It's sheer luck, you know, that the original Volkswagen factory wasn't bombed into oblivion by the allies. It nearly happened, too – at the end of the war, one of the first tasks required to get the place up and running again was the removal of an unexploded bomb lying between two vital pieces of manufacturing equipment. The VW Beetle was very nearly squished right in its cradle.
If you show up in this car to a VW Beetle fan club meeting, you may be bitten by one of the more rabid members.
Since then, the Beetle has died several times, depending on whom you speak to. Perhaps it spluttered its air-cooled last the day production ended in Wolfsburg in 1974. Perhaps the bookend was the last Mexican-built Beetle to jitterbug out of VW's Puebla factory in 2003. Perhaps this Bug will finally get that last spray of Raid thanks to Volkswagen's rumoured reorganization of their two-door models.
Whatever the case, who would have thought that such an ungainly little thriftmobile would found a global powerhouse that now encompasses Bugatti, Lamborghini, Audi, Ducati, and has a boot pressed firmly on the neck of Porsche? Engine in the wrong place, noisy as hell, heater doesn't work worth a damn – and yet the Beetle was an invasive species, spawning enough of a following to found a series of Disney movies, and justify the existence of this modern version.
This, my friends, is a Golf. It is a Golf that someone has attacked with a belt-sander. Underneath its glistening white carapace, the Beetle is very closely related to the sixth-generation Golf, though this particular one comes with the new 1.8L turbocharged four-cylinder as the basic engine offering.
If you show up in this car to a VW Beetle fan club meeting, you may be bitten by one of the more rabid members. The engine is now water-cooled and tucked in front, there's satellite navigation and leather on offer, it's front-wheel drive, it's complicated, modern and heavy – these are not the qualities that make a “real” Beetle. This is just another modern car that happens to look a bit like the old version.
Here's the thing though – the Golf is actually a pretty nice car. And this new 1.8L turbo-four is quite lovely. So what if the Beetle pretends to be something it's not? Think of it as a cover band: yes, it's not the original lineup, but John and George are dead, Paul looks like somebody's granny, and Ringo – well, let's not even go there.
VW made much ado about the masculinization of this latest generation of Beetle versus the old New Beetle (yes, yes, the nomenclature's a bit confusing. Try to ignore it). To be honest:
(a) It's still pretty girly
(b) but so what?
Given that every other car out there looks like a cross between a snarling hyena and a Marshall amp, why not have a little softness and cutesy whimsy in a car? It's not the one I would choose, but the original Beetle ended up being all about freedom and customization and what-have-you, so why not more choice? Plus the R-Design versions are a little more aggressive, so if you'd like something that's like Herbie's Wu-Tang Clan mixtape, there you go.
On the inside, this Comfortline Beetle is filled with the sorts of things that owners of the original Beetle could only dream about. The seats are very comfortable, though perhaps the bottom cushion's a little short for the very tall. There's climate control and satellite navigation, well thought-out ergonomics, and the back seat is big enough to be comfortable (again: as long as you're not too tall).
By 1970s standards – wow! By 2015 standards – who built this Satellite Navigation? Blackberry? While functional and relatively easy to use, the Beetle's nav screen and infotainment are small and a bit out of fashion. Also, there's no back-up camera, and as this car didn't have one of VW's proprietary iPod/iPhone connectors installed, I couldn't connect and listen to The White Album. Or any album.
Other than that, the Beetle's cabin is spacious and airy, and a nice place to be while on the move. The steering wheel rim is a bit thinner than in the Golf, but other than that the driving experience is pretty familiar. It's also a bit softer in every dimension, from body roll to brake-feel. This is a very undemanding car to drive, nothing like the lift-off oversteer of the rear-engined original in slippery conditions.
VW's 1.8L turbocharged engine is found throughout their range, and here makes 170 hp at 6,200 rpm and 184 lb-ft from 1,500–4,750 rpm. It's mated to a six-speed automatic (conventional, not a dual-clutch gearbox), and is a little peach of a thing. Low-end torque comes on quickly, and the little Beetle scoots along the road with aplomb.
It's not as good as the seventh-gen Golf is, though. Like the navigation, the chassis of that car is a generation advanced, both sharper and a little smoother. I also feel like the brakes here could be a little more effective, but all inputs in the Beetle feel just a little bit worse than the Golf. The engine's an update, but the rest of the car is more or less just as it was in previous years.
However, fuel economy and low-end power has significantly improved over the old five-cylinder 2.5L engine. Official figures sit at 9.9 L/100 km in the city and 7.2 on the highway. A quick up and down the Sea-to-Sky highway combined with mostly city driving netted high 8s. Also, that's regular fuel required. There's a TDI engine on offer here, too, but if you're mostly using the Bug as an urban runabout, the 1.8 gas motor is an economical bet.
So it's pleasant, and even the wind noise at speed isn't an issue. If you like the image that the Beetle presents, why not?
The only real issue I have here is that there are other, superior offerings without even leaving the dealership. The Golf Wagon is more practical. The regular Golf is better executed. The GTI is sportier.
While Beetle sales are down by a third year-on-year, the car is still selling in about the same quantities as the GTI. Clearly, the Beetle still has its fans.
However, there is no real reason for this car to exist, save a fond memory for a car that came at the right time, did well, and then left. The old Beetle brought something fresh to the table. This new one is nice enough, but it's still just a cover band.
4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance
|Model Tested||2015 Volkswagen Beetle Comfortline 1.8T|
|Price as Tested||$30,840|
$4,395 [6-speed automatic – $1,400; Pearl White Paint - $300; Technology package (satellite navigation, Fender premium audio, blind spot detection) - $1,570; Appearance package (BiXenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, leather seating) - $1,990]