The Beetle is back – and it’s been squashed. Kind of. In an attempt to lose some of its cutesy looks and give it a more masculine appeal the new Beetle is longer, wider and lower than before.
The roof is a little flatter, too, losing the perfect curve of the first two models. Yes, this is only the third-generation Beetle in 74 years, since the first “people’s car” rolled off the German production line in 1938.
In modern-car terms the second-generation “New Beetle” was ancient by the time it was wound down after a 12-year run. Most cars are updated after five or six years these days. But now the new “New Beetle” is back after an 18-month hiatus.
And it happens to be the most powerful Beetle ever sold in Australia, using the turbocharged and supercharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine also used to power the Polo GTI. The output of 118kW and 240Nm represents a massive 57 per cent increase in power and 62 per cent more torque compared with the previous model.
The new “New Beetle” has a cheaper starting price than it launched with 13 years ago. In January 2000 it cost from $36,790 but subsequent models limboed to as low as $27,990 (2004 to 2008) before climbing to $29,200 (2009 to 2011).
So at $29,990 the new one is actually slightly dearer than where it left off – but it gets more equipment and a much more powerful and efficient engine. In addition to the standard fare of six airbags, remote entry, and power windows and mirrors, Volkswagen has added cruise control, dual zone air-conditioning, alloy wheels and front and rear parking sensors.
Options include leather trim ($3300), navigation ($2500), bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lamps ($2700), and a panorama glass sunroof ($1700). The seven-speed automatic (the first time VW’s dual-clutch gearbox has been fitted to the Beetle) adds $2500, bringing the starting price to $32,490.
You can also officially give the car a name. Previous Beetles have been one of the few Volkswagens sold unbadged. The latest model gives owners the option to personalise their cars with a “Beetle” badge, or “Bug” or simply “Volkswagen”, sold through Volkswagen Accessories.
A top-line, limited edition Fender model (named after the guitar and amplifier maker) with a cranking 400w sound system (with a sub-woofer in the boot and bigger and better speakers in the cabin) is $34,490 with automatic transmission.
Volkswagen has also added the new “New Beetle” to its list of cars that come with fixed price servicing, following the Up city car late last year. Applied in 15,000km intervals, routine maintenance costs $375 each year for the first two years, $430 in the third year and a whopping $638 in the fourth year (although still not as expensive as some dealers have been charging for similar services on other VW models), before returning to $375 and $430 in the following 12-month intervals.
Instagram comes to life inside the new “New Beetle”. There’s no need to add any sepia filters after you do any “selfies” because the painted dashboard and the cool glovebox (which opens up, just like the original) takes you back in time any way.
The new “New Beetle” is based on the underpinnings of the superseded Golf 6, which enabled Volkswagen to make it longer, wider and lower. It also means back seat occupants no longer sit under so much glass, more of their head is protected from the elements by a roof. But all up there is still only room for four occupants (two in the back, not three).
The new “New Beetle” was designed in Germany but comes to us from Volkswagen’s factory in Mexico (as with the previous model). It’s also where the classic Beetle was made until 2003.
Six airbags, a five-star safety rating and a very strong body. Volkswagen had a figure with a lot of zeros in its description of how stiff the new body structure is. We presume this to mean the core of the car won’t bend much but the front and rear are designed to crumble to absorb the bulk of any impacts. Front and rear parking sensors are standard but a rear view camera is not available.
The new Beetle drives, well, just like a Golf. That shouldn’t be surprising given that it shares the underpinnings of the outgoing Golf.
What impresses most, though, is how smooth and refined the Beetle has become. It’s a big step forward from the previous model; owners of classic Beetles will think they’ve become hard of hearing if they ever get into one of these.
All cabin controls are well positioned and logical to use. It’s the type of German efficiency that made the original so loved around the world. Visibility all around is pretty good thanks to large windows and large convex side mirrors, although it’s disappointing that Volkswagen hasn’t made a rear camera available even as an option.
The turbocharged and supercharged engine has plenty of zip and the DSG transmission works smoothly (unlike some earlier examples). The hill-hold function takes some of the gearbox’s hesitation away when moving off from rest. The steering is not too heavy, not too light.
The new Beetle brings a level of refinement and comfort that the hippie generation would probably appreciate at this point in their lives. Younger buyers will have never had it so good.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling
Price: $29,990 plus on-road costs (plus $2500 for auto)
Engine: Supercharged and turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, 118kW/240Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, seven-speed DSG auto
Thirst: 6.4L/100km and 148g/km (auto), 6.8L/100km and 158g/km (manual)
Service intervals: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: Five stars
Dimensions: 4278mm (+149 mm)(L), 1808mm (+87 mm)(w), 1477mm (-21 mm)(h), 2524mm (+ 9 mm)(wb)
Boot capacity: 310 litres (up from 209 litres)
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Price: from $26,500
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder, 72kW/153Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 6.7L/100km 156g/km CO2 (automatic)
Price: from $22,990
Engine: 1.0-litre two-cylinder turbo, 62.5kW/145Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual; seq. manual auto-single clutch, FWD
Thirst: 3.9L/100km 90g/km CO2 (automatic)
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Price: from $46,490
Engine: 4.0-litre V6 petrol, 200kW/380Nm
Transmission: 5-speed auto, AWD
Economy: 11.4L/100km 267g/km CO2 (automatic)