First Drive: Volkswagen Beetle

2012 Volkswagen Beetle

21st century Beetle promises a more refined and clearly defined experience with a hint of ‘old’ Beetle for good measure

Volkswagen is pitching its new Beetle as a car for the 21st century. In common with so many fashionable items from the past, it would be appropriate to view this as a reboot of the classic automotive icon.

Of course Volkswagen has been here before. 1998 saw the release of the then all-new Beetle, which was an attempt at faithfully reproducing the earnest, everyday attributes of its groundbreaking predecessor.

The Beetle is the cornerstone of the Volkswagen family, and is largely why the German firm is persisting with a modern day version. And it appears to have learnt something from the success of the competition. As such, this ‘New Beetle’ is being promoted with a sportier edge and a greater emphasis on lifestyle and pop culture.

The car itself is little bigger than the 1998 car – it’s a fraction longer and wider – while it’s not as tall but more streamlined in profile thanks to a longer bonnet and steeper inclined windscreen. Carrying capacity is up, with occupants fore and aft benefiting from more room, plus boot space has increased.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle_2Three petrol and one diesel unit will power UK cars. At launch, the choice will be between a 1.2 TSI 105 horsepower unit connected to a seven-speed DSG gearbox plus a 1.4 TSI, 160 horsepower lump and six-speed manual gearbox.

Later in 2012 you’ll also have the choice of a manual version of that 1.2 petrol motor, a 1.6-litre TDI diesel and a range-topping 2.0-litre TSI petrol unit packing 200 horsepower. To reinforce the Beetle’s newfound sporty character, both the 2.0-litre car and the 1.4 variant feature Volkswagen’s trick XDS differential to boost grip and stability at speed.

The previous car’s bud vase might have disappeared but this Beetle’s cabin remains sufficiently different from anything else Volkswagen makes to earn it its stripes. The cabin itself is roomy enough up front, with just enough space in the back for adults if the journey isn’t too long. The car’s sloping roof is the reason for this, although children won’t feel cramped, making the Beetle an interesting family car alternative.

As with all modern Volkswagens, the Beetle isn’t short of toys or safety kit. The company has decided to pitch the car higher this time, and sat-nav, climate control, premium audio, leather and a panoramic glass roof all appear on the options list. The list of standard kit is good too, with the likes of air-con, DAB radio, alloy wheels, Bluetooth and parking sensors spread across the three trim levels.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle _3Most seasoned observers will bristle at the use of the word ‘sporty’ in the context of something distinctly un-sporting, and while Volkswagen is keen to promote the Beetle as such it’s fair to say it’s a more willing participant than its older cousin.

Urban motoring duties do much to highlight the car’s agility and willingness to change direction. It’s not a small car, yet this never proves a handicap around town and the slightly raised seating position helps boost forward visibility. Although a sport suspension option exists, in standard guise the car copes will with the usual array of urban surface imperfections.

Away from the city the Beetle acquits itself well to demands of faster roads and more challenging corners. You’re never going to be pushing this as hard as you would a Scirocco, but it’s good to know that a brisk pace can be an entertaining one. Tested in flagship 200 horsepower, 2.0-litre turbo petrol guise complete with six-speed DSG gearbox, the car’s speed is easily controllable and you never feel that the engine overshadows the car’s abilities.

Furthermore, if the performance of the less powerful engines in other VW products is anything to go by, units such as the 1.2 TSI and 1.6 TDI won’t disgrace the Beetle either.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle _4Judging from the promotional material generated to support this new Beetle and the positive attitude of Volkswagen’s executives, it’s clear that they now have a better understanding of the car and how it can fit into the lives of prospective owners.

First hand experience proves that it’s a more engaging and rewarding experience than before and a genuine head-turner, while the various styling cues offer a more clearly defined link with the car that started it all off. Could this be history repeating itself? Only time will tell.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Volkswagen Beetle 2.0 TSI, from £tbc on the road. Range from £15,000 to £25,000 approx. On sale early 2012.
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol unit developing 200bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed DSG transmission, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 138mph, 0-62mph 7.5 seconds.
Economy: 36.7mpg.
CO2 Rating: 179g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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