Volkswagen Beetle review

Our Rating: 
2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Volkswagen's iconic Beetle has evolved into a sportier car than ever before. But it can't quite hold a candle to the MINI.

Distinctive looks, upmarket interior, decent handling
Small boot, tight rear seats, MINI a better package

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70 years and nearly 22 milion sales separate the 'People's Car' icon and the New Beetle you see here today. Volkswagen's second stab at a 'modern' take on its most famous model has evolved into a clean, minimalist and yet still recognisable design.

But the retro market is now a more crowded affair than before, as the MINI and Fiat 500 both offer traditional styling with a modern twist, and plenty of desirability. The 'anti-retro' Citroen DS3 can't be overlooked either, offering similar premium feel, sportiness and distinctive looks.

The Beetle shares underpinnings with the Golf hatch, but is only available as a three-door in a number of specifications - the standard car, Design, Sport, Turbo Silver and Turbo Black. The base car costs around £16,000 while the top-of-the-range GSR moves up to around £24,000.

There's a wide choice of engines, including 1.2, 1.4 and 2.0-litre TSI petrol units, with 104bhp, 148bhp and 217bhp respectively. Meanwhile the 1.6-litre diesel engine has been ditched in favour of the 2.0 TDI with 108 or 148bhp.

The Beetle Cabriolet was launched at the 2012 LA Motor Show, while various special editions were unveiled at the 2015 Geneva show including a hot R-Line spec with sporty styling and chassis upgrades. 

Our choice: Beetle 1.4 TSI Design

Engines, performance and drive


The Volkswagen Beetle largely shares its underpinnings with the Mk6 (previous generation) Volkswagen Golf, so you can expect it to drive well. Plenty of grip, ereasonable body control and well-weighted steering all help to keep the Beetle well ahead of smaller cars such as the Fiat 500, but it can't compete with the MINI or DS3 for agility or fun.

The supercharged and turbocharged 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine is refined and responsive, while the 148bhp 2.0 TDI delivers a great mix of economy and punch. All are offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the slick six and seven-speed twin clutch DSG transmissions are available as an option.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


The most efficient version of the Volkswagen Beetle is the lower-powered 2.0 TDI.  This returns 65.7mpg and emits 112g/km of CO2, which means it'll cost very little to tax. There's also a 1.2-litre TSI petrol, which is relatively cheap to buy and can return 51.4mpg and emit 128g/km of CO2 

 At the other end of the scale, you'll find a 217bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol, available in Sport, Turbo Silver or Turbo Black spec. It's borrowed from the Golf GTi and has an impressive turn of pace. 150g/km of CO2 and 42.2mpg are decent for the performance. There's a great value prepaid servicing pack, which takes care of all routine maintenance. Residual values are strong, too, and all versions are predicted to hold onto at least 40 per cent of their value after three years. 

Interior, design and technology


It's easy to trace the Volkswagen Beetle’s looks back to the retro, rear-engined original. Despite this, it's undergone numerous styling changes to help it compete with modern, premium rivals such as the MINI. It's 84mm wider, 12mm lower and 152mm longer than its predecessor, which has given it more of an aggressive, muscular look.

The curves of the old car have also been replaced by a flatter bonnet and sharper roofline. Inside, the cabin now has more of an upmarket feel, with high-grade materials and excellent build quality, although the latest MK7 Golf has since upped the standard. It's not as quirky or stylish as rivals, but it gets the job done well.

The Beetle is available in three primary specifications - Beetle, Design and Sport. Entry-level versions do without alloy wheels, but the range-topping Sport model gets two-tone 18-inch rims, a body-coloured rear spoiler and tinted rear windows.There are also numerous additional variants including  Turbo Silver and Turbo Black.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


The Volkswagen Beetle will never be as practical as traditional family hatchbacks, but it does a good job of out-performing rivals such as the MINI in this area, which is where it matters. The Beetle offers 310 litres of boot space, which is 40 litres more than the boot in the Audi A1 and 50 litres more than the latest MINI.

The interior boasts plenty of stowage areas, including centre console cup holders, two glove compartments and deep door bins. The back seats are capable of splitting 50:50, and when they're folded, boot space is extended to 905 litres. There's also a space-saver spare wheel rather than just a repair kit. Those after a Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet should bear in mind that the back-seat passengers don't get much space.

Reliability and Safety


In the 2013 Driver Power manufacturer ratings survey, Volkswagen finished 16th, just about securing its reputation for reliability. Meanwhile, the Mk6 Volkswagen Golf - on which the Beetle is largely based - placed 16th in Auto Express' top 100 cars survey. It's no surprise to learn the Volkswagen Beetle has earned a five-star Euro NCAP rating - all Beetles come with six airbags, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes fitted as standard. You'll get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, too. The engine range should be reliable too, having been proven elsewhere in Volkswagen Group cars from VW, SEAT and Skoda. 

Last updated: 15 Apr, 2015