New Beetle sneaks into New Zealand
When the original was launched in 1938, it was known simply as the Volkswagen, but it quickly acquired a raft of nicknames around the world, including "Beetle", "Bug" and "Cockroach".
Whatever the name, its popularity is not in question, with 21.5 million of the car having been sold in the past 73 years.
Click on photo at left for more views of the new Beetle.
It is hard to believe that it has been 15 years since the first New Beetle reached showrooms, and now, 18 months after the all-new series II model was launched at the Auto Shanghai motor show, it has arrived in New Zealand.
At first, the New Zealand range will be a one-car prospect, a high-spec 2.0-litre turbosupercharged TSi model with DSG seven-speed automatic and all the fruit.
In other right-hand-drive markets, the car will have three trim levels and five petrol and diesel model choices, and it is hoped that as worldwide demand for the car calms down a tad, some other choices will be made available in New Zealand.
The latest-generation Beetle moves away from the design of the 1998 car and, instead, draws on cues from the original 1930s model and the Beetle Ragster concept shown in Detroit in 2005.
As such, it's longer, wider and lower, giving a more masculine and dynamic appearance.
The Beetle is now 4278mm long, up by 152mm. It is now 84mm wider at 1808mm and its height has been shaved by 12mm to 1486mm.
The track width front and rear, as well as the wheelbase at 2537mm, are also increased.
Overseen by designers Walter de Silva and Klaus Bischoff, with Marc Lichte the team leader for the exterior design, the car features new proportions that mean the roof extends further rearwards, the windscreen is shifted back and the rear section is now more akin to that of the original Beetle.
The boot capacity is a practical 310 litres, up from 209 litres in the 1998 model.
The Beetle still has four seats, with a split-fold rear seat taking load capacity to 809 litres.
Inside the cabin, the new New Beetle's designers have created a modern, practical and distinctive appearance with easy-to-identify and ergonomic controls.
Certain features, such as the glovebox and colour accent panels hark back to the original.
In Britain, where the model has been available for some months, three trim levels are available - Beetle, Design and Sport - each with its own features.
A wide range of innovative optional equipment will also be available, ranging from keyless access through satellite navigation systems and a panoramic sunroof to bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, all of which are available for the first time on a Beetle.
In Britain, a choice of four engines will be offered: three petrol units - a 1.2-litre, 1.4-litre and 2.0-litre TSI model - and a single diesel unit - a 1.6-litre TDi with BlueMotion Technology.
Thanks to the addition of stop-start and battery regeneration systems, the BlueMotion Beetle is estimated to have a combined fuel consumption of 4.4 litres per 100km and carbon-dioxide emissions level of 112g/km.
As well as being economical and environmentally sound, the Beetle is built to be one of the safest cars on the road, thanks not only to features such as standard ESP and six airbags, but also a laser-welded and galvanised body structure which has one of the highest torsional rigidity values in the segment at 26,000 newton metres per degree.
The new New Beetle officially arrives in New Zealand showrooms in mid-December and the single initial model is priced at $46,500 plus on-road costs.
From first sight, it's obvious that the car has been completely redesigned. It has outgrown its playful curves and is now a more distinctive, sporty and masculine reinvention of the original, while retaining its unique charm.
When it first arrived in the United States market, its importers were quick to highlight its new masculinity.
That is because women buyers of the previous-model New Beetle were responsible for two-thirds of the world's total sales.
So Volkswagen set out to appeal more to men with the new model, which went on sale in Europe a year ago and in the US during September last year.
The company hopes to attract a much higher percentage of men and younger buyers.
Volkswagen's US vice-president of marketing and strategy, Rainer Michel, said a more masculine appearance and more power for the model should do the trick.
While women buyers accounted for more than 65 per cent of the previous Beetle's sales, Michel hopes for a 50-50 male-female split with this model.
The average age of the previous New Beetle's owners was about 58, and Michel says the company's marketing researchers targeted this version's sales demographic to fall as low as 36 years.
In this country, Volkswagen New Zealand general manager Tom Ruddenklau says: "Generations of Kiwis have grown up with the Beetle, the much-loved classic that has won hearts over for six decades now.
"Today, the 21st-century Beetle marries that nostalgia with innovation, creating a dynamic car for today's driver."
Volkswagen New Zealand says its first new New Beetle model is all about "less flower and more power", referring to the previous model's dash-mounted plant holder in contrast with the new version's TSI petrol engine, which produces 118 kilowatts of power, driving through Volkswagen's well-established double-clutch direct-shift two-pedal automated manual transmission.
The direct-drive character of this gearbox enables convenient gear shifting with uninterrupted power, which helps greatly reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions.
Volkswagen says the TSi 2.0-litre Beetle can manage 6.2 litres per 100km.
Inside, the Beetle pays homage to its roots: a compact instrument cluster with an eye-catching round dial in the centre evokes memories of the classic. Air vents and state-of-the-art infotainment features have been seamlessly integrated into the dashboard, which also contains climatronic air-conditioning and a colour touchscreen stereo system.
The TSi Beetle also has rear parking sensors, hands-free bluetooth connectivity, an iPod adapter and 18-inch twister alloys.
Options, such as a panoramic electric sliding, tilting roof, Vienna leather upholstery, or dashboard additions, such as a clock with chronometer function, stopwatch and boost pressure gauge, offer the opportunity to personalise the car to taste.
Meanwhile, the new New Beetle's ragtop version is about to be launched at the end of the month at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Sadly, such is the way with these things that it means the Cabriolet Beetle will probably miss the upcoming New Zealand summer.