Going retro all over again
ROAD TEST VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE:NOSTALGIA is mother’s milk to marketing types and they know how to push the memory buttons. We all hanker for a time when life was simpler, more innocent. It’s the basis for those TV series that push people into re-living the lives of 18th-century sharecroppers. It’s a heavily edited sepia world of friendly neighbourhoods and childish innocence. And it’s largely bunkum.The problem with tapping the zeitgeist of an earlier age is that the sepia tones and fuzzy memories of the past tend to delete the downsides.
The motoring world should be a hive of innovation, chomping at the bit for the latest whizzbang gadgets and technology. Yet throw a few grainy shots into the adverts, reheat the warm fuzzy glow of a bygone age, and you’ll have customers queuing at the door. Most of them will not have been born at the time, but that never seems to matter. In the modern world we hanker for the homely simplicity of bygone days. And we’ll pay through the nose in our attempts to revive them.
That’s perhaps why I am cynical about firms that play on the heartstrings with motoring revivals. The harsh truth is that modern motorists may harp on about the good old days but most wouldn’t for one minute put up with the harsher realities of 1960s motoring. The truth is that the original Beetle was a noisy, sluggish affair that was prone to rust. It offered simple fun and wonderful styling, but compared to modern cars it was a bit of a donkey.
I too have fond memories of the early Beetles. My mother used to have one for the school run; a car that defied mechanical laws of physics every morning. It was losing its battle with rust and among its unique features of was the facility to watch the Tarmac shooting past under your feet, courtesy of a missing chunk of the floorpan. NCT? It wouldn’t have made it up the ramp without crumbling to dust. Yet my memories of it are the usual rose-tinted variety, intrinsically intertwined with memories of youth. So when approaching this so-called new Beetle my impressions were unfairly tempered by a prejudice to view the modern Beetle as an imposter, a cuckoo in the motoring nest.
It took most of the week behind the wheel for my mood to change from disdain to delight.
The public draw of this car is simply breathtaking. It turns heads in ways that would be the envy of any Porsche owner. I can’t remember the last time so many strangers commented on a test car. I’ve had people call to the front door, tourists taking photos at traffic lights and a busker near Temple Bar sat down his guitar and walked over to give me a double thumbs up. Yet sitting inside I was in the placebo group for this Beetlemania.
Don’t get me wrong, the interior is smart. It’s got a few hints of the original, with the vertical dash and retro glovebox, mixed with some nice modern touches. It’s certainly a vast improvement on VW’s first attempt to revive the Beetle, with its vast swathe of plastic dash and silly flower holder. This doesn’t make you feel like you’re driving something from Toontown.
VW’s last attempt at reviving the Beetle was a cynical ploy at diluted nostalgia, aimed to pull at the heart strings – and purse strings – of mostly female buyers.
This new look is more hot-rod than bubble. Perhaps not an outright racer, but it’s metrosexual motoring.
Behind the wheel the car also feels much more poised and refined than the old version, more sure-footed on the road. The supercharged 1.4-litre petrol engine certainly seemed like a good fit. The biggest seller will be the 1.6-litre diesel for just under €24,000 when it arrives in late autumn. It also falls into tax band A with emissions of just 112g/km so it’s the most economical buy. The entry level 1.2-litre petrol model starts at a whisker below €20,000 so it’s decent value, but that’s a small engine for a big car.
Based on the Golf platform, the new Beetle handles well, though the ride is harsher than its hatchback sibling around town. Part of this is down to the fact the Sport version we tested comes with stiffer suspension, but the end result doesnt quite match the Golf in terms of ride quality.
The back seats are still a little tight, but you can fit children back there and there’s ample headroom front and rear. The boot space is decent with 310 litres to hand, though it still features the enormous rear hatch that exposes the entire cabin to the elements when opened on a wet and windy day.
Yet the reason we didn’t quite share in the public’s adulation was that we didn’t spend enough time outside the car. It’s only when you park it up and take a look back that you realise the designers have done a really good job with the new Beetle. It looks cool and cute in equal measure.
If you care more about driving dynamics and practicality then the Golf is the car for you. But if image is what you crave then the Beetle delivers it in spades.
Certainly with a price point starting at €20,000 it’s going to lure in a host of regular hatchback buyers. And given the track record of the current model, used prices should hold up quite well as there’s a constant stream of first-time motorists who would forgo their first year’s wage packets to own one.
What we have here is a great-looking car, that has little in common with the original, except the odd exterior line, and when you discard the marketing hype what you have is simply a really cool car.
VW Beetle1.4 TSI 160bhp Sport
Engine: 1390cc supercharged petrol engine; 160bhp @ 5,800rpm and 240Nm from 1,500rpm; six-speed manual
Performance: 8.3 secs; 208 km/h top speed
Fuel economy: 6.6 l/100km (42.8 mpg)
Emissions (motor tax):153g/km (€330)
Standard specification:Cruise control; dual front, side and curtain airbags; electronic stability control; 17” alloys; full auto air-con
Rivals: Mini Cooper Countryman - €25,580; Citroën DS4 1.6 HDi 160bhp - €28,995;