Sec­ond time lucky hopes

The 21st Cen­tury Bee­tle is a ma­jor im­prove­ment over the last, writes Mark Smyth

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

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.

Pric­ing:

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.

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