Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Beetle’s build quality is as enduring as its popularity

IT’S a Marmite sort of argument: some cars are well liked and some — for inexplicable

IT’S a Marmite sort of argument: some cars are well liked and some — for inexplicable reasons — people wouldn’t touch with the proverbial bargepole.

I get this a lot because I drive a lot of different cars. People say to me “What car are you driving at the moment?” — and when I tell them I can be greeted by either a grimace or a grin.

I discovered this week that the Volkswagen Beetle is the sort of car that sharply divides opinion. People seem either to love them or loathe them. I think this is all to do with the Beetle’s distinctive looks.

This has never been a problem with me. The Type 1 1949 Beetle, for example, was in my eyes a real beauty. Indeed, my second and third cars were Beetles — an early 1958 model “souped up” with a 1961 engine and then a Sixties’ red Beetle 1300. Both cars I was very fond of (and always coveted the early — 1960 — 1200 Beetle Cabriolet).

I can understand someone going off the Beetle maybe when it became a Super Beetle in the Seventies — but for me the sticking point was when Volkswagen introduced the new Beetle in 1997.

Again, it was all about those looks, but this time the bulbous front end alienated even a diehard fan such as myself.

That incarnation in terms of production lasted from 1997 to 2010 before Volkswagen again went back to the Beetle drawing board,

This time its designers did draw on Beetle antecedents to produce this week’s drive — the 2015 Beetle Sport 1.4. But they also put into the mix the lines of a more rakish motor show concept car.

In fact the 2015 design we see today moves away from that of the new Beetle of 1997/8 and takes a cue from the Beetle Ragster concept shown in Detroit in 2005. As such, the 2015 car is longer, wider and lower, and says Volkswagen gives “a more masculine and dynamic appearance”.

Now I’m not saying that this car will convince those Beetle naysayers, because we go back to those “inexplicable” prejudices that I referred to at the start. Some people you can never win over. But for me this new 2015 model Beetle brings the car back on track — and in the case of the Sport version brilliantly so. (The 2015 Beetle Sport Cabriolet is even better in my eyes.)

Volkswagen unveiled this latest generation Beetle on the eve of the Shanghai Motor Show in April 2011. Thus began this new era for the Beetle.

Whatever you think about it, the car’s global popularity is not in doubt, with 21.5 million Beetles sold over 73 years.

On driving the new car you are aware of something that runs through all the latest Volkswagen models: excellent build quality.

So I liked the interior design and comfort, the sliding sunroof (which might attract those who can’t quite commit to the cabriolet), and the capacious boot.

There is also the performance factor. I usually gravitate towards diesel-fuelled cars because of their economy (even if their green credentials are up for debate), but this 1.4 (1,390cc) turbo petrol engine certainly makes this Beetle go.

A respectable 8.6 seconds from 0-60mph is not electrifying acceleration, but the point with turbos (petrol and diesel) is that there is an undercurrent of power that really comes into its own at higher cruising speeds.

You get the impression that this Beetle Sport could cruise all day long at our motorway speed limit and beyond.

Three ‘standard’ trim levels are available — Beetle, Design and Sport — and a choice of four engines: three petrol — a 1.2-litre TSI 105 PS, a 1.4-litre TSI 160 PS and a 2.0-litre TSI 200 PS — and one 2.0-litre TDI 140 PS diesel.

There is also now a 1.6-litre TDI 105 PS with BlueMotion Technology which, thanks to the addition of Stop/Start and battery regeneration systems, returns a combined fuel consumption of 65.7 mpg and carbon dioxide emissions of 114 g/km.

This latest generation of that old warhorse the original Beetle is a worthy successor in a line that will surely endure for years to come.

By Nigel Wigmore

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