Isaac Bober reviews the Volkswagen Beetle with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

IN A NUTSHELL: Volkswagen toughens up the Beetle with masculine styling and an interior that’s literally swimming in retro appeal.

PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS: Despite being based on the previous generation Golf (Golf VI), the new Volkswagen Beetle has shaken off its ‘girly’ image. The vase is gone from the dashboard and, dynamically it’s a big step ahead of its predecessor. That said, most will buy it on its retro looks alone.

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE, BUT this is only the third all-new Volkswagen Beetle since it rolled onto German roads back in 1938 (although, back then it was simply known as ‘the Volkswagen’). Since then, more than 22.5 million Beetles have found driveways to call home.

The New Beetle was launched in 1998 and relied on nostalgia to thrill, rather than any real dynamic ability. The vehicle you’re looking out now is the all-new, new Beetle, or just plain old Beetle, according to Volkswagen.

The new Beetle looks much better than its predecessor

Taking styling cues from the iconic original Beetle, the New Beetle and the Beetle Ragster concept that appeared at the Detroit Motor Show in 2005, the Beetle is longer, wider, sits lower and is much more aggressive looking than its predecessor. The interior too has been heavily revised – a plan to make the car less female-centric and woo more blokes.

And, to my eyes, if you squint, and the light is beginning to fade, well, you can just ever so slightly make out a hint of Porsche 911. Or is that just me?

There’s only one engine being offered in Australia and that’s a 1.4-litre TSI twincharged (meaning it combines a supercharger and a turbocharger) four-cylinder which produces 118kW at 5800rpm and a solid 240Nm of torque from 1500 – 4500rpm. This is mated to a six-speed manual as standard, or a cost-optional seven-speed DSG (our test car was fitted with the seven-speed DSG – from $32,490+ORC). Official combined fuel consumption is 6.4-6.8L/100km depending on the transmission.

It’s hard to knock the twincharge engine, it revs freely and cleanly all the way to the redline and offers plenty of grunt from just off idle. It’s pretty efficient too. While Volkswagen’s seven-speed DSG has been in the news lately, I didn’t have any problems with it while on test. And, in our experience the seven-speed DSG works better when mated to petrol engines. That said, I still prefer Volkswagen’s older six-speed DSG.

New Beetle is better to drive than its predecessor

Based on the previous-generation Golf (Golf VI, for those keeping score), the Beetle rides and handles with typical VW aplomb. The suspension tune is sportingly firm and while this makes for a decent ride at highway speeds, coarser surfaces and sharper-edged hits can leave it feeling a little hard and fidgety.

The electro-mechanical steering feels a little woolly and imprecise off-centre and it’s also pretty heavy compared to other cars in this class; you can’t help but think Volkswagen has tried to make it feel a little too sporty. That said, that ‘sports’ feel extends through to handling which is impressive; a wider track means more grip when the going gets twisty.

Climb inside and there’s plenty of retro appeal with the high-set dashboard similar to the original Beetle, and the plastic flashes on the dashboard that are obviously aiming to mimic painted metal. Even the glovebox mounted in the dashboard fascia, the simple switchgear and the thin steering wheel are nods to the original car.

There are only four seats in the Beetle and they’re all more than big enough for four adults to travel comfortably. Despite the squashed appearance of the roofline there’s plenty of headroom, even for taller passengers.

New Beetle offers plenty of retro appeal.

In the boot, the Beetle offers 310 litres of space which is an increase of almost 100 litres when compared with its predecessor (209 litres). The rear seats are split fold to make carrying awkward objects a little easier, but they don’t fold totally flat (fold the back seats down and storage grows to 905 litres).

Priced from $29,990 (+ORC), the Beetle isn’t exactly extensively appointed, but it gets the necessities, like Bluetooth with iPod connectivity, dual-zone climate control, multi-function steering wheel, power windows, and parking sensors. There are two cost-option packs, the Technology Package ($2700) with bi-xenons and LED driving lights, keyless entry, electronic exterior mirrors, tyre pressure indicators and LED rear number plate light; as well as the Sport Package ($1800) with 18-inch ‘Twister’ alloy wheels, dark tinted windows (side and rear), sports instruments on dashboard, and steering wheel gearshift paddles (for DSG).

Like a lot of other car makers, Volkswagen is offering capped price servicing for every 15,000km (up to six services) with the price ranging from $375 to $638 depending on the service.

In terms of safety, the Beetle receives a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating, had four airbags as well as the usual complement of traction and stability controls, and ABS brakes.

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Volkswagen Beetle

PRICE from $29,990 (+ORC) WARRANTY three years, unlimited kilometres SAFETY five-star ANCAP ENGINE 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder POWER/TORQUE 118kW/240Nm TRANSMISSION six-speed manual; seven-speed DSG BODY 4.27m (L); 1.80m (W); 1.47m (H) WEIGHT 1292-1306kg THIRST 6.4-6.8L/100km



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