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!
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
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.
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.