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Volkswagen Beetle 2013 review: snapshot

EXPERT RATING
7

There's a melange of motifs in this little VeeWee. It bears the nameplates Beetle and Fender, the people's car and the original hard bodied electric guitar -- both modern versions of which are made at some remove from their respective places of origin.

Its light-deflecting shade evokes both T-Model Ford industrial pragmatism and the preferred hue of rock 'n' roll T-shirts (and a few so-called “classic” rock albums). Primarily, the Beetle Fender Edition is a novel addition to second generation of the “new” Beetle range, one to raise a smile in a someone bitten by the black dog.

VALUE

A sticker of $34,490 puts the Fender neatly between entry level and top spec Beetles. It's a fair ask for a toy embellished by 18x8-inch alloys fashioned in the manner of the old Beetle's hubcaps, pearl black paint, chrome bits, Beetle and Fender badging, bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime driving lights.

The chief feature is not visual but aural an eardrum bleeding 400 watt Fender Sound premium audio system with digital 10-channel amplifier, eight speakers and subwoofer. Though probably not best appreciated by someone whose idea of a decent sound system is his iPhone dock, this thing strikes even the cloth eared as a monument to clarity and power.

Seven speed twin clutch auto (DSG) is the standard transmission. Options are satnav at $1,700 and sunroof at $2,500, which would serve mainly to consume the very decent headroom.

TECHNOLOGY

It's more or less axiomatic that VW's tech of yesterday is most other brands' tomorrows. While the new Golf is built on a new modular platform, the latest Beetle comes off the surpassed Mark V/VI Golf's underpinnings. At the front end this includes extended electronic differential lock, the device which does so much to quell understeer on the GTI.

Aft, however, is a different story and a reminder that the Beetle, like the Jetta, is built in Mexico. There's no multi-link rear suspension as per Australian Golfs, rather the simple torsion beam set up prevalent in the US-issue cars.

And you care how much? In truth this is unlikely to cause hesitation in one drawn by what is an exercise in borderline kitsch. But it's not just you reading this, you know.

Possibly of more interest is the twin charge engine, using both super- and turbo charging, also a memento of the previous Golf and driven via a seven speed DSG. This combo has of late been subject of much opprobrium and an ignominious recall. Again, though, we emphasise the most recent models to which this applied were built in 2011.

DESIGN

Just as the very notion of a “new” Beetle polarised the classicists and those who could care less about heritage but knew cute when they saw it, this version does so outside and in. As the man in Spinal Tap says: “It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.” Or at least none other than black, the sole shade for the Fender Edition.

Within it's hard (for me at least) not to love the sunburst dashboard fascia just like a Fender. The flat bottomed wheel is another GTI nod, handsomely set in the brown decorative stitching that also adorns the handbrake lever, gearshift, leather surrounded seats and carpet floor mats.

To complete our impression of an interior design catalogue, three colour ambience lights glows through fluoro white, angry red and cool blue. Nice. But no auto headlight setting? In a $35K car? A classic 2+2, the rear seats are for parcels or infants or folded down to expand the diminutive cargo area into one capable of carrying a holiday's worth of luggage for two.

SAFETY

Five stars from Euro NCAP in which agency's testing the Beetle scored especially well on adult and child protection 92 and 90 per cent respectively). In the safety assist category, the trick diff and advanced anti-slip regulators scored it 86 per cent. In the pedestrian assessment it rated 56 per cent, surely of itself an encouragement for looking before you blunder onto the road, something that listening to music through earpieces does nothing to constrain.

DRIVING

It might suffice to say that a bloke hereabouts who drives an ancient original Beetle to work had a go in this and vowed to buy it. Of course, the former device was conceived as a doughty means of mobility for the working man's family; only belatedly did it come to be considered cool.

When reinvented in the late '90s it was with no notion but the latter, a fashionable tote for the urban lady. That it sucked so abjectly in just about every respect, not least the dynamic, was apparently beside the point.

The newest Beetle is every bit further advanced as the decade plus between the two generations should suggest. By no means a sports car, nor even particularly sporty, its light weight and sophisticated little engine keep it on the fun side of the ledger.

After the characteristic but momentary hesitation of the twin clutch to engage, the supercharger delivers off the line torque deceptively quietly, the turbo coming on as the revs move into four figures per minute. It's every bit as powerful as a much larger naturally breathing engine, but so much more efficient and compact.

Any thought that the latest Beetle might have been a poor man's Audi TT are banished simply by looking at it. The VW stands much taller, about average hatch height, and its body roll in hard cornering is considerable, as is grip from that those big rubber boots. Shifting the stick to Sport (no paddle shifters to play with and, really, who cares?) stirs a response that's good deal more vigorous than Drive, holding onto gears that bit longer.

VERDICT

What price is fun? The black Beetle is a bright spark amid the grimness of the daily grind.

Pricing Guides

$19,888
Based on 9 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$14,913
Highest Price
$26,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $14,913 – 15,950 2013 Volkswagen Beetle 2013 (base) Pricing and Specs
Fender Edition 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $17,999 – 26,990 2013 Volkswagen Beetle 2013 Fender Edition Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7