Is Volkswagen Beetle a Good First Car? (8 Aspects Explained)

The iconic Volkswagen Beetle is a reasonable choice for a first car as it is compact and easy to drive.

Still, sufficient indicators point towards the plethora of Beetle alternatives being compelling options for new drivers.

volkswagen beetle good first car

8 Considerations Before Getting a VW Beetle as Your First Car

#1 Subpar Fuel Economy

The Beetle’s exterior design is one-of-a-kind and is sure to stand out among the crowd.

Still, strong fuel economy is a desirable quality in a first car.

The Volkswagen Beetle from 2014 onwards has significantly lower fuel consumption (between 28 mpg and 29 mpg combined) than the preceding models.

It’s a respectable performance for first cars, but below-average compared to other compact and subcompact cars.

 Fuel Economy
Hyundai Elantra37 mpg combined
Kia Forte35 mpg combined
Honda Civic33 mpg combined
Toyota Corolla33 mpg combined
Volkswagen Golf32 mpg combined
Nissan Sentra32 mpg combined
Mazda Mazda 331 mpg combined
MINI Cooper31 mpg combined
Volkswagen Beetle29 mpg combined
Range Rover18 mpg combined
VW Beetle vs. other cars in fuel consumption.

VW Beetle vs. other cars in fuel consumption.

Fuel consumption varies between model years and trims, but opt for the newer Beetles if you want the best fuel efficiency.

Although the Hyundai Elantra boasts an impressive fuel economy, the Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf, and MINI Cooper are popular models thriftier than the Beetle.

#2 Mediocre Safety Ratings

Driver safety is a top priority for first cars or parents buying a vehicle for college-going teenagers.

Most modern cars commonly achieve impressive scores in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests.

Still, the Volkswagen Beetle’s performance in these tests is middling, although nowhere near worryingly so.

NHTSA rated the newest-generation VW Beetle (up to 2019) 5 out of 5 stars overall.

Meanwhile, IIHS rated it ‘Good’ (the highest rating) in all but one test, the Small Overlap Front Driver-Side rated ‘Marginal.’

#3 Somewhat Expensive Upkeep

RepairPal ranked the Volkswagen Beetle #24 out of 36 compact cars in reliability.

It costs approximately $612 per year to maintain a Beetle, higher than the average of $526 for compact cars.

A Honda Civic is considerably cheaper to maintain ($368/year), while a Mini Cooper costs significantly more ($854/year).

A used car’s condition varies depending on its service history and care regime.

If you can find a used Beetle in good condition, expect the upkeep to be less expensive, although many cheaper options are available.

(See the Beetle’s comparison with other first cars later in the post)

#4 So-So Reliability

Dependability is crucial for first cars because new drivers typically have a small budget and lack the technical know-how in maintaining their own vehicles.

Unfortunately, Volkswagen in general and the Beetle specifically have middling reliability records.

Consumer Reports ranked Volkswagen #24 out of 28 automotive brands – only better than Genesis, Jeep, Tesla, and Lincoln.

JD Power doesn’t rate the Beetle’s reliability favorably either:

Model YearReliability
2019 Beetle77/100
2018 Beetle79/100
2017 Beetle78/100
2016 Beetle81/100
2015 Beetle79/100
2014 Beetle79/100
2013 BeetleNA
2012 Beetle77/100
VW Beetle reliability ratings (JD Power)

An 80/100 score is average, and the Beetle consistently achieves below that.

#5 Relatively Inexpensive Insurance for Teenagers

Coverage for teen drivers is considerably pricier than other age groups due to inexperience and the higher likelihood of a collision.

Thankfully, the Beetle is not an expensive car to insure for first-time drivers.

See the table below on the average full coverage cost for the various teenage age groups:

Honda Civic$4,746/year$4,428/year$4,136/year
VW Beetle$5,092/year$4,720/year$4,392/year
Ford Mustang$5,570/year$5,224/year$4,888/year
Subaru BRZ$6,804/year$6,332/year$5,908/year
Chevy Camaro$7,594/year$7,064/year$6,584/year
Beetle vs. other cars insurance costs (CarEdge)

Beetle vs. other cars insurance costs (CarEdge)

The Honda Civic is one of the less expensive cars to insure due to its excellent safety ratings and affordable price tag.

On the other hand, the costlier premiums for the Ford Mustang, Subaru BRZ, and Chevrolet Camaro let you know that you aren’t overpaying to insure your first car if you buy a Beetle.

#6 Relatively Easy to Drive and Park

Easy maneuverability is crucial for first cars because new drivers lack experience behind the wheel.

The compact and relatively lightweight nature makes the Beetle easy to drive.

The Beetle is easy to see out the front due to the large windshield and side windows, although the small rear window and thick pillars hamper the visibility out the back.

If you get the third and final generation Beetle (up to 2019), the comfortable and composed ride is suitable for long-distance commutes.

Plus, the Beetle is fun to drive.

#7 Unique Styling But Compromised Practicality

The Volkswagen Beetle is a strong option for first-time buyers looking for style and a bit of performance in a small package.

Unfortunately and understandably, high-style small cars typically suffer from a practical standpoint.

Built-in limitations of the two-door design mean entering and exiting the car require some effort from the rear passengers and the shorter space in the back limits knee room.

That said, adult rear passengers have just enough headroom.

The doors are long and heavy, so opening them will require effort and care in tight parking spots.

As with hatchbacks, the sloping rear-end restricts the height of items you can fit in the trunk.

The rear seats are foldable to increase the cargo area.

#8 Lacks Safety Features

New drivers need all the help they can get in their first car to assist in safe driving.

While some safety features are standard, the Volkswagen Beetle doesn’t have a pre-collision warning and adaptive cruise control system, commonplace in competitors.

Depending on the model year, your Beetle may have:

  • Airbags.
  • Blingspot warning system.
  • Post-collision safety system.
  • Stability control.
  • Traction control.
  • Antilock braking system.
  • Emergency braking assist.

Tech and safety features vary between model years and trims, so verification is necessary before buying.

Best Volkswagen Beetle Year for a First Car

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base sedan; auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
  • Recalls: manufacturer or NHTSA-initiated.
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.ReliabilityComplaintsRecalls
2019 Beetle3.6/4NA26/33/2977/1003
2018 Beetle3.6/4NA26/33/2979/1003
2017 Beetle3.6/45/524/33/2878/10013
2016 Beetle3.6/45/525/34/2881/1003
2015 Beetle3.6/45/525/33/2879/10085
2014 Beetle3.6/45/525/33/2879/10086
2013 Beetle3.6/45/522/29/25NA147
2012 Beetle4/44/522/29/2577/100157
2011 –
2010 Beetle2.3/4NANANA23
2009 BeetleNANANANA162
2008 BeetleNANANANA73
2007 BeetleNANANANA192
2006 BeetleNANANANA304
2005 Beetle2.5/4NANANA206
2004 BeetleNANANANA366
2003 BeetleNANANANA255
2002 BeetleNANANANA158
2001 BeetleNANANANA248
2000 BeetleNANANANA377
1999 BeetleNANANANA17NA
1998 BeetleNANANANA6NA
VW Beetle model years comparison.

Your option is the newer generation 2012 redesigned VW Beetle or the older ones (which look cuter).

The 2004 VW Beetle has many problems, including transmission failure, transmission slipping (engine revs but no acceleration), and window regulator issues.

The 2000 VW Beetle has more complaints overall, but they are comparatively less severe than the 2004 model.

If you want the most fuel-efficient Beetle, opt for a model between 2014 and 2019.

Volkswagen Beetle Compared with Similar Vehicles

This list features subcompacts and compacts in hatchback body style.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
VW Beetle26/33/2979/100$6123.6/45/5Average
Mini Cooper28/36/3183/100$8464/44/5Good
Fiat 50028/33/3076/100$5223.4/4NAAverage
Honda Fit33/40/3679/100$3904/45/5Excellent
Honda Civic Hatchback31/40/3482/100$3684/45/5Good
Toyota Yaris32/40/3580/100$3334/45/5Good
Toyota Corolla Hatchback32/41/3583/100$3624/45/5Good
Mazda 3 Hatchback26/34/2980/100$4334/45/5Average
VW Beetle comparison with similar vehicles.

The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most expensive to repair and maintain, second only to the MINI Cooper.

Further, the MINI Cooper is smaller and more fun to drive than the Beetle.

It is crucial to consider the total ownership costs to determine if these attractive and cute vehicles are worth the investment.

Many subcompacts better the Beetle in fuel economy, and with the Beetle’s production run that ended in 2019, more small cars will exceed it in the various first car aspects.

The Japanese compacts like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda 3 are compelling options for your first car with segment-competitive fuel efficiency (model year and trim-dependent), inexpensive upkeep, and solid safety ratings.

Still, if you have your heart set on a Beetle, it’s a good starter car, as long as you buy one fully aware of the above-average ownership costs.