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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Beetle - 118TSI DSG

Our Opinion

We like
Punchy engine, charming interior design, decent standard equipment
Room for improvement
Interior quality concerns, expensive, skittish handling

Gallery

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Volkswagen logo23 Apr 2013

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI and MIKE COSTELLO

Price and equipment

VOLKSWAGEN pretty much started the retro car bandwagon when the New Beetle launched Down Under back in 2000.

Fast-forward to 2013 and Volkswagen has turned down the twee dial and come up with a more masculine design that is more coupe-like than before – and more spacious too.

But at $31,490 plus on-road costs for the automatic version tested here, the style obviously comes at a price, especially when a top-spec Highline version of the all-new hi-tech Golf hatch can be had for just $500 more.

Standard equipment highlights include dual-zone climate control with automatic air recirculation, front and rear parking sensors, automatic wipers and an eight-speaker audio system controlled by a 6.5-inch colour touch-screen with six-disc MP3-compatible CD changer, SD memory card slot and Bluetooth with audio streaming.

The interior mirror is self-dimming, the exterior mirrors have build-in LED indicators and are electrically adjustable and heated, the seats are upholstered in cloth and the multi-function steering wheel, handbrake and gearlever are leather-wrapped.

Exterior features include 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, daytime running lights and front fog lights with static cornering function.

Compared with retro rivals like the Fiat 500, BMW Mini and – yes we know it’s left-field – Jeep Wrangler, the Beetle is not offered with a great deal of personalisation options – apart from going for the $33,490 Fender limited edition.

Option bundles include the $2700 Tech Pack with bi-Xenon headlights with LED daylight running lights, keyless entry and start and tyre pressure monitoring, and the $1800 Sport Pack comprising 18-inch alloys, tinted windows, additional gauges and paddle-shifters for automatics.

Interior

THERE are no soft-touch dashboard or squishy door-caps to be found in this iteration of the Beetle.

This may come as a shock to VW aficionados but it simply does not matter as we prefer what has been done here.

To simulate the bare metal interior surfaces of the original rear-engined Beetle, VW has used smooth-finished plastic surfaces in the same colour as the exterior, which really worked on the off-white car we drove.

The dash panel includes a secondary glove compartment just like the good old air-cooled days – and what’s more, the action of the clasp and damped opening of this bonus storage area is beautifully weighted, like a high-quality toolbox.

But unlike the original Love Bug, there is plenty of shoulder-room in here to go with the ample head and legroom and we even managed to seat some – admittedly shorter than average – adults in the back in relative comfort.

The seats are comfortable during long journeys, all the controls fall easily to hand – as is the Volkswagen way – and there’s a decent level of technology in here to keep Gen-Y hipsters happy.

Frameless doors add a coupe-like cool factor to this Beetle iteration, too, but we were disappointed to hear some cabin rattles and creaks once on the move.

Other than that, the Beetle is as refined and quiet to drive as we’ve now come to expect from a Volkswagen, while having a dash of personality absent from the brand’s notoriously conservative cabins.

It’s a good job front and rear parking sensors are standard though, as that curvaceous shape makes judging the Beetle’s extremities difficult while parking and manoeuvring, especially over either shoulder while reversing.

Engine and transmission

VOLKSWAGEN’S turbocharged and supercharged 1.4-litre is an absolute peach and put to good use in the Beetle.

It is smooth, refined and with 118kW and 240Nm on tap, has just the right amount of punch to make the Beetle feel both muscular and nippy, thanks to its quick responses.

Sprinting from rest to 100km/h takes a sprightly 8.3 seconds and we achieved average fuel economy of around 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres – not far off the official 6.4L/100km combined-cycle figure – but remember it prefers more expensive 95 RON premium unleaded.

The $1500 optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission fitted to our test car is quick and slick, but has the usual DSG traits of indecisiveness when making quick manoeuvres around town and a Sport mode that is annoyingly revvy.

Ride and handling

THE more purposeful, coupe-like styling of the latest Beetle is matched with a firm ride that can slam over expansion joints and drain covers but generally provides smooth progress.

We think it could be a bit softer for around-town use but the payoff is a safe and secure feeling at high speeds, with a respectable amount of body control while cornering.

The steering is well weighted, direct and linear, making the cut-and-thrust of city traffic a breeze and pressing on across twisty roads enjoyable, but the overall experience is marred by the rear end’s tendency to get upset by poor surfaces while cornering.

For example, hurriedly crossing a typical Melbourne junction criss-crossed with tram tracks would cause the rear wheels to side-step and skitter about.

It is never scary or uncontrollable but when the rest of the car is so refined, it is as much of a let-down as those cabin creaks and something a Golf owner would be blissfully unaware of due to that car’s more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension.

Considering the Beetle’s premium price, we think fitting a cheaper torsion-beam rear suspension setup, when the multi-link version is readily available, is an error. Perhaps softening the suspension a tad would help, too.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP awarded the Beetle a maximum five star crash-test rating and the car comes with dual front and side airbags as standard.

Preventing accidents from happening in the first place are standard anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, electronic stability control, an electronic differential lock and hill-start assist.

A fixed-price servicing deal means scheduled maintenance totals $2623 for the first six years or 90,000km, with 15,000km intervals ranging in cost from $375 to $430 while the 60,000km/48 month service costs $638.

Verdict

THE so-called 21st Century Beetle couples a well-executed interior mixing retro cues with modern tech and exterior styling that gives it real road presence.

People who buy this car will want to be charmed by it, long after the charming salesman becomes a distant memory.

Happily, VW has succeeded as the Beetle has quirky charm by the bucketload, something lacking in many of its other excellent – but a touch clinical – products. Only its smaller Up stablemate matches it for charm.

Apart from a couple of foibles, we found the Beetle to be the least compromised of the current crop of retro-styled runabouts, such as the BMW Mini and Fiat 500, making it a considerable leap forward over its disappointing predecessor.

Compared with the less spacious, less practical Mini Cooper, the Beetle looks fairly priced, but it cannot match the Mini’s sweet driving dynamics and does not quite have the same premium edge – we can’t help but feel customers are being gouged a bit for the Beetle’s style compared with the Golf.

Anyone upgrading from the previous Beetle will find this one to be a revelation, while people moving from a more mundane car will not be disappointed by the driving experience.

Rivals

Fiat 500 (from $18,800 plus on-road costs).
, In two-cylinder TwinAir form, the Fiat 500 offers the best all-round retro experience, while the snarling Abarth Esseesse hot hatch can be had for slightly more than an automatic Beetle.

BMW Mini (from $25,600 for the Ray, $31,650 and up for the Cooper).
, Ridiculously successful retro ride is available in almost limitless permutations, with brilliant steering and handling, but the interiors are even creakier than the Beetle’s.

Jeep Wrangler (from $32,500).
, A left-field competitor but with similar retro appeal and price, the Wrangler is not much cop on bitumen but almost unstoppable in the bush.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Volkswagen Beetle
, ENGINE: 1390cc four-cylinder twin-charged petrol
, LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
, POWER: 118kW @ 5800rpm
, TORQUE: 240Nm @ 1500-4500rpm
, TRANSMISSION: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
, 0-100km: 8.3s
, FUEL: 6.4L/100km
, CO2: 148g/km
, L/W/H/W’BASE: 4278/1808/1477/2524mm
, WEIGHT: 1306kg
, SUSPENSION f/r: McPherson struts/torsion beam with trailing arms
, STEERING: Electro-mechanical rack and pinion
, BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
, PRICE: $31,490 plus on-roads

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