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2012 VW Beetle 1.4 TSI review

  • 2012 Volkswagen Beetle: first UK test
  • Based on VW Golf
  • On sale now
Words By John McIlroy

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The Volkswagen Beetle is a motoring icon, and this is the latest version to fix its distinctive shape over modern mechanicals.

Based on the current Golf, the new Beetle still takes plenty of design cues from the original car that was launched more than 70 years ago, but it has been refined to offer greater efficiency and a less controversial cabin.

The Beetle is being launched with two petrol engines a 1.2 TSI with 104bhp and a 1.4 TSI with 158bhp. Both motors are available with either a six-speed manual gearbox or VWs excellent seven-speed dual-clutch DSG unit.

More engine variants, including a 2.0-litre turbo and a choice of 1.6 and 2.0 diesels, will follow later this year.

Whats it like to drive? The Beetle feels extremely normal from behind the wheel which is to say that none of the quirky design that influences its body shape transfers to the on-road experience. Thats either really positive or mildly frustrating depending on what you want the Beetle to deliver.

Our test car had the 158bp 1.4 TSI engine and the six-speed manual gearbox. Despite this being the more potent of the two launch engines, it feels anything but fast. Youll need to rev it hard when joining a motorway or overtaking, for example. The motor is smooth enough, though, with an admirably flat torque curve.

Once youre up to speed, cruising refinement is reasonably accomplished, with only a small amount of wind noise from around the frameless doors when youre at motorway pace.

Switch to back roads and youll find precious little involvement, with light steering and a relatively long-throw gearshift. Body lean is well contained, but the ride jars at low speeds in town (although the 18in wheels of our Sport-spec model probably did it no favours). Pricier variants will get more sophisticated rear suspension; itll be interesting to see if they cope any better with the UKs crumbling roads.

Whats it like inside? The previous Beetle had a bit of flower power inside its cabin thanks to a dashboard-mounted vase and this sense of fun felt quite unusual for a brand known for sombre but well-built interiors.

The latest incarnation upgrades the choice of materials, but does away with the flair; it feels entirely conventional, and could just as easily be a Golf or a VW Polo.

Thats not to say the environment is unpleasant. The fit seems strong, the glossy plastic effect across the bulk of the fascia looks smart, the driving position is good and there are enough cubbyholes, including a high (but shallow) extra glovebox. Its just that it all looks very normal, with absolutely nothing to suggest youre in a Beetle.

You sit low, with high flanks giving the impression of solidity. It could easily feel dark in there, too, though, so wed expect the panoramic sunroof to be a popular option.

Headroom in the front is excellent, even with the glass lid; passengers in the rear will find the experience much better than in the previous model, but still short of the room in a Focus or Golf.

At least the standard equipment list is reasonably generous. The basic level gets air-con, remote central locking, a CD player with DAB radio, and rear Isofix seat fixings. Move up to Design trim and you get 17-inch alloys, Bluetooth connectivity, an uprated radio and a multi-function leather-trimmed steering wheel. The range-topping Sport gets 18-inch alloys, tinted glass, cruise control, sports seats, parking sensors and two-zone electronic climate control.

Should I buy one? Its hard to recommend the Beetle on purely objective grounds. Its not as practical as, say, a VW Golf. Nor is it particularly clean (the 1.4 emits 153g/km of CO2) or economical (VW claims 53.3mpg, so youre likely to return figures in the 40s).

Its not cheap, either; youll pay almost 20k without options for even a basic 1.4-litre TSI model.

Thing is, this has never been a model that people chose on practical, common-sense grounds. The new Beetle has sold on its connection to the past, that trendy nostalgia and the admittedly funky looks.

However, this leads us to the most baffling realisation of all: that VW has refined and honed its modern Beetle to the point where it is now just a decent, unadventurous, ordinary car clothed in an extremely retro body.

Its a curious achievement but if that peculiar blend appeals, then you wont be disappointed.

Rivals:
Mini Clubman
Nissan Juke

What Car? says

John McIlroy