It was the time of flower power, risk-free sex and rock ‘n roll ﾖ except it wasn’t. It was the end of the nineties and the bosses at Volkswagen came up with a bright idea; to resurrect the Beetle. And the ‘New Beetle’ was born.
It was basically a Golf 4 with a flabby retro body, not-very-good driving dynamics and a stupid flower on the dashboard. Woohoo.
Of course, the nostalgic buying public lapped the New Beetle up ﾖ until BMW unleashed the all-new, modern-day MINI to the market in the early naughties ﾖ a proper driver’s car which made the right sounds and gave off all the right characteristics of a modern-day classic reinvention.
Enter now the all-new New 21st Century Beetle. This time it’s a Golf 6 under the bulbous bodywork and that already shows that, this time, VW engineers used a bit more brains. Then, under the bonnet you can either have VW’s 1.2-litre TSI turbocharged petrol engine or the technologically-brilliant 1.4 TSI supercharged and turbocharged petrol unit with either a six-speed manual or magical seven-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox (read: mechanical perfection).
I was sent the 1.4 TSI Sport manual for evaluation and, finished in bright red with black-accented alloy wheels and a retro-max rear spoiler, you could have confused this car for my boyfriend, I adored it that much.
I’ll start with the looks. New Beetle II has definitely grown up. Lines are sharper, curves are curvier and where the old New Beetle could easily have been mistaken for a car out of a pink box with ‘Barbie’ on the side, the new New Beetle could be the centrefold in a gentleman’s magazine ﾖ it’s bloody sexy. Fitted with the optional bi-xenon headlights with their half-moon LED daytime running lights, the only thing I’d have changed if I was off to my nearest VW shop to buy one of these would have been the colour ﾖ the new Beetle is available in white which, when specified with the optional ‘Herbie’ racing stripes and big Number 53 decals, is utterly desirable.
Oh, and you remember the chrome ‘eyelid’ headlight extensions you could put on the original Beetle? Well, VW has cleverly and quite sneakily designed the xenon bulbs to carry their very own chrome ‘eyelids’ ﾖ das ist very cool indeed!
Inside, the fake flower has ceased to exist. In its place sits a gorgeous retro-inspired dashboard finished in glossy black and the usual quality VW plastics ﾖ it’s very Golf-ish which means it’s not confusing and it works, but at the same time you can immediately see the ties to the Hitlermobile, especially around the gear lever and instrument binnacle areas. It’s almost as if they took a photo of the inside of an original Beetle, asked Klaus to Photoshop it into something from 2012 and then simply build it. The strap-style grab handles are still present too, for that authentic Beetle feel.
What’s it like to drive? Well, just like any other small VW, really. Solid build means the drive is quiet and peaceful, the comfy leather seats adding to the premium nature of the experience ﾖ and unlike a MINI, you can just-about-comfortably put two friends in the back. It’s got a bigger boot than a MINI too, so you won’t need to leave your shopping at the shops, either. That said, it isn’t as fun to drive as a MINI.
Comparing the 1.4 TSI Sport to a Cooper S, the MINI’s more electrifying drive thanks to the turbo’s high-boosting nature and the chassis’ rock-hard rigidity means you feel more alive behind the wheel of the Cooper S. However, the VW is far better built and with the supercharger taking care of the upped power at lower rpm when the turbocharger is still asleep, you get a raspy whine when pulling off or revving from idle. It’s superb.
Superb too is what Volkswagen has managed to achieve with TSI technology. It may only be a 1.4-litre engine but it shoves 118 juicy kW and 240 hearty Nm of torque through the front wheels and that translates into a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 8.3 seconds and a top speed of 208 km/h. Volkswagen also claims the average fuel economy to be 6.6-litres per 100 km ﾖ TSI technology is not only great for performance but also supposedly helps save fuel ﾖ but in the real world, expect economy more around the 9-litres per 100 km mark.
Of course, the Beetle is a niche product, which means it probably won’t be bought in droves. Although, that’s what we thought about the new MINI and look how that turned out.
Should Beetle become a household name again? Well, this second attempt is infinitely better in every way compared to the first version which means at least if it does, a whole lot of people will be driving a fantastic car.
It’s not cheap though, this mid-range model retailing for R302 500 before any fancy extras are fitted. The 1.2 TSI goes for R244 300 which is almost cute (and to be dead honest that engine is a peach so settling for the baby Beetle is by no means a silly option) and the range-topping 1.4 TSI Sport DSG carries an option-free sticker price of R317 000.
Rand-for-rand, new New Beetle is a bit more expensive than the equivalent MINI Cooper or Cooper S (don’t worry, they also suffer from German Optional Extras Syndrome) but at the end of the day it comes down to personal taste.
I am a MINI fan to the core so I would probably opt for the offspring of Oxford. But this new Beetle… well let’s just say that if I happened to feel like pleasing the bank and a white one with Herbie stripes happened to attract my attention, I would be more than happy to take one home.