Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Classic

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Confession: I was a New Beetle hater.

But hey, it has a flower vase in the dash. Flower power, yay….

Which is weird, because it is not like I am a Beetle purist or an anything purist. I like my cars the way I like ‘em, and begrudge no one their tastes or priorities. Except this guy. That is awful.

While incredibly influential in the retro revival in modern car design, I could gladly stomach the Minis, Mustangs, PT Cruisers and Prowlers, but there was just something about the New Beetle that rang hollow.

I drove one several years ago, and it simply reinforced in me the distaste I had for it. I wouldn’t expect Volkswagen to launch a modern rear-engine, rear-drive, air-cooled car, but the notion that the Beetle was in anyway superior to the Golf on which it was based left me scratching my head, with those commercials that tried to imply the superiority of the dome shape really starting to stretch the limits of this design experiment.

It’s entire purpose was to be cute, quirky and nostalgic without having to subject new buyers to old car problems.

I just hated it. I dreaded the prospect of ever being seen behind the wheel. I avoided it like the plague.

The Ragster and E-Bugster concepts previewed a more ‘aggressive’ second generation of new Beetle, but to me it did little to improve the appeal of this front-wheel-drive image-mobile. Super Beetle and GSR editions just seemed desperate to prove the potency of this cheeky little runabout.

The original Beetle’s modification to drag racer, with its rear weight bias, seems obvious, and Dave Hord’s rally-prepped Rally Bug sounds like a fittingly weird and wonderful use of an original Beetle, and brings to mind Herbie, a character that I will always hold dear from its appearances on Saturday night’s Wonderful World of Disney.

All those things the New Beetle is not. But hey, it has a flower vase in the dash. Flower power, yay….

But this latest generation seems to keep earning fans whose opinions I respect. And Jacob’s Super Beetle Song is still stuck in my head. It goes to the tune of the Super Why children’s show theme song, and despite Jacob denying that he came up with it, I blame him for the idea of singing car’s names to theme songs.

Okay, we’re this deep into the review, and still have barely mentioned the car, and the reason I decided to take the plunge. The 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Classic is a simple affair, and chooses a dash of style over performance or power upgrades. And basically, I saw those wheels, and was intrigued. The subtle change in roofline, a very throwback champagne colour and wheels that pay homage to the classic beetle chrome hubcaps just seem so right. Suddenly it seemed honest to its nostalgia, without the pretense of capturing a more masculine audience or performance enthusiast.

And then I opened the door and those seats just sealed the deal. Covered in a light grey checkered pattern, it reminded me of the Ikea chair I’ve always wanted to buy, and the sides were trimmed in tan leatherette with white piping. I found it both retro and modern, and the seats were comfortable, too, which goes a long way to making a car easy to enjoy. Other features included in the Beetle Classic are a rear spoiler, leather-wrapped shifter knob and handbrake lever, satellite radio, navigation, multifunction steering wheel, and those gorgeous front seats come with driver’s side lumbar support.

Mechanically, the Beetle isn’t far off the previous generation Golf, but powered by the new 1.8L turbo that is listed at 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, though it likely makes a fair bit more torque than that. It weighs 1,366 kg, so it’s a bit of a porker compared to compact cars like the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, but with a surplus of torque available from as low as 1,500 rpm, it isn’t felt much getting up to speed.

In the corners the weight and tall shape are felt a bit more keenly, as are the 215/55R17 tires on those 17-inch ‘Heritage’ wheels. While the performance isn’t sporty, it is perfectly competent, and the ride is a comfort-first affair that is well-judged for this trim and vehicle. Vehicle operation is intuitive and undemanding, with light, easy steering, good basic handling, pedal feel and response and a solid, composed feel during typical driving, though I found it a bit loud cruising down the highway. The Classic does not have VW’s Fender audio upgrade, which has never impressed me much anyway, but the rings around the door speakers can be tuned to a handful of different colours. I guess mood lighting will have to appease those that miss the built-in flower vase.

The Beetle Classic lists at $21,990 here in Canada, with $1,605 in Freight & PDI and $100 A/C Tax, but that is with the base manual transmission that we may love, but that few will likely select. The six-speed conventional automatic, which does an admirable job of swapping cogs unobtrusively and quickly, is a $1,400 option. I imagine most Beetle shoppers would want the sunroof and the added sunshine in their lives, and that is another $1,400.

Do the math, and you see a final bill of sale for $26,495 as equipped. Yikes. That’s a lot of money for a cutesy two-door with limited practicality and a fairly ordinary basic transportation mission. At that price, there are all sorts of more logical choices, so this is a car that must rely on a handful of people falling in love with it at the sight of those seats and signing for it with the barest hint of due diligence. Luckily it has those seats. And navigation ain’t a bad perk, though the system is VW’s basic and functional infotainment setup but out of date with its small screen and clunky graphics. However, it’s got knobs and buttons where they should be and makes for easy living on the go.

Also making life easy, the bubbly design has yielded trunk space that is greater than I expected to find, listed at 436 L in the trunk, and expandable to 850 with the rear seats folded (50:50 split). There are only two rear seats, but each is treated to the same fabric, with comfortable buckets and decent headroom thanks to the extended roofline. The windows back there, however, are smallish triangles hemmed in by the thick roof pillar. So while there is a trunk and back seats, it is practical in only the most rudimentary way, with back seats that are difficult to access and a trunk that is on the narrow side. Definitely more of a two-person affair, if the obvious needs stating.

So did the Classic win over this hater? Yes and no. I still cringe at the cost and engineering complexity that is borrowing on the legacy of a car famed for its simplicity, durability and affordability, but it was at least reasonably efficient for a compact car with as much power as it offers, and definitely cruises the highway with confidence. The stretched wheelbase of this generation is not nearly as irritating the New Beetle’s too bubbly and less practical shape, and the throwback wheels and modern yet traditional fabric seats exactly capture what a retro style machine should be, and I think it was a baby blue pastel paint job (a shade unfortunately unavailable on the Classic – only white, sliver, black and this champagne gold “Moonrock Silver”) away from nailing it.

While it still doesn’t match my personality and tastes, a week in the Classic revealed that it is a surprisingly easy car to live with and has just the right charm and panache for someone that wants something less conventional and more playful than the Golf, and is willing to pay a premium for its style over substance.

4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Classic
Base Price $21,990
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,605
Price as Tested $26,495
Optional Equipment
$2,800 (6-speed automatic – $1,400; Panoramic Sunroof – $1,400)