Volkswagen launched the pseudo-retro ‘new Beetle’ back in 1998. Helped by a couple of minor mid-life facelifts, it sold more than a million units before being discontinued in 2010. Despite its global sales achievements, however, it failed to deliver much of a dynamic thrill, and instead relied on diluted nostalgic appeal to secure sales to a predominantly female customer base.
This, then, is the all-new ‘new Beetle’, a ground-up reworking of the people’s car concept that draws heavily on both the iconic original and its more contemporary replacement. With a revised exterior design, larger dimensions, extensively reworked interior, greater space and more modern underpinnings, Volkswagen is also hoping to attract a greater number of male buyers to the Beetle fold than before.
From an exterior design standpoint the new Beetle does impress, and from the first glance you’re aware that more time and thought has gone into perfecting its appearance. Step inside and you’re confronted by an unusually high dashboard that has been styled to replicate that of the original Beetle, complete with an old fashioned glovebox compartment in the fascia.
There are currently four engine choices for British Beetles. The range starts with the 1.2-litre TSI that is shared with the various VAG group superminis. In the Beetle, it offers 104bhp, 47.9mpg and 137g/km. Next in the petrol line-up is the 'Twincharger' 1.4-litre TSI. Combining both a turbo and a supercharger produces 158bhp, with economy and emissions rated at 42.8mpg combined and 153g/km respectively. Overall, the Twincharger unit is a hard engine to fault. It’s economical and revs freely and progressively to its post-6000rpm redline. It doesn’t feel particularly punchy, but then with an 8.3sec 0-62mph time, few would expect it to be.
In a bid to attract more male buyers to the Beetle brand, Volkswagen is offering this generation with the 2.0-litre TSI from the Golf GTI, albeit with fractionally less power. Predictably, the range-topping Beetle delivers its 197bhp and 206lb ft in the same eager and flexible fashion as in the Golf GTI. Carrying another 44kg over the Golf, the Beetle TSI suffers slightly in acceleration. It complete the benchmark sprint to 62mph in 7.5sec, 0.6sec down on the GTI. Top speed is 139mph.
A diesel addition has been recently introduced to the Beetle range with the familiar 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine. When we tested it with the optional DSG twin-clutch transmission (£1595), we found the diesel engine to be as sprightly and free-revving as in other installations. Unfortunately, it is not as efficient as when installed in the Golf, the diesel's 52.3mpg and 140g/km now looking slightly behind the times. A 1.6-litre diesel is to be available soon.
Ride quality is not up to Volkswagen’s usual high standards. The new Beetle fails to deliver the overall composure of the Golf over a wide range of surfaces. Gentle undulations and general B-road or motorway surfaces are handled well, with the damping keeping the car composed. But then around town the Beetle is noticeably firm and fidgety over a lot of urban roads.
The steering, a new electro-mechanical arrangement, also lacks precision off-centre. The steering is quite heavy by normal hatchback standards, but this adds no real sense of connection. Rather it makes the Beetle feel artificially ‘sporty’, and that disappointing sensation continues through most aspects of the car.
The Beetle does hang on well in corners. Grip is vastly improved over the old model, a result that can be attributed not only to the widened tracks but a decision to provide the new model with larger wheels and tyres boasting greater contact area. In this respect, Volkswagen’s claims of added sportiness are well warranted.
All Beetles get multilink suspension up front, but every version bar the flagship 2.0 TSI gets a torsion beam at the rear.
All Beetles get multilink suspension up front, but if you want the sophisticated multilink rear suspension that the Golf benefits from you’ll have to wait for the range-topping 197bhp 2.0-litre TSI model. Every other Beetle gets a torsion beam at the rear
Like its immediate predecessor, the new Beetle will be bought more on the statement made by its throwback styling over any other single factor. Sit in the new Beetle and the piano black inserts (mid-level Design cars get body-coloured panels), simple switchgear, slim-rimmed steering wheel and twin glovebox make this a more distinct and interesting interior than you’ll find in the Golf or Scirocco.
Look in the boot and you’ll find a square-shaped, 310-litre boot, and a 50/50 split rear bench that can be folded. But you can only seat two on that bench, and they’ll find space something of a squeeze if they’re anything over average height.
Seen up close, it is a much more confident looking car than before – something that is not only a reflection of the actual design of the exterior but the more surefooted stance brought on by its wider tracks. It also imparts a higher quality feel, even if some of its interior trim looks cheap.
But whether looks and a feeling of added quality are enough to draw in greater number of male buyers, as Volkswagen claims, remains to be seen. Dynamically, it is a vast improvement on the previous incarnation of Beetle, but it continues to lack the dynamic polish and competence of the Golf, which in pure driving terms is superior in so many ways.