Volkswagen Beetle 1.2 Design DSG review
by David Finlay (19 March 2012)
Images by Magic Car Pics
I don't think anyone would disagree that the Volkswagen Beetle is rather an eccentric car, so it seems appropriate to apply some eccentricity of our own in choosing the first one to test on UK roads (following Sue Baker's report from the international launch last August).
As the heading has already suggested, it uses the 104bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine, and the point about that is that you're not going to be able to buy one of those until 2013. Volkswagen UK managed to grab a few for its press fleet, but the Puebla factory in Mexico where all Beetles are built, along with Jettas and Golf estates, is so busy meeting demand in other areas that no more will be brought across the Atlantic this year.
Still, it's a good introduction to the third-generation Beetle range, of which it is currently second from the bottom in a short (but eventually to be expanded) list of four models. There's a mechanically identical base model - using, as this one does, the six-speed twin-clutch semi-automatic DSG transmission - but although it's a whole £2405 cheaper we picked the design because it just looks so damn cute with its retro denim blue paintwork and wheels reminiscent of Beetles from past decades.
Personal opinion alert: I quite like these features, but it may take me some time to get used to the rest of the Beetle's design. The resemblance to the original shape (conceived way back in the 1930s) seems harder to find, though in some respects such as windscreen it's actually closer than in Beetle II, and while the front end looks quite sharp I find the side view very strange. The rear puts me in mind of the Chrysler Crossfire, which is far from the kindest thing I've ever said about a car.
But I will say this - I drove quite a number of second-generation Beetles (the ones launched here in 1998) and not one of them was as good to drive as this one. They were all unsatisfactory in some way, though not often the same way, and I never warmed to any of them. The new car is more composed, more comfortable and, as far as an admittedly short test was able to reveal, more relaxing.
It's a deal more practical, too. Luggage space in the last Beetle was rubbish, at just 209 litres. In the new one, it's 310 litres, which is much more like it, and only 40 short of what you get in a Golf. Fold down the rear seat and the capacity increases to 905 - less impressive, but if load-carrying is your number one priority you're probably not giving the Beetle a second thought in any case.
The £2405 premium, mentioned previously, over the base model buys you 17" alloy wheels rather than 16" steels, along with body-coloured interior trim (maybe not so good with some other colours but fine with the test car's denim blue), some interior leather and chrome, Bluetooth phone preparation, USB and iPod connectivity, a touchscreen-operated audio with DAB digital radio and an MP3-compatible 6-disc CD player, front foglights with cornering function and an alarm with interior protection, among other things.
No "bud vase" for storing your flowers, as in Beetle II, though. Volkswagen has abandoned that little piece of frivolity for the new generation.
Despite the modest power output of the engine, straightline performance isn't too bad, but combined fuel economy of 47.9mpg means that running costs won't be particularly low in these days of having to provide one major organ per gallon of unleaded. The 137g/km of CO2 emissions means you'll have to pay £115 per year in Vehicle Excise Duty at the time of writing.
Euro NCAP crash tested the Beetle in 2011 and gave it a five-star rating, though its 53% pedestrian protection score means it would lose a star if tested this year, since the five-star threshold in that category has been raised to 60%. From Euro NCAP's description of the test the Beetle lags slightly behind the Golf in most areas (except child occupant protection, where it's marginally ahead) but a 92% mark for adult occupant protection is encouraging all the same.