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Volkswagen Beetle 2011 review

EXPERT RATING
8

IT was originally the “people’s car’’ and now Volkswagen wants to get closer to the mandate laid down in the late 1930s.

In bringing back the Beetle - incidentally, for the third time - Volkswagen says it’s learnt from errors with the outgoing New Beetle (1998-2010) and is promising cheaper prices, more room, more performance and yet retaining the car’s historic fun aspect.

“The previous model’s problem was that it couldn’t attract the mainstream consumer,’’ says

Volkswagen Group spokesman Christian Buhlmann in a rare admission that the New Beetle was a bit hit and miss.

In the US it was a big hit and was the main reason for global sales tipping over one million. In Australia, a bit more than 8700 - including the convertible - found buyers from 2000. There’s still a few left at dealerships though production stopped last October.

But Buhlmann is excited about the Beetle (the “New’’ has been dropped) and - like Volkswagen Australia - expects a much greater audience.

“It’s more for the driver but it’s also a lot more practical (than the outgoing model,’’ he says.

“The boot is almost three times the size, there are greater convenience features, it is better to drive because the driving position is now more “normal’’ and it has excellent handling and performance characteristics.’’

Volkswagen this week debuted the Beetle in Berlin saying it will be about 10 per cent cheaper than the Golf. It will go on sale in Europe in September but Australia is a long way off - one estimate is late 2012 and another is “about mid year”. When it gets here, expect prices from about $25,000 and up to about $42,000 for the 147kW turbo-petrol model. That could, however, change and that also applies to the final specifications.

VW says 66 per cent of previous Beetle buyers were female and now expects a 50:50 split as it appeals to more men.

VALUE

Clearly Volkswagen has Mini in its sights, but the Beetle also fires at Citroen’s DS3 and intrudes into premium Euro coupes such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Based on the European pricing and that of rivals, the Beetle is likely to be priced from $25,000 (1.2-litre) to $42,000 (2-litre GTI). The DS3 is about $35,000; the BMW 120i Coupe at $53,000; and the Mini Cooper S at about $50,000. But - and it’s a big but - the Beetle is very well equipped (again, I’ve based this on Euro-spec models) and quality of the Mexican-built bubble is almost up to German standards. Let downs include the dashboard of hard plastic.

DESIGN

Iconic. It’s a total change from the New Beetle. It grows in length and wheelbase and width and track, but is lower and has a flatter roofline. Things reminiscent of the 20th Century Beetle are subtle but visible - the protruding lower sills that look like running boards; big, round headlights (now the only VW with these); no discernible grille; and on the inside, a glovebox styled on the 1960s model (there are actually two gloveboxes) and a sling grip on the B-pillars. There is more room - four adults can fit and the boot is almost three times the size of the older model - and better access, including the now frameless glass on the doors and a wider hatch. The vase for the flower has gone but may return as an option.

TECHNOLOGY

It’s all Golf under the body, with a 50mm slice taken out of the platform. Components are shared across the VW brand and the VW Group. The front-wheel drive gets engines from 1.2-litre to the detuned GTI 2-litre turbo engine with 147kW. I drove only the 147kW with the six-speed DSG automatic transmission. Australia may get two petrols and one diesel and maybe miss out completely on a manual transmission. The rear suspension is tuned to the Beetle and is an upgraded version of the Golf unit. Steering is electric-hydraulic. Crazy but despite all this, my most memorable feature is the subtle sound of the exhaust that has been artificially tuned - by way of a sound amplifier up against the firewall - to resemble the offbeat pulse of the old air-cooled engine.

SAFETY

Volkswagen claims a EuroNCAP five-star crash rating, six airbags and stability and traction control, following the lead of the Golf.

DRIVING

The engine note is very quiet - better at cruising speed - and when off the throttle, that discreet chuff-chuff becomes a muted backdrop. In 147kW guise it's a quick car.

The most impressive change is the handling. The wide track - up 63mm at the front and 49mm at the rea r - just grips the road so tightly that it feels glued to the bends. Ride comfort tends to firm. I drove the optional sports suspension and it felt equally as competent through the corners as the standard set-up but choppier over mid-corner bumps.

VERDICT

This is a really good car. It’s a hard car to fault because it sits in a market segment where buyers traditionally forgive function in the name of fashion. But pragmatic buyers may discard style and look at the Golf and see more flexiblity and five-door convenience.

Pricing Guides

$9,625
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$5,500
Highest Price
$13,750

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Cabriolet 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $10,010 – 13,750 2011 Volkswagen Beetle 2011 Cabriolet Pricing and Specs
Cabriolet Blackorange 2.0L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $7,920 – 11,110 2011 Volkswagen Beetle 2011 Cabriolet Blackorange Pricing and Specs
Blackorange 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $6,270 – 8,800 2011 Volkswagen Beetle 2011 Blackorange Pricing and Specs
Miami 1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $5,500 – 7,810 2011 Volkswagen Beetle 2011 Miami Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$5,500

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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