What is it?
That this third-generation Volkswagen Beetle costs around £1000 less, model for model, than the three-door Volkswagen Golf provides a substantial clue to the calibre of this car.
Given its specialty styling, colourful history and artful detailing it would be easy to imagine it priced higher than the Golf, but this 2.0 TDI Design – the mid-level trim – costs £985 less than an equivalent three-door 2.0 TDI Golf Match. North America is the reason – it’s a major Beetle market, and one that requires keen pricing for success.
It’s why this famous car is assembled in low-cost Mexico, as the ’98 model was, and why it carries a number of cost-savings, many of them deftly deployed.
What's it like?
The dashboard is of the Design version is bodycolour and neatly diverts the eye from the hard-feel main moulding - an illustration of the cost saving. And VW’s superb, low-cost £300 sat nav option does the same.
Getting aboard this more sportily proportioned Beetle is a pleasing too, although the pleasure will be short-lived for those banished to the rear, who will discover uncomfortably upright backrests, a shortage of headroom and a slightly downmarket ambience.
But up front it’s entirely comfortable, your vista improved for dashboard architecture cleverly redolent of the original.
Driving this VW is utterly straightforward too, especially with the optional £1595 DSG transmission, which combines well with the 140bhp 2.0 TDI motor. In drive it’s keen to fuel-save with short shifts, which is no problem given the 236lb ft supply of torque from 1750rpm.
Tug the gearlever rearwards for sport and you’ll exploit the diesel’s smooth-revving demeanour – it climbs to 5000rpm – and enjoy surprisingly sprightly performance besides, the Beetle briskly breaking 80mph if you’ll let it.
This enthusiasm works well with a chassis that allows little roll, lending the Beetle a pleasingly chuckable demeanour that almost allows you to consider it as a sporting coupe. Almost, because the decently precise steering is bereft of real feel, and the Beetle’s ride betrays a sometimes startling lack of sophistication.
Sharp bumps it makes little attempt to absorb at all – though the suspension is at least quiet – a failing that makes you less than keen to fling it around on bumpy country backroads. More seriously for most buyers is its disturbed urban ride.
Blame the Beetle’s simple twist-beam rear axle for the sophistication shortfall, this choice further evidence of VW’s need to pare the cost of Beetle-building.
Should I buy one?
The result of this is a car that falls well short of the Golf’s functionality and polish - and we’re talking here of the shortly-to-be-replaced sixth edition too.
Despite this, the third-generation Beetle is a more satisfying car than the second, and with the diesel’s torque almost turns sporting.
But the best way to buy this icon is as a lesser model, dressed with some choice options.