In-depth reviews

Volkswagen Beetle (2011-2019) review

Volkswagen's iconic Beetle has traded cuteness for a sporty feel. But it can't match the MINI for driving fun

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

  • Distinctive looks
  • Upmarket interior
  • Decent handling
  • Small boot
  • Tight rear seats
  • MINI a better package

The second generation Volkswagen Beetle is greatly 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.

Its ageing platform lacks some of the latest VW Group safety and comfort 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.

There are some eight decades and roughly 22 million sales between the original ‘People’s Car’ Volkswagen Beetle and the current model. What is more significant, though, is that the Beetle of today is more of a style accessory than a vehicle designed to mobilise a nation.

When the modern Beetle was launched for the first time in 1997 it began a new era for carmakers, as it combined new running gear with a stylised exterior and retro design elements carried over from the original Beetle. The template has been copied by many rival car makers, with cars such as BMW's MINI and the Fiat 500 tasting success with the same formula.

Volkswagen Beetle Dune review

The New Beetle - as it was called - lasted until 2011 when it was replaced with the second generation version. This Mk2 dropped ‘New’ from the name, and underneath the reworked body it shared the same platform as the VW Golf Mk6 as well as that car’s range of petrol and diesel engines.

Facing competition from the MINI and the Fiat 500, the Beetle is also a rival to the DS 3 and Audi A1 in the premium supermini sector. If you’re happy to sacrifice some practicality to get your hands on a more distinctive look, then the Beetle is also an alternative to the VW Golf or other conventional hatchbacks.

The Beetle range comprises the standard car followed by Design and R-Line models, while VW has previously offered Turbo Black and Turbo Silver special editions, to name but a couple. There's also a Beetle Dune version, which adds jacked-up suspension, decals and wheels that are colour-coded to the bodywork. All models come with air conditioning, bluetooth and a DAB digital radio as standard, with keyless entry and a panoramic sunroof among the options on the higher trims.

An update to the range in 2016 reduced the number of engines available in the Beetle to three. Two of those are turbo petrols, producing 104bhp and 148bhp from 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre units respectively, and the other is a 109bhp 2.0-litre diesel. All Beetle models - with the exception of the basic-spec edition - are come with the option of a DSG twin-clutch gearbox in place of the normal six-speed transmission.

As well as a three-door hatchback, customers also have the option of the Beetle Cabriolet, which carries a premium price hike over the standard car. It's offered in the same trims as its sibling, with identical engine and gearbox options.

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