VW Beetle reviewed

  • All-new version of iconic model
  • Based on Golf GTI
  • On sale spring 2012
What is it?
Volkswagen has reinvented the Beetle…again.

This all-new model replaces the car that started the whole retro craze back in 1998, and this time it’s sleeker, sportier and a good deal more practical. It’s also longer, wider and lower than the current model.

What’s it like to drive?
This new Beetle one shares many of its oily bits with the mighty Golf GTI, so it’s much sportier to drive than its predecessor.

So far we’ve only tested the top-of-the range 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol model with optional six-speed DSG semi-automatic gearbox. There’s plenty of urgency from the engine and the ’box is super-quick through the gears and generally smooth. Low speed manoeuvres can be jerky, though.

Pull away briskly and the front tyres are surprisingly quick to give up traction, although there’s plenty of cornering grip. The Beetle’s body stays impressively flat through corners, too. It’s a shame the steering isn’t better; it’s light, so is well suited to town driving, but could be sharper for when you’re pushing on.

The ride has a firm edge to it at low speeds, too, but it’s well controlled when you pick up the pace. Lesser Beetles will be fitted a simpler suspension system, and it remains to be seen how this will affect things.

The new Beetle is generally refined, other than a fair bit of wind noise generated by the frameless doors; engine and road noise are particularly well suppressed.

What’s it like inside?
The new Beetle’s dash has been inspired by the original’s. That means it’s taller than in most modern cars, and has a squared-off front. You can go even further with the retro vibe and have the dash painted the same colour as the car.

On the whole, the interior looks fresh and smart, but some of the trim does feel surprisingly cheap. There’s no a soft-touch dashboard like you’ll find in a Golf, for example, and the plastics on the centre console and around the front centre armrest are disappointingly hard and scratchy. At least most of the switches and controls feel reassuringly weighty.

Better news is that the new Beetle is much more practical than the existing one. Its larger dimensions have obviously given the designers room to play with, and that space has been used in a more thoughtful way. The roof has been flattened out, for example, which means headroom is shared more evenly between front and rear passengers. There are still only four seats, but the two in the rear are now suitable for adults as well as small kids – although if you’re over 5ft 5 you won’t fancy spending long in the back.

You’ll be able to carry more than just a couple of bags of shopping now, too, because the new Beetle has a third more boot space – 310 litres of space up from 209 litres.

Should I buy one?
When the new Beetle goes on sale next spring you’ll have the choice of two turbocharged petrol engines – a 103bhp 1.2 and a 158bhp 1.4. A 65mpg 1.6-litre diesel will arrive in the summer of 2012, shortly after the top-of-the-range 197bhp 2.0 TSI model. Eventually a 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel will join the line-up, too.

Exact specifications and prices have yet to be confirmed, although we do know that the entry-level 1.2 TSI model will start at roughly £15,200. That looks good value when you consider that an equivalent Golf costs around £1300 more.

True, the Beetle isn’t as practical, as good to drive or as classily finished as its more sensible sibling, but it’s still a decent car. Factor in its undeniable charm and many will be prepared to put up with a few shortcomings.
Range-topping models won’t be so keenly priced, though. Expect this 2.0 TSI model to cost between £23k and £25k, which is roughly the same as VW’s more powerful Scirocco coupé and Golf GTI.

What Car? says…

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