What is it?
More masculine. That's the message Volkswagen is pushing with its new Beetle. Gone is the rather over cutesy old model - and it was old - and in comes a more serious, less cartoonish Beetle with a wider stance, a lower, less curvaceous roofline and a bit more practicality to boot. It's a nicely judged re-interpretation of the original, which retains its charm without being too retro.
Is it any good?
Like its predecessor the Beetle shares much with the Golf so it's certain to be good. First impressions are exactly that, with the lower, wider stance working particularly well. Retaining obvious links with the iconic original VW has done much as MINI did when it re-interpreted its diminutive big seller. So it's fatter and flatter, while the interior benefits from some neat retro touches like body-coloured dash inserts and an old-style glove box. The vase for flowers has gone in its masculine transformation too.
Power will come from a range of three petrol and a single diesel engine in the UK. The petrol line-up is made of 1.2-, 1.4- and 2.0-litre TSI units, while that lone diesel choice is a 1.6-litre TDI with 103bhp and a combined economy figure of 65.7mpg. Only the 2.0-litre TSI engine with 197bhp was available to drive at launch, the four-cylinder petrol unit a slightly de-tuned version of that which powers the Golf GTI. Mated here to a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox it'll reach 62mph in 7.5 seconds and onto a top speed of 139mph.
It feels brisk rather than fast, the powertrain smooth and easy to use. High revs are rewarded with a sound not dissimilar to an Audi five-cylinder unit's. The wider track benefits the Beetle's handling, with grip high, though the suspension's firmness - without the tauter Sport option box ticked - does unsettle the car over bumps. The steering is quick and light, but there's very little feel through the electrically assisted system - leaving you with little idea of what the front wheels are doing in corners.
That's unlikely to concern the majority of customers though, who'll predominantly be attracted to the Beetle by its looks. With good reason too, it being fresh and new compared to the MINI, and having the might of the VW badge over Citroen's recently introduced DS models. Crucially, space is better over the old car - relatively speaking - as you still pay for that iconic shape with tight rear passenger space and tricky access to the back seats. The boot's grown by a useful 30% though, with 310 litres of space now available (905 litres with the seats folded); that seats-up figure is just 40 litres shy of a three-door Golf's.
Inside the retro appeal is high, with the instrumentation large and clear, the body-coloured inserts and big glovebox lid a nod to the original Beetle. It looks good, but some of the surrounding plastics lack the quality feel the rest of the interior conveys.
Should I call the bank manager?
Prices have yet to be confirmed, but VW is quoting a range price from £15,000 to £25,000. Naturally the launch model we've driven is at the upper end of that scale, but VW promises even entry-level cars will feature DAB radio and air conditioning. Three trim levels will be offered; Beetle being the base, Design the middling model and Sport the range topper.
Conventional measure isn't really valid in the class the Beetle competes in. It'll be bought simply because people like the way it looks. And its looks are much less divisive than before, though whether it'll achieve a greater percentage of male buyers remains to be seen. That it drives better, is more practical and economical add to its appeal. A Golf remains the more sensible choice - but then, that's not really the point.
Photography by United Pictures