Volkswagen Beetle 2011 review: road test
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THE world is catching the bug again. Volkswagen has gone viral, rebounding with a new, new Beetle that despite a silhouette as old as pre-war Germany, is fresh and very unlike its predecessor. It's a changed car because it's aimed at all markets, all ages and more pertinent, at both sexes. VW says 66 per cent of previous Beetle buyers were female and now expects a 50:50 split as it appeals to more men.
The outgoing New Beetle was successful, but very specifically in the US market. By comparison, it was coolly received in Europe as it came under threat from the Mini. What is new is that it is much closer in engineering to the Golf. That immediately makes it a better drive (see Driving below) but also allows Volkswagen to share components and therefore reduce the price.
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.
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.
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 memor able 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.
Volkswagen claims a EuroNCAP five-star crash rating, six airbags and stability and traction control, following the lead of the Golf.
Immediately, the driving position feels like the perfection of the Golf. Gone is the enormous distance from the driver to the windscreen that typified the outgoing Beetle. The controls fall to hand easier and the instruments and switches are better placed. The engine note is very quiet - better at cruising speed - and when off the throttle, that discreet air-cooled chuff-chuff becomes a muted backdrop.
In 147kW guise it's a quick car. The six-speed DSG - not seven speed - can be manually operated by the gearshift. Paddle shifters are optional. The most impressive change is the handling. The wide track - up 63mm at the front and 49mm at the rear - 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. Wheel choice is critical here and the 18-inch are probably the best for enthusiasts while city folk, wanting more comfort, should go for the 17-inch wheels. Visibility is its weak point (no news here) and park sensors are an advised option, unless it b ecomes standard spec.
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.
Range and Specs
|Cabriolet||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$8,800 – 12,430||2011 Volkswagen Beetle 2011 Cabriolet Pricing and Specs|
|Cabriolet Blackorange||2.0L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$7,700 – 10,780||2011 Volkswagen Beetle 2011 Cabriolet Blackorange Pricing and Specs|
|Blackorange||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$6,050 – 8,580||2011 Volkswagen Beetle 2011 Blackorange Pricing and Specs|
|Miami||1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$5,170 – 7,590||2011 Volkswagen Beetle 2011 Miami Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data