Volkswagen Beetle increases its appeal

When you think of the current fashion for ‘retro’ design in cars, it is all too easy to think that it all started with Mini in 2001. But, it was really Volkswagen that triggered the retro design vogue in 1998 with the launch of the New Beetle.

That car was discontinued in 2010, but now we have the new, new Beetle (the word “New” has been dropped from the car’s official title).

It was Oprah Winfrey who had the honour of announcing what is, I suppose, is only the third model since the original car in1938. On the final episode of Oprah’s Favourite Things, in November 2011 every member of the studio audience were told they would receive on of the new Beetles when it was launched in 2012 in Shanghai and New York.

Volkswagen Beetle

Underneath the body, which mimics the style of the original Volkswagen, are the modern underpinnings of the Mk 6 Volkswagen Golf.

Whereas the previous Beetle relied on its retro design (right down to the flower vase on the dash) for its appeal, it takes only a few miles to realise that this latest Beetle has appeal that runs more than skin deep.

Whereas the first new Beetle wore its retro style somewhat self-consciously, the latest version looks more comfortable in its skin. It manages the neat trick of paying homage to the original, but looks quite modern and up-to-the-minute at the same time. It’s the same story inside. Modern is blended with retro touches, like the body coloured dashboard, complete with a period glovebox (there is a bigger glovebox below).

The Beetle commercial

Unlike the very original Beetle, there is more space for the driver and front seat passenger. Space in the back is probably what you would expect from a supermini, rather than a Golf.

Round the back, where the engine would be on the original Beetle, a large sweeping tailgate gives access to a quite capacious boot. There is a little bit of a lip to lift loads over, but it will swallow 310 litres of luggage with the back seat up, or 905 litres with the seats folded.

Volkwagen Beetle interior

The downside to the retro body is that the relatively high scuttle and swept down bonnet and rear mean the front and rear of the car are not just difficult, but impossible, to see. The £335 parking sensor option on the test car is therefore a welcome addition.

My test car was the Beetle Design 1.2-litre TSI 105PS with the seven-speed DSG gearbox. The DSG adds £1460 to the price of the manual 1.2TSI, but it actually works well with this power unit – despite the lack of manual change paddles on the steering wheel.

Only occasionally did I feel a lack of urge that pointed to the relatively small engine powering a big car. Most of the time I was left quite impressed by the urge and willingness of the 1.2-litre turbo.

Acceleration 0-62 mph is quoted at 10.9 seconds, with a top speed of 112 mph. The combined fuel economy is 47.9 mpg, but my real-life figure dropped closer to 30 mpg on a mixture of town and country driving. Carbon dioxide emissions are 137 g/km putting the Beetle in band E for UK car tax.

Volkwagen Beetle

On the open road the new Beetle is a big improvement on the previous model. I found the steering nicely weighted (although some might feel it a bit heavy) and although not the most communicative, there is a reasonable amount of feedback to add to the driving pleasure. The grip is good, which adds confidence when tackling country roads and the ride quality is comfortable, if not as composed as the Golf.

Examined dispassionately, there is little doubt that the £19,365 Volkswagen Golf S 1.2 DSG 5-dr is the more sensible, practical option. But the £19,130 Beetle Design 1.2 DSG does offer more than a bit of cheeky retro style and character. For many that will be enough to clinch the deal. After all, life would be a little dull if we couldn’t have a little fun.

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