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Volkswagen Beetle

Beefier VW Beetle hits British roads. Is there any substance to the style?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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The Beetle Sport handles and rides competently, and is built superbly, with a new beefed-up look. The funky design comes at the cost of some practicality, but the verve of this car will overcome that for many. It’s efficient, fast and enjoyable to drive, but is still much more about image than all-out fun: it needs an ESP off switch before it can be considered even close to a genuine hot hatch. Yet the Beetle is still a competent, comfortable sporting hatch with design flair that’s far from ordinary.

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Volkswagen describes the new Beetle as “no flowers, more power”, promising that it’s more than a decorative tribute to the original. We hit the road to see if this beefed-up Bug can convince buyers in the UK.

The look is undoubtedly more masculine, with the cartoonish curves of the old Beetle making way for a longer, flattened bonnet and roofline. The windscreen is mounted further back, too.

The high waistline gives the car a hot rod-style ‘chopped roof’, and that means a lower, wider look overall. It’s not an illusion: the new Beetle is 84mm wider, 12mm lower and 152mm longer than its predecessor.

Inside is a bolder and classier design. It’s still typically VW, but touches like the oval dash ends and upward-opening glovebox lid pay tribute to the original Bug.

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It’s all well made with tactile surfaces and switchgear. The centre console could be better trimmed, while the central display is a bit small. But otherwise, it’s decent quality.

Our Sport test model featured heated leather sports seats with manual adjustment and lumbar support. They’re well bolstered, but the leather can be slippery when cornering. You sit higher in the Beetle than in the MkVI Golf on which it’s based, and when combined with the narrow screen, this makes the front a bit claustrophobic for six-footers. The rear is worse.

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The flat-bottomed steering wheel looks great with its gloss black trim, and the multifunction buttons will be familiar to Golf and Polo owners. But the wheel is too large – and that means a lot of arm work when you’re changing direction quickly.

Still, we have no complaints about the steering’s feel. It’s sharp, direct and well weighted, and tightens up nicely in corners. Body control is better than average, but the Beetle is tuned for a supple ride on the standard 18-inch wheels, so there’s too much dive and squat to threaten the likes of the Renaultsport Megane for agility. The positive is that the car isn’t unsettled by mid-corner bumps, and is easily placed on the road.

Straight-line performance is also strong. The 162bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine is refined when you’re on the motorway, but responds as well as any other VW engine when you want it to. It revs strong and hard and is at its best around 4,000rpm, with 240Nm on tap from 4,500rpm.

A 0-62mph sprint time of 8.3 seconds reflects the brisk but not neck-snapping acceleration, with the throttle response, clutch and six-speed manual box’s gearing well matched to the steering. The brakes are solid, too.

At £21,220, the Beetle Sport is nearly the same price as the three-door Golf GT (£21,325) with an identical drivetrain. So would you buy it over the regular hatch? That’s missing the point.

The Beetle has luxuries like dual-zone air-con, a leather steering wheel and larger alloys – all extra on the Golf. It’s also a more stylish choice than the hatch – and that makes the new Bug a serious contender.

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