Floral no more, the new Beetle adds the Cabriolet to its lifestyle credentials
As an icon of 1960’s grooviness, it’s only appropriate that the VW Beetle have the option of taking its top off from time to time, if only for nostalgia’s sake. So it’s with that in mind that we journeyed to New York with express intent of driving the new Cab up to Boston— a beacon of American freedom itself, if you’re a fan of dressing up like indigenous peoples and dumping perfectly good tea into the bay.
Beantown, as Boston wears a crooked grin on its leathery mug— it’s a place where you’re equally likely to be asked for your opinion on American presidential candidates and whether or not you happen to be “re-todded.” I don’t know who Todd is, but New Englanders really don’t want you to turn into him… for a second time.
The plan, as per Vee Dub, was to wind our way out of Manhattan, cruising (traffic permitting) up the Easter Seaboard through Connecticut (where Dave Letterman does much of his brooding) through to Provincetown, Massachusetts— a bedroom and breakfast community that preys on the average tourists predilection for crumbly scones, rocking chairs, and lace doilies. From their, we’d descend on Boston like a herd of, er, dung Beetles. OK, maybe not those ones, but some kind of Beetle that travels in a herd. The trip was not without excitement— one wrong turn on the Bronx saw me purchasing a luxury watch at a steep discount from a very nice gentleman who gave us directions outside the entrance to the 103rd Street subway station. It wasn’t until we were more than 100km outside NYC that I noticed it actually said “Rolux” in tiny script.
Anyway— remember when the “new” Beetle was big news? Rebooting an icon is tricky work, and VW deserves praise for the job it’s done. This latest version departs form the cartoonish quality of the comeback bug, erring on the side of control, where the previous car preferred pizzazz. Based on the Golf platform, this un-Golf has the makings of a direct competitor in the small, premium lifestyle car segment, a place where Mini thrives. VW has taken measures to do so, in no small part by redesigning the car to appeal to a broader segment of the population. As such the car drops the extra-curvy flower power vibe, rendering the car lower and wider. The roofline is longer, and lower as well, much more like the 1949 car from which it takes its name. Oh, and in this new model, the roofline can pull a pleasing disappearing act.
Global warming was on our side in America, and we took great advantage of the one-touch soft top operation— at speeds as high as 50kph, the Cab can be rendered open air. Better yet, it only takes 9.5 seconds from start to finish— the car is basically a Transformer.
Clamber into the cockpit (top up or down) and you’ll see that the Beetle evinces a no-nonsense aesthetic that will appeal to drivers who, er, don’t find the Mini’s particular brand of cute very appealing. Where the old new Beetle was all whimsy and camp, the new new Beetle is more George than Ringo— a bit serious, with less decoration. Here VW’s line of Fender branded stereo systems comes in glorious woodgrain that, while it might have easily slipped into the goofy retro territory occupied by the outgoing model, is actually pretty cool.
The front seats are good, and will do fine on a long drive, while the back is pretty tight, although certainly fine for young and/or short people. Still, it’s not one of those VW’s where you wonder how much market head-room they’ve left for Audi, as the plastics could be nicer and the fabric storage pouch in the doors is a bit sad. But then, something like a top trim CC or Touareg is quite a different proposition compared to the egalitarian Beetle.
If anything, the current model Beetle (differentiated by the appellation A5) seems to marry the mass appeal of the once ubiquitous “Herbie” with a surprising bit of toughening up. Still, you have the iconic round headlights, flared wings, curving bonnet shape, sides, doorsills and large wheels, but the new new Beetle adds width, height and length to stake its claim in the ‘teens’ (this part of the decade, not actual teenagers, who should be made to take the bus). The new car more closely resembles the original than it’s predecessor and, along with the addition of a spoiler to every iteration, culminates in a vehicle that is much more of a people pleaser than a fashion statement for gals on the go— in other words this “folks wagon” is more obviously positioned to appeal to both genders.
This iconic ride that alternately symbolized, er, a not-so-nice German Chancellor and, subsequently, a lot of free lovin’ hippies, seems to court all comers with more staid solid, metallic, and pearl shades. Alternately, you can fly your freak flag that much higher in Denim Blue, Saturn Yellow or Tornado Red.
But VW isn’t just resting on flower power laurels, they expect this Beetle to make a statement about performance as well: “Since its world debut, the third generation Beetle has been eagerly anticipated in the Middle East...” said Thomas Milz, Managing Director, Volkswagen Middle East. “The new model is a step-change from its predecessor with a powerful new engine; the Beetle enjoys 210HP from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox (DSG) and a top speed of 227 kph. Its arrival in the region heralds a new era in the future of one the world’s most iconic cars,” concluded Milz.
The car is available in three trim levels, and seems to represent VW’s “something for everyone” approach to car manufacturing. The base S model is no slouch, with touches like a multi-function leather wrapped steering wheel; eight speaker Fender sounds system, dual zone climate control, and parking distance control that provides acoustic warning signals at the front and rear of the vehicle.
The mid level SE differentiates itself with 18-inch alloy "Twister" wheels; a transparent tilt/slide sunroof, which is 80 per cent larger (glass surface area) than its predecessor and insulates 99 per cent of UV radiation and 92 per cent of heat energy; as well as bi-xenon headlights with 15 LEDs for your modern motoring pleasure.
Toping the range, the Beetle SEL, builds upon an already attractive package with 19-inch alloy “Tornado” wheels; keyless locking and starting system, an improved infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, DVD player, voice control, SD card slot, 30 Gigabyte hard drive and a mobile device interface. There’s also a smattering of "Vienna" leather added to the seat centres and inner sides of the bolsters to class the joint up.
The way this Beetle handles also adds a touch of class, which is superior in every way over the outgoing car. The Beetle boasts a multilink rear suspension with improved balance that particularly shines on twisting roads. The outgoing torision beam setup was fine, to be sure, but this is better. The suspension is tuned a hair softer than what you’d find in, for instance, the GTI or Golf R, but that simply reflects a better understanding of this car’s place in the VW line up. In any event, you can get going fast through the curves in this ride, and rest assured that the 12.3-inch front discs have plenty of grab when you need it.
For our market, VW is cutting straight to the chase, eliminating options like the 1.2-litre TSI and the 2.0-litre TDI diesel that wouldn’t be likely to sell that well here. Which is nice, because the 2.0-litre unit borrowed from the GTI makes for the most entertaining iteration of this Beetle.
Paired to VW’s DSG gearbox, the car feels appropriately powerful and ready for whatever your local roads can dish out. It corners well, and absorbs even the most severely beaten tarmac with very little complaint.
Whether you’re in Boston, New York, or Abu Dhabi— the world loves a Beetle to be sure, but the new model has already been on the international market for some time, so it does feel like people have seen it on TV and online a lot already. Oh well, regardless of whether you’ll turn heads or not, some classic car models, like the VW Beetle, are too good to let go of, kudos to VW for re-stoking the fires.