Volkswagen Beetle review
Volkswagen's iconic Beetle has evolved into a sportier car than ever before. But it can't hold a candle to the MINI
The latest Volkswagen Beetle is much improved over the car it replaced. The styling is dramatic and contemporary, there’s more of a premium feel inside and out, and it’s even more fun to drive thanks to the better dynamics of the Mk VI Golf platform on which it’s built.
With a reasonable level of practicality – as long as you don’t expect too much – and low running costs, it’s a style statement that doesn’t demand too much in the way of compromises.
It lacks some of the latest VW Group safety technology though, and by many objective standards the MINI is a better choice. But if you’ve got to have a Beetle, you shouldn’t be disappointed.
About 70 years and 22million sales separate the 'People's Car' icon and the 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.
The first New Beetle was introduced to a rapturous welcome in 1997, some three years after a concept was revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in 1994. The model didn’t last quite as long as the much-loved original which stayed in production from 1938 until 2003, but it didn’t do too badly by modern standards. Production ended in 2011, as VW re-tooled its Puebla, Mexico plant for the newcomer reviewed here. It’s no longer the ‘New Beetle’ though, as VW took the chance to revert to the original name when it launched the second-generation version.
This latest Beetle was launched into a ‘retro’ market that’s a more crowded affair than before, and 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 – so the VW is not short of rivals.
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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. There's also a jacked-up Beetle Dune model, which is available as a coupe or convertible and is priced in the middle of the range.
There's a wide choice of engines, including 1.2, 1.4 and 2.0-litre TSI petrol units, and a 2.0 TDI.
Volkswagen also offers the Beetle Cabriolet which costs from £19,230, following its launch at the 2012 LA Motor Show. Various special editions were unveiled at the 2015 Geneva show including a hot R-Line spec with sporty styling and chassis upgrades.
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. The chassis offers plenty of grip, reasonable body control and well-weighted steering, all of which help to keep the Beetle well ahead of smaller cars such as the Fiat 500. Ultimately though, the Beetle can't compete with the MINI or DS3 for agility or fun. The sporty-looking Dune and R-Line models don't have the driving sparkle to match their looks, either.
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. The DSG box changes gears smoothly, but its responses can feel a little slow at lower speeds.
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There are five engine options for the Beetle, the least exciting of which is a 1.2-litre petrol TSI unit with 104bhp and 175Nm of torque. It will top out at 112mph and does 0-62mph in 10.9 seconds though, so feels lively enough for an entry-model.
The cheapest diesel is a 109bhp version of a 2.0-litre TDI unit which does 113mph, but takes a tenth longer from 0-62mph.
Next up are petrol and diesel options both with 148bhp. The petrol engine is a 1.4-litre TSI with 185Nm that does 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds, while the diesel is a hotter version of the 2.0-litre TDI and takes 8.9 seconds on the benchmark sprint. Top speeds are 126 and 125mph respectively.
The final engine choice is the 218bhp 2.0-litre petrol with a punchier 258Nm of torque. It accelerates to 62mph in 6.7 seconds and offers a 145mph maximum speed – and as with all the other engines, acceleration times with either manual or DSG gearbox options are identical.
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 every year – the annual VED charge is just £30. It also has the cheapest Benefit-in-Kind rating for company car drivers, at just 17 per cent of the P11D price.
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, and so is likely to find favour with private owners looking for an economical option. The petrol entry model is approximately £2,000 cheaper than the diesel, so the latter’s fuel and road tax savings may not be sufficiently tempting.
The mid-range 148bhp petrol and diesel engines are pleasingly efficient too, with the 1.4 TSI petrol returning 48.7mpg and 134g/km of CO2. The 2.0 TDI can return up to 61.4mpg while emitting a relatively low 119g/km, all though the DSG gearbox option drops economy to 58.9mpg while CO2 rises to 127g/km. The price differential is smaller at this level, with the diesel costing (from) only £500 more, so it’s worth doing the sums with your estimated mileage.
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.
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The worst case scenario for VW Beetle insurance are the 218bhp Sport and Turbo models which attract and insurance group rating of 26. The 148bhp petrol and diesel models are group 18 and 17 respectively, while the entry-level cars are in groups 10 and 11.
While it didn’t launch to the fanfare of the New Beetle in 1997, there’s still strong demand for the latest car and residual values are pretty reasonable. 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. In particular it's 84mm wider, 12mm lower and 152mm longer than its immediate predecessor the New Beetle, which has helped to give the latest generation car a much more aggressive, muscular look.
The curves of the old car have also been replaced by a flatter bonnet and sharper roofline, although in spite of the changes you could never mistake the latest Beetle for anything else.
The pumped-up Beetle Dune adds 10mm to the ride height, as well as sporty-looking sills and a spoiler on the back. There's no extra off-road ability, but the styling changes will be enough for most - it looks great.
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 again – the Beetle is based on the previous generation Golf. In typical VW fashion t's not as quirky or stylish as rivals, but it gets the job done well.
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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 which add a dash of pizazz. There are numerous additional variants including Turbo Silver and Turbo Black if you want more eye-catching features such as shiny foil ‘Turbo’ lettering, chrome- or black-effect wing mirrors, tinted glass and twin exhausts.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The Beetle is available with a 5-inch touchscreen situated in the middle of the dashboard as part of a navigation/audio system that includes a CD player and an SD card slot. An optional Multi Device Interface allows you to hardwire your MP3 player, iPod or USB stick to the car, and DAB digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity for your phone are also available.
Audiophiles will enjoy the 400 Watt, eight-speaker Fender sound pack complete with sub-woofer.
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 interior boasts plenty of stowage areas, including centre console cup holders, two glove compartments and deep door bins.
It’s comfortable up front too, with supportive seats and a plenty of adjustment so all sizes should be able to find a suitable driving position. The pedals and steering wheel are all evenly weighted, and visibility is good in all directions. The controls are presented simply and the layout will be familiar to anyone used to other models in the VW range. The only real issues are a shortage of headroom due to that aggressive roofline, and body curves that mean close-quarter parking manoeuvres occasionally require an element of guesswork.
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At 4,278mm long, the Beetle is a little longer than a three-door Golf which measures up at 4,255mm. It’s also wider - 1,808mm versus 1,790mm.
The Mini three-door is quite a lot smaller at 3,822mm long and 1,727mm wide.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
If it wasn’t for the drastically sloping roofline adults might have half a chance of getting comfortable in the back of a Beetle. As it is, unless you’re ferrying kids about – Isofix child seat mounts are standard in the back and optional on the front passenger seat - the rear bench is best saved for your shopping. Access to the rear isn’t brilliant either, thanks to the three-door format – so in spite of its hatchback rear end it’s probably best to think of the Beetle as a lifestyle coupe, with occasional ‘plus-2’ seating.
Those after a Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet should bear in mind that the back-seat passengers get even less space.
The Beetle offers 310 litres of boot space, which is 50 litres more than the latest MINI. The back seats are capable of splitting 50:50, and when they're folded, boot space is extended to 905 litres. Sadly though, the seats don’t fold entirely flat which makes the space less useful than it might otherwise be. There's a space-saver spare wheel rather than just a repair kit, which is a definite bonus.
Reliability and Safety
If you know it’s built on a VW Golf platform, it will come as no surprise to learn the Volkswagen Beetle earned a five-star Euro NCAP rating – but it was tested back in 2013 when the NCAP regime was a bit less rigorous.
Still, all Beetles come with six airbags, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes fitted as standard, but you won’t find exotic extras like adaptive cruise control or city brake assist - even on the options list. Post collision braking is standard, however, along with electronic stability control.
The reliability picture is not entirely glowing, as although the Beetle didn’t feature in our 2015 Driver Power Survey, the Mk6 Golf on which it's based rated 129th out of 200 cars for Overall Satisfaction. You could just about call that a ‘middle ranking’, but the Mk6 Golf’s specific Reliability rating was a less than impressive 186th out of 200.
On Build Quality the rating was much better, with an 83rd placing. Of course you can’t extrapolate the results straight across from the Golf VI to the Beetle, but the results are worth noting. That said, the engine range and major mechanicals have all been proven widely in Volkswagen Group cars from VW, SEAT and Skoda, so we wouldn’t be overly concerned.
The Beetle comes with Volkswagen’s standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which isn’t the most generous around. The MINI also has three years, but there’s no mileage cap – although most private owners are unlikely to threaten the Beetle’s 60,000-mile limit in three years of driving.
The Beetle is offered with a great value prepaid servicing package, which takes care of all routine maintenance. Prices depend on the level of cover you require, but start from an affordable monthly rate.