Beetle gets wings
For some,VW’s Beetle got a little too close to its feminine side in the 1990s. The Love Bug’s latest metamorphosis, however, dispels any such concerns, says Jim McCauley
It was the brainchild of Ferdinand Porsche and the most successful of a trio of cars launched in Europe in the inter-war years that charmed their way through automotive history. Italy had the Fiat 500, France had the Citroen 2CV and Germany had its people’s car, the air-cooled rear-engined model that was to be branded by its admirers as the Beetle.
And of the three, only the Volkswagen has retained a strong visual allegiance to the original design.
Maintaining an icon is no easy task, but Volkswagen has carefully managed the evolution of the Beetle, although with a somewhat feminine bias in the intermediate model launched in the 1990s.
Now it is back on neutral ground, looking bolder and brasher, its increased dimensions visually curtailed by its styling, the new model oozes assertiveness with the interior retro touches aligning it with the original. The roof curve is flatter, shaving a few unnoticeable millimetres of headroom but increases in length and width benefit all four occupants, especially those in the back seat who enjoy increased legroom. Up front, the driving position is greatly improved with closer positioning to the windscreen while for weekends away, the boot capacity has been increased by 50% to bring it up to a useable 310 litres.
When the model goes on sale here in the first quarter of 2012, there will be a choice of three petrol engines and one diesel along with a range of manual and automatic gearboxes.
Available at the car’s European launch was the range-topping 2.0 litre TSI model driving through the company’s DSG gearbox, a combination that clearly illustrates the performance capabilities of the car with a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds and the potential to top 140mph.
This 200 PS turbo unit is available only in Sport trim alongside a six-speed manual version. Seated behind the wheel, the car feels totally different from its predecessor with a carbon black dash.
Power delivery is pleasantly controlled with the twin-clutch automatic gearbox holding the next gear in readiness for a virtually instantaneous change up or down the ’box. Under sharp throttle application a sporty induction snort from this Golf GTI unit heralds the car’s change of pace and its wider track contributes to excellent cornering support.
A particularly rigid bodyshell aids refinement as well as safety and the car proves extremely comfortable with the sports seats on this model offering excellent support. For music lovers, Volkswagen has exclusively teamed up with the Fender guitar company in a joint venture with Panasonic to produce the optional high-end music system complete with light rings around the door speakers.
The dash features a successful blend of familiar Volkswagen instruments in a tasteful retro setting that includes a piano-black face panel and glovebox reminiscent of that in the original car.
Externally, the Sport features 17-inch wheels purposefully filling the wheelarches with red callipers highlighting the stopping power lurking behind the multi-spoke alloys. For those who considered that the 1990s reincarnation had too much of a feminine bias, the new 2012 model has re-established an assertive presence which VW are confident to describe as a core product rather than a niche model.
UK choices comprise 1.2 petrol and 1.6 TDI units, both outputting 105 PS as well as a 1.4 litre 160 PS petrol engine and the 2.0 litre test option.
The three trim levels are Beetle, Design and Sport with standard equipment across the range including air conditioning, DAB radio, alloy wheels, multi-function steering wheel and Bluetooth connectivity.
On the safety front, all cars have electronic stability programme with additional handling functions, twin front airbags with combination head and side units for front seat occupants as well as daytime running lights. Ordering opens this autumn for delivery in 2012 with prices starting at just under £15,000.
Volkswagen Beetle 2.0 TSi
Engine: 2.0 litre, 4-cylinder 200PS @ 5,100rpm. 280Nm torque @ 1700–5000 rpm.
Drive: Front-wheels through six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission
Performance: 0-62mph (100 km/h) in 7.5 seconds; max, 140mph (223km/h)
Fuel on combined cycle: 36.7mpg (7.7 l/100km)
CO2: 179gms/km; VED Band I for annual car tax of £210
Price range: starts at £15,000; final model price not yet available
Warranty:Three-year/60,000 miles, 12-year body protection and one-year roadside assistance (UK and Europe)
Euro NCAP: N/A
Available extras: Bi-xenon headlights, panoramic roof, satellite navigation, Fender sound system, keyless access and starting