Volkswagen Beetle: First drive review

The Volkswagen Beetle is back and this time it is serious about taking sales from other retro rides such as the MINI.

Gone is the bulbous bodywork and Golf MK3 underpinnings, to be replaced by a squarer-edged, more masculine coupe, with a chassis borrowed from the American version of the Jetta.
On the outside, despite the new look, there are plenty of styling links with the original Beetle. These include the circular headlights and curvy arches. We particularly liked the Design specification 17-inch alloy wheels, that look just like the original Beetle's steel wheels and hubcaps.

However, Volkswagen has added some straighter edges, a lower, more coupe-like roof and a rear spoiler on more powerful models.

Inside, the quirky flower pot and single dial instruments have gone, to be a replaced by a more functional, but still funky dashboard, which we think looks more like the original Beetle's.

The dashboard is a classy mixture of either body-coloured or gloss black with chrome edging and the overall build quality seems a step up from the outgoing car. Neat touches include the elasticated door bins and the punchy optional sound system with ambient lighting for the speakers, from famous guitar maker Fender.

With the multi-adjustable steering column, the driving position is comfortable. Even the standard seats are supportive and all-round visibility is generally good.

Length has increased by 84mm, but rear space in the Beetle seems no better than the outgoing car; the curvy rear roof pillars eat into the headroom too. A 310-litre boot is a surprise, but it is not a practical shape. Still, at least it folds and this increases bootspace to 905-litres.

We had the chance to drive two different versions of the Beetle, the 104bhp 1.2 and the 158bhp 1.4. Due to a lack of build slots available, just the 1.4-litre Design version is on sale at the moment, priced at £19,470.

The 1.2 we drove has a 47.9mpg fuel figure and a CO2 output of 137g/km. Top speed is 111mph, with 60mph coming up in 10.9 seconds.

We tried this engine with DSG semi-automatic transmission, it is slick and performance is spirited but slow.

After the 1.2, we moved on to the bigger 1.4-litre. Compared to the 1.2, this engine is much more satisfying, but you still need to work it hard to perform. C02 emissions of 153g/km and a combined consumption figure of 42.8mpg are less impressive too.

This engine was well matched to the six-speed manual transmission, the gearchanges are quick and precise.

The latest Beetle is much more fun to drive than the out going car, though the 1.2-litre's stiff sport ride seemed at odds with the lack of performance. The 1.4 was in the currently unavailable Sport trim, which was even stiffer, though we're not sure the Beetle feels sporty. Body roll is well-contained, there's plenty of grip and though the steering is light there is plenty of feel.

To sum up, the latest Beetle is a massive improvement over the outgoing car. It is a shame then, that with just one model and engine available there's not much choice for buyers. Not a cheap buy, however the Beetle can now at least keep in touch with the BMW MINI and could even be seen as an off-beat alternative to the Scirocco.

Volkswagen Beetle 2012
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Volkswagen Beetle: First drive review
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