21st century Beetle arrives

Bobby Cheetham

THE Beetle is back! Forget about the “New Beetle” launched in South Africa in 2000, that one was an “imposter” which did not have the DNA of the Beetle which first rolled off the production line in Uitenhage in 1951.

The “imposter” was a sales disaster for VW and apart from the original euphoria of the Beetle being back, Joe and Jane Public were not impressed with it. After all, who wanted to buy the “New Beetle” when its target market excluded 50% of the buyers?

What red-blooded male South African wanted to buy a car with a flower vase on the dash and perfumed scents to keep it smelling like a hooker’s den of iniquity?

And few women also fell for VW’s marketing ploy.

In fact, some months one had more fingers on one hand than the number of Beetles actually sold!

Well forget all that, Volkswagen has seen the error of its ways and launched a car, in Design and Sport variants, that follows the original Beetle’s appeal and DNA.

The new one (powered by either a 1.2 or 1.4 litre twin scroll petrol engine linked to a 6-speed manual gearbox) is more masculine and looks a lot more like the original Beetle which became the true people’s car.

And in spite of its masculine look, most of the women we asked at the launch in the Western Cape last week raved about its new look and appeal.

What is it?

The 21st century Beetle aims to re-ignite the passion of the original Beetle, says VW. The first generation was one of the most successful cars ever with over 21.5 million units sold since it was first introduced in 1938.

Now VW hope to regain some of that appeal with the new model.

How does it look?

A lot like the original Beetle.

The lines of the rear sections are nearly identical. A comparison to the second generation Beetle shows nothing remained as it was on the previous model.

The car not only has a lower profile than the 2000 model; it is also substantially wider, the front bonnet is longer, the front windscreen is shifted further back and has a much steeper incline.

The front fascia panel harks back to the design of the first Beetle, yet the new car does not have a retro look.

We particularly like our test car which had a metal dash which was painted yellow to match the exterior colour and reminded us a lot of the original car. The black interior trim added to the appeal.

And it was a local boeremeisie, Oona Scheepers who was born in Prieska, South Africa, who had a lot to do with the interior design of the Beetle and other VW products.

Scheepers design expertise is reflected in the VW Polo, Porsche Carrera GT, Cayenne and Cayman, as well as the Audi R8, A5 and A4 and recent Audi show cars. She is currently with Volkswagen Design in Germany.

What’s it like to drive?

Brilliant! In fact we had the opportunity of driving a 1958 Beetle before getting behind the wheel of the new model and can only say it was like being in the Wright brothers’ plane compared to an Airbus. Road holding, braking and general driving dynamics are top drawer stuff!

Our favourite was the 1.4 TSI which has 118kW on tap 240Nm of torque between 1500 and 4500rpm, which made overtaking and cruising very pleasurable.

That’s not to say we didn’t like the 1.2 model.

In fact, we think the smaller engined model is more like the original Beetle!

SPECS

Volkswagen Beetle TSI 6-speed Sport manual

Engine: 1390cc

Power: 118kW at 5800rpm

Torque: 240Nm between 1500 and 4500rpm

0-100km/h: 8.3 seconds

Top speed: 208km/h

Fuel consumption: 6.6/100km (claimed combined)

CO2: 153g/km

Price: R296 600

Volkswagen Beetle TSI Design 6 speed manual

Engine: 1 197cc

Power: 77kW at 5 000rpm

Torque: 175Nm between 1550 and 4100rpm

0-100km/h: 10.9seconds

Top speed: 180km/h

Fuel consumption: 5.9/100km (claimed combined)

CO2: 137g/km

Price: R235400

We like: It’s once again a real Beetle!

We do not like: The previous model, which was an imposter!

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