I grew up reading about classic cars in international print titles. There was a lot of waiting and brown study involved in getting the ‘right’ issues as the prices of these magazines were prohibitively high back in the day. But the writing was all worth it. One of the few cars from the pages of those magazines that always stuck with me is the Volkswagen Beetle. No, it didn’t stick with me because I loved it, it was because of its weirdly simplistic ways that made it strangely appealing.
I’ve driven the last-generation Beetle and there was nothing conspicuously wrong with it; it sold well too—about a million units globally. But it wasn’t ever much loved by the connoisseurs of the Beetle nameplate. With this new Beetle—which isn’t the ‘New Beetle’ because that’s what the last generation model was called—the engineers at Volkswagen say they’ve tried to get back the personality of the original Beetle.
While it does have obligatory elements of the original design, the Beetle in its latest guise is more a mature hatchback than a characterful, sparkling and entertaining chum. I’ve always felt that Beetle, in its two generations, should have been given a dose of the original’s ‘special something’ that made it a stand-out product. The new Beetle doesn’t have the madness and cuteness—inside and out—of the old Beetle, and that’s truly disappointing. Trouble is, I’d perhaps not have made this statement, but I did get to sample the old Beetle—no less than one painted Herbie, at that.
Anyway, we must get to the attributes of the latest Beetle. It has been lowered from the last generation model and sits wider, too. The cabin is, in typical VW fashion, quite straightforward in its design, but there are some bits of plastic which feel a bit cut-price. The Beetle goes the Fiat 500 way, however, and there’s colour matching interior to drive home in.
I was left baffled by the overall thought gone in interior design. The armrest, when put down in place, makes the cupholders—especially the rear one—almost useless. Then is the way the door pockets are designed. I understand that it’s a special, cute little car, but it doesn’t need to be impractical. The narrow door pockets are somewhat saved by what is essentially an elastic band running over it to keep things from falling off.
Other than this, the cabin is quite fine and equipment levels are also on a par with the competition it’ll face in India. I particularly liked the navigation system—the touch response of the screen is great.
The car I drove had a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that made its peak power of 220bhp between 4,500-6,200rpm and churned out a turning force of 350Nm from as low as 1,500rpm till about 4,400rpm. Power is channelled through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DSG in VW speak). It’s a reasonably fast shifter which helps the Beetle go just shy of 7 seconds in sprinting to 100 kmph. The drivetrain will not make you feel like king of drag races, but it’s a fairly rapid car for its intended purpose.
The Beetle isn’t a very engaging driving experience but it gets multi-link suspension which helps in controlling load transfer to a great extent. Wider track help the matters of driving dynamics further but the electric steering which gets rack mounted motor feels a bit anaesthetised—it does the job of changing direction well, but doesn’t feel like it’s really that eager to.
All its criticism aside, the fact remains that people will not buy the Beetle for its performance credentials. It’s a fashion accessory that transports you from your lavish bungalow to the posh entrance of the multi-star hotel. At being a flaunt item, it’s got rather few rivals. But then again, a classic Beetle would do the same job—just that it’ll do it with much more style and cuteness and there will be no one who’d not ogle at it. So, perhaps it’s best to start hunting for one in good nick!
(Travel for this report was sponsored by Volkswagen India)