Second time lucky hopes
The 21st Century Beetle is a major improvement over the last, writes Mark Smyth
THE story of the Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most famous in automotive history. It also represents a triumph over adversity as the car was born out of the ruins of ing to Mike Petrie, VWSA’s product planning manager, the new model is a “reinterpretation of the world’s most famous automobile design”. Clearly the success of the Mini and the Beetle’s failure has executives in Wolfsburg determined to take back some Mini market share, and even that of the Fiat 500 and Alfa Romeo Mito. Strangely, Petrie says that these are only “indirect competitors,” with no direct competition, but that just sounds like propaganda for the dealerships to me.
The new rendition is very different to the last. Based on the Golf VI platform, it is bigger and more masculine. The cutesy looks have gone and so has the kitsch, retro vase on the dashboard, to be replaced by a lower roofline and something that even looks sporty. The design team have still tried to remain true to the original in many respects though, from the bonnet and boot lines to the chrome strips along the sides that are designed to emulate the running boards of the classic.
Then there is the interior which, like the Golf, has been designed by South African-born Oona Scheepers. It features a dashboard panel that remains true to the original in its lines, even sporting a painted upper glove box cover and similar centre console area. The company has not taken the retro theme as far as Mini, instead choosing to use regular VW components so it all feels familiar. An interesting option is the availability of a Fender sound system, unique to the Beetle.
As I headed out of Stellenbosch I was actually expecting the car to be an alsoran, just like the last attempt, but I was in for a very pleasant surprise. The new generation is much larger, being 152mm longer, 84mm wider and boasting 60mm more headroom for those in the back. It is also 12mm lower. There are two engine options at the moment, a turbocharged 1.2 and a 1.4 which features a supercharger and a turbocharger. The 1.2 pulled well at the coast and given that this is an urban trendsetter’s car, it should be adequate at altitude, though we shall see.
The 1.4 with 118kW was a different matter altogether. Returning from Hermanus along the superb coastal road through Rooi Els to Gordon’s Bay, it not only provided spirited performance but the handling was superb. It features an XDS electronic differential lock and it handled like a Polo GTi, proving to be nimble and sure footed as I quickly found myself able to hurl it into corners in a way that would have had the last model finding itself on its roof.
The 21st Century Beetle certainly managed to provide that grin factor that is so important in a retromobile. Its new looks and more dynamic personality make it far more endearing than the last but Mini has a massive head start and while I can see the latest Beetle being more popular than the previous generation, I think it is going to have a hard time avoiding being squished once again by its main rival.
1.2TSI R235,400 1.4TSI R296,600
The latest Beetle has a more masculine and sporty look than before. The interior, below left, has a few original cues such as the painted upper glove box.
The styling tries to echo the original although the spoiler is less like the 911 Turbo one that people used to add. Journalists could drive a number of original models, below.