Volkswagen continues to improve its Beetle. This lightly enhanced version is a little smarter and better equipped but does it have the force of personality to claim a significant market share? Jonathan Crouch checks out the pokey 1.4 TSI version
Ten Second Review
The third generation Volkswagen Beetle might not look quite so extrovert as its direct predecessor but it's proved to be a far better car and has now been lightly improved. Does it have the sheer showroom presence to make sales though? That's the acid test. The 1.4 TSI petrol version we're trying here may be the pick of the range.
After the Beetle and the New Beetle came this, the third iteration of Volkswagen's Bug. Since its launch in 2012, this car hasn't attracted as many column inches as its predecessor, but it's proved to be an interesting and fun addition to Volkswagen's range. What's more, it's a smarter car than many will give it credit for. Especially in the improved guise we examine here, which sees a slightly smaerter look, a range of interior upgrades and extra value added to the specification. To put it all to the test, we thought we'd try a variant that could well be the pick of the range, the 150PS 1.4 TSI petrol model.
As with virtually every mid-range vehicle launched these days, the Beetle offers decent space with strong efficiency. The variant we're looking at here is the 1.4 TSI model, probably pick of the range, offering a 150PS output from an engine that uses both supercharging and turbocharging to produce a healthy 250Nm of torque, good enough to see this car to sixty from rest in 8.7s. It's pretty good round the twisty stuff too, utilising the Golf GTI's clever XDS electronic differential lock. This improves handling through fast corners by selectively braking the unloaded wheel on the inside of the curve, so preventing wheelspin and firing the car through the bend. On the move, this feels a more serious car these days, with all the previous pre-2012 second generation model's Noddy-style touches - the ridiculously high roof and the enormously over-sized speedometer - thankfully dispensed with. You now sit quite purposefully behind three beautifully crafted dials, grasping a thin-rimmed steering wheel and positioned closer to the swept-back windscreen. On the move, because the body's quite stiff, the corner turn-in's also quite sharp. It's still no sportscar - still no MINI come to that - but it's much closer to the class standard.
Design and Build
We'll start with the styling changes made to these lightly improved Coupe and Cabriolet 1.4-litre TSI Beetle models; to be frank, they're not 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. Otherwse, things are much as before, which means that, 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. So there's something of the past, artfully mixed with a sporty vision of the future. Moving inside, 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. Unfortunately, the plastics are traditional too, so no Golf-like soft-touch surfaces. Still, the quality seems good even if the Mexican factory doesn't seem to screw things together quite up to German-fabricated Golf standards. Interior updates with this improved model include brighter instrument panel lighting, plush smarter upholstery materials and revised dials and dash styling. Classic Beetle touches include the upwards-opening glovebox, natty elastic straps instead of door pockets and the optional auxiliary instruments you can specify to sit above the infotainment controls. You'll look in vain for the MK2 Beetle's dash-mounted flower vase though. Good.
Market and Model
What price style? It's a question that pricks at the very heart of this Beetle's buying proposition. You will no doubt read po-faced road tests on the Beetle that may claim it's not quite as poised as a Golf through a set of corners or that the ride quality doesn't possess the nth degree of polish - but they're missing the point. The Beetle is a bit of fun, an expression of the fact that its owner doesn't take him or herself too seriously. Buyers who've decided on the 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine we're looking at here only get one trim level - 'Design'. There are two bodystyle choices though, the fixed-top 'Coupe', priced at just over £21,000 in this guise, or the pretty Cabriolet, which requires a budget of just over £24,000. Standard equipment includes 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. A wide range of innovative optional equipment is also available, ranging from Keyless Access through satellite navigation systems and a panoramic sunroof to bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights - all of which are available for the first time on a Beetle. Manufacture of the car takes place at Volkswagen's Puebla plant in Mexico, the same plant responsible for building over 1.15 million New Beetles.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.4 TSI Beetle delivers 49.6mpg on the combined cycle and 132g/km in fixed-top 'Coupe' form - or 47.9mpg and 136g/km in Cabriolet form. That means you get 150PS performance at a running cost that's only a fraction more than the entry-level 105PS 1.2-litre TSI variants can manage. Sounds good to us. What else? Well, you get a choice of two low cost servicing packages. 'Time & Distance' will be appropriate to low mileage owners covering less than 10,000 miles a year. For those going further, an alternative 'Long Life' regime bases servicing requirements on actual use, lengthening the intervals where it can and informing the driver via a dashboard display when a garage visit is needed.
The Beetle is in fact one of the most difficult cars on the market to offer an objective review on. The reason? Most customers care very little about its statistics, its engineering or its driving characteristics. They'll make their minds up on how cool it looks and then check that the price isn't exorbitant. If it satisfies those two criteria, it'll sell. You might think that given this buyer behaviour, that Volkswagen would have been tempted to lift the foot off the gas a bit with the development of this car. In fact, it's been quite the opposite and that's a smart longer term view. The Beetle now offers something more than a mere style statement, especially in the 1.4 TSI guise we've been trying here. Even once the novelty of the looks have worn off, buyers will be rewarded with a car that's fun to drive and reasonably practical too. The tactics might have changed but the strategy hasn't. Aesthetics matter. Live a beautiful life.