, we had a 1971 Mercury Comet and its repair record was definitely Worse Than Average; all sort of things broke that never happened in other cars. We drove and maintained it by the book, and those things still happened. The body was bio-degradable.

The beetle is the same mechanically as the others but it’s problems seem to be more electrical such as power window issues at a higher rate than the Golf or Jetta. From the 2013 auto issue the Beetle was knocked down in the areas of Body Integrity and Body Hardware,more than the same year Jetta. basically means that the Beetle has more problems in these areas for its age than the average for 2012 models.

My brother had one and it spent more time in the shop then in the driveway. He traded it in on a Forester.

While they share a lot of parts, compromises had to be made to squeeze them into the Beetle’s style-driven cramped front end. That could be part of the problem.

In my experience the most important issue is the driver. The maintenance or lack of, regular.

Also remember that different driver types tend to drive and maintain their car’s differently than others. The 18 year old kid is likely to have more problems.

I don’t have any figures, but I’ll bet that drivers cars that sell under two styles will give different and consistent results. You choice of car (color, trim level etc. will attract different drivers.

I trust there will be no more AMC Pacer bashing…

Consumer Reports stated the car scored high in their tests and they would not hesitate to recommend it for someone wanting a smaller car…

The AMC Pacer scored high . . . compared to what . . . ?!

I have been looking at stick shift VW Golf’s (along with mini coopers-I know, midlife crisis);

Apparently the Golf is still the most reliable VW, but still far away from a Ford Focus. Now I think most of the bias towards the Golf could be explained by two things. One is that the car has been in production for many years and maybe some of the body/electric stuff has been figured out.

But the more important part is that the Golf is mostly bought by car enthusiasts. The Beetle and Jetta ate more a first car for a beginner, or just an appliance for someone who needs transportation. I think this population would tend to take less care of the car and also be more “abusive”. Things like slamming the doors, manhandling the seat belt, pushing the electrical switches too hard, make a lot of difference on how long these parts last.


It is consistently on the list of used cars to avoid

Not only that, but apparently Mini clutches don’t last long, even for experienced stick drivers

The only good thing I’ve heard about the minis is that they’re fun to drive, are roomy enough inside, and get pretty good fuel economy

The other things I’ve heard are ALL bad

CR (if I remember correctly) suggested the two main problem areas w/ the new Beetle were the body hardware and the cooling system. I think the comments above about which population segment buys each model are consistent in explaining some of this differences in reported reliability between the three models. The new Beetle’s are likely purchased by parents for their teenagers and by 20-somethings. Both groups are more likely to stress the body hardware and the cooling systems. I know when I was a teenager I participated in more than one “see how many people will fit into this car” contests (and some which were not contests, just needed a ride). And I know as a teenager I was more apt to gun the engine a tad, generally drive faster, and not pay as much att’n to routine maintenance. Cooling system problems wouldn’t be that surprising.

There are also differences in where they’re made. The Jetta and Beetle are made in Mexico, and the Golf in Germany (last I knew.) There shouldn’t be any big difference if VW attends to quality properly, but you can bet they don’t pay the Mexican employees as well. To a German worker the VW is a car to be proud of, representing German quality worldwide.

I don’t have any statistics but it seems that a lot of folks post here with problems about their new Beetles. And some of the problems are pretty severe. Another vehicle which seems to have a lot more issues than others are Subarus with head gasket issues. Again, no statistics, just my observation. Rocketman

That’s the core of the problem with survey based conclusions, @rocketman. The CR info comes from people reporting their feelings about the frequency of problems with their car. It does not report the frequency of problems. If a person has no interest in maintaining a vehicle, and sees the car in the same league as the refrigerator in their kitchen, then every maintenance issue is a problem. Oil changes, brake pad replacement, tire wear, transmission failure, windshield washer clog, broken window mechanism; they’re all the same. All a big nuisance, requiring taking the car somewhere and waiting for it and paying someone to do something mysterious and time consuming and a PITA. So, in my view, the CR data is reflective of the attitude of owners.

Read it as how people view their cars, not how good the cars are as mechanical devices.

With all those failing, the CR survey is the best thing we’ve got. And it does show strong correlation to know problems, like the Subaru head gasket issues.