What is it?
It’s the new Volkswagen Beetle. And despite substantial design modifications (it’s wider, longer and lower as well as distinctly sleeker) it’s still easily identified as a modern incarnation of the classic air-cooled model.
Sitting beneath the sharper looks is a platform made up of an amalgamation of current VW parts, mostly from the Golf. 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 buy the range-topping 197bhp 2.0-litre TSI model, which is unlikely to be here until 2013.
Every other Beetle model, including the 158bhp 1.4 TSI Sport tested here, gets torsion beam at the rear. Other engines will include a 1.2 TSI, as well as a 1.6- and 2.0-litre diesel.
What’s it like?
It’s better than the previous generation, but then with today’s VAG parts as good as they are that’s like being asked to make roast beef taste better than gruel; not hard.
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.
The dynamics are equally hit-and-miss. 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 ride quality on our Sport model, which gets 18-inch wheels as standard, was bizarrely schizophrenic. 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.
Refinement is acceptable if not exceptional, with noticeable tyre and wind noise intruding on the motorway (the optional £945 sunroof fitted to our test car doesn't help).
The supercharged and turbocharged motor is hard 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.
Should I buy one?
Ideally not. The only reasonable argument in favour of the Beetle is its style, which is in its own way quite appealing. And for the driver the interior is a nice place to be. So if these elements grab you then you are unlikely to be put off by the niggling flaws that make this - objectively, at least - a mediocre car in a class of outstanding rivals.
It’s not a terribly bad car. It’s just one that feels in every way as if it is an exercise in marketing rather than engineering. And with such competent and desirable cars available at this price (ironically the VW Scirocco would still be our pick of them) that is fairly unforgivable.