OPINION: New Beetle IIs in NZ won't be cheap, but there's method in Volkswagen's madness, writes Dave Moore .
Don't be too disappointed that the new New Beetle, at $46,500, is a tad expensive, for there will be more affordable versions of the curvy new Volkswagen available in due course. Quite when that will happen is as yet unknown, though we know that Cabriolet versions will be available before the year's end.
It's well known that in the pent-up world of early adopters who hang out for new models, the heavily equipped range-toppers are the most desirable. There are owners of previous New Beetles a dozen years old and more who have been waiting for the new car since the previous one went out of production two years ago. They'll be wanting one with all the fruit, which is exactly what's in the showroom.
The new car is fitted standard with very sexy 18 alloys, and all the entertainment and communication connectivity you can think of as well as front and rear radar parking pilot (which its curvy body really needs), heated exterior mirrors, a leather steering wheel rim and gear lever, more airbags than seats, an electronic alphabet soup of chassis and safety aids, and an NCAP 5-star crash rating.
If you'd added all that extra fruit as well as a turbocharged motor with a seven-speed DSG gearbox to the previous New Beetle which sold here for $42,000, you'd be looking at something well north of the 2013 model's sticker.
The new car is noticeably larger than the old one. Being built on Volkswagen's Golf VI platform, it has gained 152mm in length and 84mm in width, and sits 12mm lower on a longer wheelbase and wider front and rear tracks.
From side-on, the car's silhouette is almost that of a coupe, with one reader from our website telling me recently that he thought it looked more like a gangly relative of the Audi TT than the almost slavishly curvaceous 90s design.
For all that, the car has become somehow closer to that air-cooled original car, with VW's design chief Walter da Silva and his team taking the front screen further forward and steepening its rake, while the headrail-to-tailpipe line has a more extended curve, rather than the space-inefficient single radius of the car's predecessor. It has to be said that this remastering of the Beetle theme, as well as adding space and practicality, has achieved at least one other aspect of its design brief: it appeals a little more to male aspirants.
The cabin feels genuinely expansive compared with the old 1990s designed car, and boot volume is up from 209 litres to 310L, thanks to those expanded dimensions. It also feels and looks better inside, with a body-coloured fascia and door caps, a lovely sporting steering wheel, and with textures and finish that match those of the Golf model. Options inside include a Fender (as in Stratocaster) styled and painted dash, single and two-toned leather trim ($4200) and, if you have another $4200 burning a hole in your pocket, an integrated Sat-Nav system. Now that the ridiculously deep and darkly plastic, space-wasting dash shelf of the old car has been expunged, the New Beetle design has created space for people and their belongings rather than creating "style" for the sake of it.
This third-generation car - which is what it is if you count the clattery air-cooled original as the first generation - is called, I'm advised, the Beetle II, which I must say does make things easier. But you don't need to call it that. While our English-speaking market gets the word "Beetle" in chrome metallic script on the bootlid, the Mexican-built car can also be had with nicknames from other languages for decals, badges and dash, sill and seat logos, like: "Bug", "Kafer", "Magigolino", "Coccinelle", "Fusca", and "Vocho".
The single power unit available for our initial Beetles could make them something of a collector's item. It's a turbocharged and supercharged 1.4-litre TSi unit with a useful 118kW on tap and a great 240Nm wodge of torque that's available all the way from 1500 to 4000rpm. Volkswagen announced that the unit is deemed too complex for its future needs and does not fit in with the standard engine profile required for its new MDQ modular platform system. So after a year or two, the unit will be replaced with a simpler, front inlet, rear-exhaust turbo unit.
It's certainly a delightfully flexible unit, and it's a darn shame that it's going, as it always provides eager, punchy responses, hauling the 1372kg car - no lightweight - to 100kmh in about 8-odd seconds from standing. It also makes a pleasantly sporting rasp and driving through VW's constantly improving DSG transmission, it's never short of urge, with the unit's seven ratios conspiring with its thick, accessible torque curve to give the car seamless responses from commuting to touring speeds.
In Britain, the car's largest RHD market, the Beetle II is available with the same 1.2-litre TSi engine enjoyed by posher Polo models here, as well as the terrifically frugal 1.6 TDi diesel unit that runs in our VW Golf BlueMotion, along with the 2.0-litre TSi unit from Golf and Passat range. My guess is that later Beetle IIs here will get one or all of those. Bring on the 1.6 TDi!
The seven-slot gearbox is as rare as the engine for in Britain, our 1.4-litre TSi engine is only available with a six-speed DSG if you don't want a manual shift. Manual shift is not on the New Zealand manifest at the moment, because it was recognised that those early takeup Beetle-seekers mostly prefer two pedals to three.
As well as space, another benefit of the Golf VI underpinnings against the Golf IV setup of the previous car is in the Beetle II's ride and handling, which is at once crisper, more accurate and much more pliant over rough surfaces and holes. Even on the relatively low-profile 18-inch standard-alloy rims, the car is jolt-free when enjoying backroads, and all the while delightfully biddable, with its well-weighted steering, which communicates precisely through the steering wheel's slim but sporting rim. I would probably not opt for the car's optional $750 "Sports" handling pack.
None of the Beetles launched in the late 90s, even the later GTi-powered turbo models, were ever as fun and comfortable to drive as this one, which is composed, accurate in its responses and apart from some wind-flurry around the side mirrors, exceptionally quiet. At 100kmh in seventh gear, the car yawns along at just 1450rpm, and with that chassis, the excellent stock sound system, as well as the new-found cabin and load space, it's a Beetle I could drive all day. I'd never have said that about the old one.
For all that, I would like a cheaper, plainer, slower Beetle II eventually, and I'm sure it will be worth waiting for as the model we have is less a People's Car, than a well-off person's second or third car. A low-spec 1.2 TSi in the late $30k area could be the single-car family's vehicle that the 1930s design was always intended to be.
But there's another reason why there's no proper People's Beetle II in New Zealand, and that's because VW's Golf VII is imminent and guess where its starting sticker will be?
In the meantime, our loaded Beetle II is an early adopter's dreamcar.
Nice work VW.
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