June Neary takes a big swig of Volkswagen's little fashion icon
Will It Suit Me?
If you've owned a conventional family hatchback for what seems like years and years, then you're probably crying out for something a bit different. Something like this improved second version of Volkswagen 'new' Beetle? Well perhaps. You probably haven't considered a Beetle as a replacement, like me assuming it to be too expensive and impractical. Check out the car more carefully, as I did, and you might change your ideas. No, it's not quite as spacious as something more ordinary and you'll have to pay slightly more than you might have been expecting but both are drawbacks you might well be prepared to put up with in return for the privilege of owning one. I would be. Modern Beetles are bought as fashion accessories, as second or third cars for the weekend jaunt or the trip to the squash club. Early US buyers I'm told included Beverley Hills celebrities, a president's daughter and exclusive car rental establishments. In the UK you might see them parked outside fashionable restaurants and nightclubs. And in the parking slots of exclusive gated residential estates.
Styling changes made to the lightly improved Coupe and Cabriolet models aren't particularly significant. There are sharpened lines for the front bumpers, while larger openings around the indicator and fog light surrounds give extra depth to the car's appearance. Otherwise, it's as you were. If you're ferrying people about regularly, a Beetle won't be ideal since it only comes with three doors. Buy a Golf if you want five doors. Still, the boot, although not huge, is a pretty decent size, particularly if you fold down the rear seats. Like my colleagues, I found the Beetle interior to be even more of a shock than the outside; full marks to the design team for doing the job properly, rather than filling it with Golf and Polo dials from the Volkswagen parts bin. Of course, there are plenty of tell-tale Volkswagen signs; the switches, the firm seats, the positive gearbox - but you don't really notice them. What you do notice are all the natty stylish touches. Like the big central circular instrument cluster with its huge numbers and cute little built-in rev counter. As you'd expect from the bubble-like shape, there's enough room inside to wear an Ascot hat should the mood take you. More practically, that high roofline does make travelling in the rear reasonably palatable - though legroom is at a bit of a premium. Rear seat accommodation for two isn't too bad unless the front passengers have extremely long legs. Headroom is an issue at the back with the hood up, but then it is in a hard top Beetle in the first instance. There's a usefully sized boot, but if you're big on practicality, Volkswagen can offer you an alternative. It's called a Passat Estate
Behind the Wheel
This second generation 'new' Beetle has proved to be a lot better to drive than its predecessor. Engine-wise, petrol buyers get 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. There's also a 150PS 1.4litre TSI petrol unit. The diesel option is a 2.0 TDI unit offered with either 110 or 150PS. Through the corners, this car still doesn't offer quite as good an overall ride and handling package as you'll find in a 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.
Value For Money
Prices start at around £17,000 for the fixed-top version or around £20,000 for the Cabriolet. In each case, there's also a 'Dune' version with SUV styling cues. The asking prices aren't bad value in Volkswagen terms, something aided perhaps by the fact that this car is Mexican-built with more affordable labour. Most UK sales will be of the 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines that this car was launched with. So, what are the features you can expect to find, regardless of your choice of bodystyle? Well, all models get Climatic semi-automatic air conditioning that also cools the glovebox, a trip computer, power heated mirrors, electric windows, an 8-speaker MP3-compatible CD stereo with aux-in point and a hill-holder clutch to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Go for the sporty 'R-Line' and you can expect to find 18-inch 'Twister' alloy wheels, a rear tailgate spoiler, 'Sports' instrument dials, aluminium pedals and scuff plates featuring the 'R-Line' logo. Inside, 'R-Line' buyers get a leather-trimmed three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, which has an R-Line badge insert and coloured stitching too. The seats are finished in 'Kyalami' cloth and the R-Line badge is resplendent in the headrests.
Could I Live With One?
A Beetle is always going to be an unashamed indulgence but in this case, it's one that even the family-minded user can just about justify making.