2016 Volkswagen Beetle review, test drive
19th Jan 2016 6:00 pm
It may be a little late to the party, but the latest version of VW’s retro hatchback has got the goods.
What is it?
One of the most recognisable shapes in the world. So deeply engrained in pop culture is the Volkswagen Beetle that anyone, young or old, could pick it out in traffic with merely a glance. And that’s despite the fact that this new version has done its bit to move away from the cutesy, rounded look of its predecessor and, of course, the original. The roof is flatter, the tailgate is more upright, the tail-lamps aren’t cute little blobs anymore, and at the front, a longer bonnet, wide, chiselled air dam and sharper bumper show its business side. Yes, the signature round headlamps remain, but even they are ringed with crescent-shaped LED running lamps for a little more menace.
You see, the last ‘New Beetle’ didn’t find a lot of takers here in India, and it turns out the looks were one of the reasons why. They erred on the side of effeminate and that limited the car’s appeal. This new look fixes that in a big way. Of course, it’s far from anything remotely macho, but at least it’s a bit more palatable, while keeping its iconic shape intact. Perhaps VW could have specced it with better looking wheels – 16-inchers were chosen in the interest of ride comfort, but their design is just too run-off-the-mill, and seem better suited to a Jetta.
And speaking of the Jetta, that’s exactly what the new Beetle is under the skin, believe it or not. This means it doesn’t use VW’s newer MQB modular platform (seen on cars like the Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia), but instead, the old PQ35 platform; this Beetle has been around since 2011, after all. That, however, should be no bad thing, as we just love the Jetta’s solid feel and robust mechanical setup, which should hopefully translate unchanged to the new Beetle.
What’s it like on the inside?
There are some very obvious retro touches, particularly the upright dashboard finished in the same colour as the exterior. It houses a tiny novelty old-fashioned glovebox, but the real one sits below it. You’ll also like the round, hooded instrument cluster and the rather unique looking door grab handles. Trouble is, that’s about where the ‘retro’ stops, and the rest of the cabin borrows quite obviously from the VW family parts bin, unlike its rival the Mini Cooper, which has a largely bespoke cabin. One borrowed part we’re not complaining about is the new touchscreen, which is VW’s latest unit. It’s crisp, smooth and uses a high-resolution screen, and though it doesn’t have its own sat-nav, it does come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which should let you mirror your phone’s maps app.
The new shape has allowed this Beetle to be quite practical. Apart from a very large boot, you get loads of room in the front and a sufficient amount in the two rear bucket seats as well; only headroom is a bit tight. Visibility all round is very good too, and it needs to be, because the Beetle is deceptively wide. The car comes with a healthy amount of equipment. Missing in action are electric seats and a rear-view camera, but you do get front and rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, push-button start and engine stop-start, among other things, on this sole variant.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s powered by a 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol motor, but it’s not the 121bhp version used in the Jetta; it’s the far more potent 148bhp one we’ve seen in the Skoda Octavia. But unlike the Octavia, which gets only a six-speed manual with this engine, the Beetle uses a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters. It’s a superb powertrain, and thanks in part to the clever gearbox, it can be either smooth and relaxed or highly strung, depending on your mood. Out on the highway, it will sit in seventh at less than 2,000rpm, hopping down to sixth only for overtaking. At lower speeds, the gearbox shuffles through its ratios imperceptibly. Flat out, on paper, it’s not that quick, taking 9.2 seconds to get from 0-100kph, but it certainly feels quick enough for most intents and purposes. Just prepare yourself for a somewhat ugly-sounding grumble from the motor when it’s near the redline.
What casual and enthusiast owners alike will certainly appreciate are the dynamics. There’s a solid, unflappable sensation at any speed, and the Beetle remains planted to the road out on the highway. And apart from a slight clunkiness through sharp-edged bumps, much like the Jetta, the ride quality is just superb over just about any kind of road. The handling is pretty good too. No, it’s nowhere near as sharp and entertaining as a Mini Cooper’s, and you’ll feel a fair bit of roll through corners, but both the steering and suspension are very competent at their job. In fact, it’s rather playful, even capable of a little lift-off oversteer if you’ve got the road for it. All things considered, the driving experience is a vast improvement on the dull and uninvolving previous-generation Beetle, and suits the car’s character well.
Should I buy one?
At Rs 29.4 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the new Volkswagen Beetle is priced on the higher side of the luxury hatchback segment that includes not just the Mini Cooper, but also the Mercedes-Benz A-class and B-class, BMW 1-series and Volvo V40. On one hand, you might feel the VW badge isn’t strong enough to cut it in this company, but on the other, the Beetle is a style icon like few others. Whether or not it’s shaken off its girly image is entirely up to your tastes, but what’s clear is that it’s grown up as a car in the process. Whatever you think of the looks, it’s clear the latest Beetle is more spacious, practical and comfortable, better equipped and nicer to drive than its predecessor. Beetlemania is back and better than ever before.