MORE power. Less flower” is the marketing message for Volkswagen’s latest Beetle, a car that has been created to be more dynamic and exciting. And it is – more than the original Beetle ever was, and certainly a good deal better than the last one. The dashboard vase – a homage to the original Beetle beloved by generations of Californian dreamers who would put flowers in the car – is long gone. Shame. It was one of the few things about the “neue Beetle” I liked.
The new Beetle has been around since 1997. Its design, which kickstarted the retro-futuristic trend back in the 1990s and led to the introduction of the new Mini and new Fiat 500, was getting rather long in the tooth. The reshaped, re-imagined third generation Volkswagen Beetle greatly improves on what was a flawed car from an excellent concept.
The VW Concept 1 – introduced at the Detroit motor show in 1994 – was an astonishing design that was never meant for production. The resulting car was compromised and never really delivered on its fun-fuelled promise. But with the third generation Beetle, VW has set out to put right the problems of the Beetle before it and built a much improved Bug.
It has redesigned the car from the ground up. It’s longer, wider and lower than the previous generation and has a wider track and wheelbase. These new proportions mean the roof extends further back, the windscreen is moved back and the rear section is closer to that of the original Beetle. In profile it means the latest Beetle looks more like the original than the last generation ever did. The boot capacity is also increased to 310 litres (up from 209 litres in the 1998 model), so it’s more practical too.
And what a step up the interior is. Instead of the great swathe of plastic that was the dash in the second generation, there is a body-coloured dash instead. The cockpit is a two-tone mix of painted upright dashboard and door panels – including an upright glovebox door that harks back to the original Beetle. In our Design level trim, the leather-wrapped steering wheel also features painted accents. Altogether, the interior looks very good and the painted panels help disguise the fact that there is quite a lot of hard plastic going on. Our test car also has the optional Fender audio system, which promises 400W output and switchable loudspeaker, three-colour illumination.
Driving the Beetle is a unique experience, not least because the seating position, in combination with the fall of the bonnet, mean it’s utterly impossible to be certain where the perimeter of the car is, like trying to sneak up to peer over the horizon. In motion this isn’t a problem but it means you’d be well advised to purchase parking sensors should you buy one.
We were driving the 2.0-litre TDI 138bhp with a six-speed manual gearbox. The car feels sprightly rather than quick and feels lighter than the five-door Golf I had driven to the launch in, although the ride is not as good and quite hard. There is a fair bit of wind and road noise and it doesn’t have the same refinement as the Golf, either. The steering doesn’t feel as communicative either but then it’s worth remembering that this is a car that is built in Mexico, principally for the American market. The driving is improved and the diesel engine gives a sporty drive. Overall this third generation Beetle is a big improvement on its predecessor. Now where did I put that vase?
THE FACTS: VW BEETLE
0-62MPH: 9.4 secs
TOP SPEED: 123mph
CO2 G/KM: 129g/km
MPG COMBINED: 57.6mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****