Returning to its throne
Posted on: 10th Oct 2012
A million New Beetles - the second generation version of this iconic design - were sold over thirteen years, 68,000 of them in the UK, but the modern take on this iconic design was never quite the success it might have been.
The curvy Toytown looks and touches like the flower vase on the dash left it as an exclusively feminine and fashion-centric choice, buyers who quickly forsook its charms when at the turn of the century New MINI and much later, the reinvented Fiat 500 came along. Volkswagen wants them back and aims to achieve that with this third generation model, a car that aesthetically at least, is much closer to the design of the original.
Longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, it's intended to look more sporty, masculine and dynamic. And because the Golf underpinnings remain - this time more modern ones - it can be a more practical choice than its retro rivals.
Add very competitive running costs, perky performance and a dash of hi-tech and you've a car that could reignite the Beetle cult all over again. Let's try it.
Let's cut to the chase. No, this car doesn't offer quite as good an overall ride and handling package as you'll find in the Golf, but to compare these two cars is an irrelevance. You'll buy a Beetle because it's a bit of fun and because there aren't too many compromises required in doing so. And that's all a million miles from the dull, sensible practicality of Golf motoring.
This is the only Beetle variant to feature the Golf's state-of-the-art multi-link rear suspension set-up. Lesser models - the ones most people will actually buy - get a simpler, cheaper torsion beam arrangement, hence perhaps the slightly poorer ride. It's one of these we tried, a car with an engine that's anything but retro.
This is the 1.4 TSI model, probably pick of the range, offering a 160PS output from an engine that uses both supercharging and turbocharging to produce a healthy 240Nm of torque, good enough to see this car to sixty from rest in 8.3s, so it's nearly as quick as the 2.0-litre variant. It's pretty good round the twisty stuff too, like its larger-engined stablemate sharing the Golf GTI's clever XDS electronic differential lock.
But even rejuvenated Beetle motoring isn't really about high performance and with that in mind, you may feel minded to save a little and opt for the lower-powered petrol derivative or one of the diesels. Petrol-wise, you're looking at a turbocharged 1.2 TSI unit, surprisingly punchy despite its modest 105PS output. With 175Nm of torque on tap, sixty here is 10.9s away en route to 111mph. Also offering 105PS is the 1.6-litre TDI diesel option with its frugal BlueMotion Technology mods, a unit that slots under a minority interest 2.0 TDI with 140PS.
Design and Build
Against the odds, something of a feel of Dr Ferdinand Porsche's early 'Peoples' Car' has somehow made it through to this third generation model, most notably in the large wheels plumply positioned beneath the flared flowing arches and a rear C-pillar that follows the contours of the original design.
Moving inside this three-door-only body shape, you notice that the frameless doors open wide - but not so wide as to make ingress difficult in tight parking spaces. And at the wheel, you're seated behind a traditional upright dashboard with a set of three traditional dials visible through a sporty three-spoke thin-rimmed wheel.
The look and feel all seems to suit this car's retro vibe, especially with the body-coloured door sill and dash inserts you get on plusher models.
Market and Model
Expect to pay somewhere in the £17,000 to £25,000 bracket for most versions of the hardtop Beetle model we're looking at here, depending on the model and spec you decide upon. That's not bad value in Volkswagen terms, something aided perhaps by the fact that this car is Mexican-built with more affordable labour.
Though a 200PS 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine has been developed for this car, along with both 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels respectively developing either 105 or 140PS, most UK sales will be of the 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines that this car was launched with.
Cost of Ownership
Sensible virtues probably won't be top of your agenda in selecting a Beetle, but should they happen to be, then you'll need to be talking to your dealer about the 105PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel version, as it comes with all of Volkswagen's cleverest 'BlueMotion Technology' efficiency tweaks: low rolling resistance tyres, a battery regeneration system and a stop start system that cuts the engine when you don't need it in traffic or at the lights.
As a result, it'll emit just 114g/km of carbon dioxide and can return an impressive 65.7mpg on the combined cycle which will give a usefully long operating range from the 55-litre fuel tank.
You could argue that in this MK3 design, we finally have the proper Beetle tribute model we should have had in the first place.
This car borrows its heritage, its silhouette and its retro uniqueness from the post-war original, but fuses it with the sort of fuel economy, safety and creature comforts that the modern buyer demands - without the retro excesses and gender-specific touches of the second generation car.