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New Beetle vs MINI

The new Beetle has impressed on road, but does VW have what it takes to beat retro rival?

In terms of price and size, they might not seem obvious rivals, but these retro-styled hatches will be considered by the same fashion-conscious motorists. The MINI is fantastic to drive, distinctive to look at and has a unique interior, while the new Beetle has a sharper take on the iconic shape, even if it doesn’t stand out as much inside. The big news, though, is that the Bug is now huge fun to drive – not quite as sharp as the Golf GTI, yet still a big step forward. Superb handling was always the MINI’s trump card, but the VW has closed the gap, and offers extra practicality. 

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So the Bug is biting back. Our first drive on Page 38 revealed the new Volkswagen Beetle is a big step forward. But is it good enough to dethrone the MINI?

To see if the latest VW can tempt buyers away from the BMW-built baby, we brought a 2.0-litre Sport version together with a Cooper S.

Video: watch our video review of the new Volkswagen Beetle

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The outgoing Beetle, launched in 1998, never quite lived up to expectations. Lacklustre dynamics and limited appeal left it feeling chronically outdated when the new MINI arrived in 2001. But now, Golf MkVI underpinnings mean it can finally compete with the involving driving experience of the baby Brit.

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Ultimately, the Cooper S is more agile, thanks to its shorter wheelbase, yet the VW now feels as if it is a genuine relative of the Golf GTI. Its longer wheelbase contributes to greater refinement at high speed, too.

Inside, the Beetle is a match for its rival on design and quality. Although the MINI is quirkier, with its bulbous central speedometer and array of toggle switches, the VW aims to impress with a mature, Golf-inspired dash and shiny facia. There’s more space in the back of the Beetle, which is hardly surprising given that it’s more than a metre longer. Its 310-litre luggage compartment also dwarfs the 160-litre bay under the MINI’s bootlid.

On paper, the VW is the more powerful car, developing 197bhp – as well as 280Nm of torque – from its Golf GTI-derived 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. In contrast, the MINI’s 1.6-litre turbo produces 184bhp and 177Nm of torque.

But that’s only half the story, as the Cooper S weighs 219kg less than the VW, at 1,215kg. The result? It’s slightly quicker from 0-62mph (7.0 seconds compared to 7.5 seconds for the Beetle), and its top speed is marginally higher, too, at 142mph. The Bug’s extra weight also hits fuel economy: while the MINI claims 48.7mpg returns and emits 136g/km of CO2, the VW can muster only 36.7mpg and 179g/km.

The Beetle is expected to cost around £4,000 more than the £18,015 Cooper S, but it’s bigger and better equipped. So if you want a premium car that’s small and retro-inspired, your choice just got a lot tougher.

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