New VW Beetle Driven

We drive the all-new sportier Bug, but can it do justice to its illustrious heritage?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The latest Beetle is a clear statement of intent from VW - particularly in this flagship turbo guise. The gutsy engine and decent handling mark it out as a real contender for the MINI's crown, and the retro styling now has a much broader appeal. Interior space and quality has also been greatly enhanced, but we'll have to wait to drive lesser versions before passing final judgement.

We’ve been eagerly anticipating our drive in the revitalised Beetle since its debut at the Shanghai show, and now Auto Express is among the first behind the wheel of this new take on VW’s most iconic model.

It’s an impressive sight in the metal, a thoroughly modern reworking that’s been designed as much to help us forget the second-generation as to remind us of the all-conquering original.

Video: watch our video review of the new Volkswagen Beetle

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The retro styling cues still takes pride of place, from the round headlights to the flared arches and instantly recognisable profile - but this time around there’s a harder, more modern edge to the looks, which should finally make this third-generation Beetle a credible rival, in terms of style, to the MINI and Fiat 500.

VW has made no secret of the fact that it’s aiming to attract a new crop of younger male buyers to this model, and this Sport version pushes the right visual buttons, with a neat roof spoiler, 17-inch alloys, and a set of bright red brake callipers.

Step inside and the sporty theme continues, with lovely touches like the optional auxiliary gauges that sits above the carbon-effect dashboard, figure hugging seats and a unique deep dish steering wheel all helping make it feel like a special place to sit.

We’ve driven the petrol flagship, which won't be released until summer next year, and comes equipped with the same turbocharged, 2.0-litre powerplant from the Golf GTI.  Sending 197bhp to the front wheels through VW’s six-speed DSG gearbox, it’s surprisingly quick off the line, with 0-62mph dispatched in just 7.5 seconds, and a top speed of 139mph - figures that should silence critics of previous car’s performance.

The handling is much improved too, with a multi-link suspension set-up at the back for the first time, stickier tyres and – on the most powerful versions at least –  an XDS differential at the front to help quell understeer by braking the inside wheel.

The Beetle turns in sharply, and grips well mid-corner, but the steering wheel doesn’t quite offer the kind of feedback we’d expect from what is essentially a hot-hatch. The ride also felt unusually stiff, although in lesser versions on smaller wheels, this will be less of a problem.

Apart from these slight niggles though, the new Beetle marks a great step forward because it’s much more practical, with a far bigger boot than before, and there's enough room for four adults to sit comfortably.

Whether VW has done enough to draw buyers away from the MINI remains to be seen. It's clear though this is by far the best-handling and best-looking Beetle yet, but with prices from around £15,000 to £23,000 it's got a premium price-tag to match.

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