ON THE ROAD

When you take the top off a retro- re­vived car like the Bee­tle CABRI­O­LET, With all the mod­ern ameni­ties, good things are meant to hap­pen!

WKND - - Contents - By Ge­orge Ku­ruvilla • The lowdown on the hottest rides in town

Drop the top, let your hair down, and cruise around in the new Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle Cabri­o­let

The Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle, or the orig­i­nal ‘ peo­ple’s car’, was the brain­child of Adolf Hitler him­self, built with a lit­tle help from a ge­nius named Fer­di­nand Porsche. The first gen­er­a­tion Bee­tle was such a hit that in its event­ful 65- year his­tory, it had sold over 21 mil­lion units, starred in a num­ber of movies and made news in mo­tor­sports.

In 1997, Volk­swa­gen launched a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion — which we now re­fer to as the old ‘ New Bee­tle’ — and now, here to pen yet another chap­ter in the Bee­tle biog­ra­phy is the third gen­er­a­tion. This week, we look at what it’s ac­tu­ally like to spend some time with the Cabri­o­let vari­ant, both from a tan­ta­lis­ing dis­tance and be­hind the wheel.

DESIGN & AES­THET­ICS

Re­gard­less of per­spec­tives, peo­ple buy Volk­swa­gen Bee­tles for one rea­son and one rea­son alone — un­de­ni­able and in­stantly recog­nis­able ap­peal. It is a live in­sect as op­posed to the other ro­bot- cars that run on the road.

Now, ac­cord­ing to VW, 40 per cent of Bee­tle own­ers are men and the num­ber keeps grow­ing, which is why they have tried to make the car a lit­tle more gen­der neu­tral and taken off the car­toon­ish overly cir­cu­lar mo­tif its pre­de­ces­sor sported, mak­ing it the Bee­tle it is to­day.

What brings the noise to the Bee­tle party — par­tic­u­larly this third gen­er­a­tion Bee­tle — is the rounded sil­hou­ette from a com­bi­na­tion of the cir­cu­lar roofline and the bulging cir­cu­lar wheel arches, both of which are di­rect drafts from the orig­i­nal. And, of course, those en­dear­ing cir­cu­lar head­lamps — which now get cres­cents of mod­ern day dot­ted LED ar­range­ments that serve as day­time run­ning lamps — puts the eyes snugly onto the smi­ley face of the bug. There’s some­thing a bit Audi- es­que about them as well. At the rear end is the flat spoiler, which is eas­ily the best place to keep your chai or latte, while you gos­sip about One Di­rec­tion or the on­go­ing T20 world cup.

The new Bee­tle also has a flat­ter stance than any other Bee­tle be­fore it, and the dual round ex­haust flank­ing the rear bumper gives it a touch of ag­gres­sion. But the big deal is all about the pro­file, that, even with the top up, re­mains very much sim­i­lar to the hard­top ver­sion, which is quite an en­gi­neer­ing feat in the Cabri­o­let. Fer­rari did it with the ex­pen­sive 458 Spi­der and Porsche with the 911, but those are ex­pen­sive cars, and to see a man­u­fac­turer re­alise this in an af­ford­able seg­ment is com­mend­able.

The sug­gested ‘ sporty’ theme for the GCC con­tin­ues suc­cess­fully with wheel de­signs that start with 17” and go all the way to the R- spec 19” wheels. Un­doubt­edly, they are cool de­signs that I would like to have stripped off the test car and bolted to my own per­sonal ve­hi­cle but, con­sid­er­ing the Bee­tle is a throw­back ef­fort, VW should al­low the op­tion of chrome dishes and BBS wheels from the psy­che­delic 70s. Now, that would be cool!

Like the only other ‘ life­style choice’ car — the MINI — the Bee­tle, too, has in­te­rior ar­chi­tec­ture that is youth­ful, funky and ab­stract. The dash lay­out and switchgear is a bit like an early learn­ing toy with its many con­trap­tions that are ob­vi­ous and easy to op­er­ate. In­ter­est­ingly, to keep with colour scheme, what you have on the out­side, you can have on the in­side. For ex­am­ple, our bright red Bee­tle test car had lav­ish red painted in­te­rior bits on the dash and doors.

What may seem like soft- touch plas­tic is ac­tu­ally hard and light. Com­par­a­tively, the Golf’s spongy sur­faces make it seem like a ‘ lux­ury car’. Also, we did hear a few creak­ing noises oc­ca­sion­ally, which made us ques­tion the build qual­ity and struc­tural in­tegrity of the chas­sis — a com­mon prob­lem in con­vert­ibles. The three- spoke steer­ing wheel is not ex­actly the one on the GTI, but it’s hard not to love this one too. VW some­how know how to do it just right with tac­til­ity, mak­ing this Bee­tle a plea­sure to steer. The seats are large and com­fort­able and pro­vide a great amount of power ad­justa­bil­ity, help­ing both driver and front pas­sen­ger to see the road well and stay re­laxed.

The bot­tle hold­ers in the door have elas­tic fab­ric that gives it flex­i­bil­ity for size, but it’s only a place for big things; smaller ones will have to go into one of the two

glove boxes.

Ac­com­mo­da­tions in the rear can get claus­tro­pho­bic, mak­ing you feel a bit like Ja­cob Trem­blay in Room. But a quick an­ti­dote is to drop the top — which, con­ve­niently, is a quick re­tractable rag top. We pit­ted it against the Mercedes SLK, which also has a re­tractable hard top, and the bug emerged vic­to­ri­ous with its VW claimed time of 9.5 sec­onds. Best part is, you can op­er­ate it while the car is mov­ing, up to speeds of 50km/ h.

Two im­por­tant things to know: sur­pris­ingly, the Cabri­o­let looks bet­ter with the can­vas top down — a rare thing — and it does get slightly breezy when at speed, which means con­ver­sa­tions are go­ing to be loud and ex­haust­ing.

POW­ER­TRAIN & PER­FOR­MANCE

The sim­i­lar­i­ties with the pre­de­ces­sor end with aes­thet­ics. There is plenty to dis­tin­guish the old car from the new and it has mostly got to do with what is un­der the bon­net. The orig­i­nal was an air- cooled rear- mounted en­gine, which should come as no sur­prise, since Fer­di­nand Porsche built the en­gine. The new car has a front- mounted wa­ter- cooled unit.

En­er­gis­ing the per­for­mance of the Bee­tle Cabri­o­let is a tur­bocharged 2L in­line four- cylin­der, the same one VW puts in their GTIS. And we all know what that means! This four- pot is light and feisty and the fac­tory quotes 208bhp at 5,300rpm at best, and 280Nm of torque at 1,700. There is some torque steer off the line, so ev­ery time you dab the throt­tle, the front wheels want to go side­ways. But, to be hon­est, that kept the drive in­ter­est­ing.

Yes, the 7.4 sec­onds dash to 100 isn’t as flat­ter­ing as the Golf GTIS 6- point some­thing sec­onds, but it is still quite quick. We try to catch it flat footed, but the Bee­tle turbo is pre­pared, thanks to its quick revving en­gine and the 6- speed DSG gear­box that is ready to kick down for more torque at any time. Of course, the larger front sur­face area, as com­pared to the Golf and in­creased weight, means top speed drops to 225km/ h.

The lack of a proper metal roof means that the Cabri­o­let’s chas­sis isn’t as stiff as the coupe. It’s al­most as if you can feel the body flex, as you throw the car into a cor­ner. The steer­ing is light and man­age­able over­all, but can get twitchy at high speed cor­ners and the chas­sis, thanks to its struc­tural rigid­ity, fights to keep the trac­tion as you shift di­rec­tion or sweep across a wind­ing road. But, con­sid­er­ing that a lot of cars these days are so iso­lated from the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, you may re­ally en­joy driv­ing the Bee­tle, as much as we did.

The one gen­uine is­sue we ob­served was with the brakes. The steel discs have suf­fi­cient stop­ping power, but the brake pedal does not com­mu­ni­cate the brak­ing pres­sure ap­plied — mean­ing, you have to re­ally slam the pedal to the floor to get the car to stop where you want it to. The claimed 7.4L/ 100km econ­omy fig­ure is op­ti­mistic; real world fig­ures will be closer to 9L/ 100km.

FEA­TURES & FUNC­TION­AL­ITY

When Hitler launched the Bee­tle, he had prac­ti­cal­ity in mind — to mo­bilise Ger­man fam­i­lies ac­com­pa­nied by suf­fi­cient lug­gage. To­day though, it’s a dif­fer­ent scene: the Bee­tle is viewed as a life­style prod­uct, and things of van­ity are of­ten use­less.

How­ever, to help in­crease its lim­ited cargo ca­pac­ity of 225L, VW has al­lowed for 50: 50 split and fold­ing seats. Do note, though, that both the boot open­ing and the seat pass are nar­row and just enough to slide in a large suit­case and a few back­packs. Large and tall ob­jects have to be chauf­feured around in the back seats with the roof open to the sky.

Some of you may know Fender as a leader in gui­tar man­u­fac­tur­ing, but Volk­swa­gen own­ers will see it as a pre­mium sound sys­tem, with 400W of out­put, a 10- chan­nel am­pli­fier, nine speak­ers and a sub­woofer nes­tled neatly in the boot. With­out the irks of high fre­quen­cies and the pops from loud­ness, it can eas­ily be said that it’s an en­joy­able unit and much pre­ferred over what VW usu­ally equips their base cars with. Blue­tooth stream­ing and USB short­cuts for the lat­est gad­gets are also avail­able.

We love the in­fo­tain­ment screen too — it scores high on UX ( user ex­pe­ri­ence) design. Menus are log­i­cal, touch sen­si­tiv­ity is re­spon­sive and it is en­ter­tain­ing to use. We just wish VW would em­ploy this new gen­er­a­tion me­dia plat­form in all their ve­hi­cles. If you’re think­ing about the safety fea­tures in a con­vert­ible, worry not. Be­hind the back seats are two rollover bars that will pop up if the car goes wheels up. It also comes equipped with the vanilla, but es­sen­tial, bunch of safety fea­tures such as airbags, ABS and a rear cam­era. Another gen­uine con­cern is the air con­di­tion­ing. Due to the large glazed area and the lack of vents in the rear, rear pas­sen­gers will suf­fer a lit­tle. So, keep trips short.

VER­DICT

Life­style choice ve­hi­cles are of­ten seen as un­nec­es­sary, against- the- grain choices, es­pe­cially in this eco­nom­i­cally- chal­lenged decade. But the 2016 Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle Cabri­o­let with its funky retro styling, quick re­tractable soft top, perky per­for­mance and lim­ited, but value adding prac­ti­cal­ity, has enough to jus­tify the Dh128,000- plus splurge with­out hurt­ing your long- term fi­nances. One piece of ad­vice: travel light and in twos.

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