The VW Beetle may have its origins back in the 1930s, but the current car is very much a modern creation. The latest model does share its ancestor’s curvy silhouette, but the roofline has been flattened off for a sportier look and it shares nearly all of its underpinnings with the Golf – meaning that buyers have a choice between frugal smaller-engined models and rapid sports versions.
As a distinctly retro machine that places style above practicality, the Beetle is similar in spirit to the Mini and the Fiat 500, though it is substantially larger than both. Rivals for the Beetle include standard hatchbacks such as the closely-related VW Golf and Audi A3 to stylish options like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Peugeot RCZ and Citroen DS3.
The Beetle is a machine that should appeal to those who follow their hearts over their heads, as it shares much of its DNA with the Golf hatchback, but is a much less practical proposition overall. The car takes its inspiration from the classic Beetle inside and out, with a level of charm that its straight-laced sibling can’t match.
A number of versions are available from economical 1.2-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesels to powerful and sporty turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol models, which can sprint to 62mph in under seven seconds. We’ve tested the mid-range turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol TSI 160 Sport, which weighs in at £22,430.
In 158bhp1.4 TSI form this turbocharged petrol Beetle is more than fast enough for most buyers, with punchy, eager performance. Thanks to its healthy amount of power at low engine speeds you don’t need to work the hard for quick acceleration, either. However, this isn’t the smoothest motor, with a slightly inconsistent response at certain engine speeds.
This model is claimed to be able to sprint to 62mph in a speedy 8.6 seconds, though official fuel economy is only average at 41.5mpg. Annual car tax on the other hand, stands at a substantial £180 under current rules.
Up the speed and the volume level is a little higher than the best medium cars, with more road and wind noise – courtesy of the upright windscreen – than models such as the Golf. The engine is also a little louder than it could be when worked hard, though it’s not intrusive. Despite its strong engine, however, this Beetle doesn’t feel sporty to drive, though the large 18-inch wheels make the suspension quite firm.
Take corners at speed and the body of the car rolls, being thrown off course a little by bumps on the road. The steering is reasonably weighted, though, making it easy enough to place the car on the road, though this isn’t a car that keen drivers will want to drive just for fun. The clutch can also be a little tricky to operate smoothly too.
In true VW style, the Beetle boasts a sturdy, well-designed dashboard that is easy to navigate. However, thanks to its retro styling details, such as the upright windscreen and the old-fashioned grab handles for passengers in the rear seats, the Beetle does have a greater sense of style than the standard VW Golf.
The cabin feels built to last, though the Beetle does without the soft-touch materials of some similarly-priced machines. Our test car also had a large glass sunroof that let in plenty of light.
The Beetle is sufficiently practical for small families, but standard hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus and VW Golf offer more useable space for both passengers and in the boot. Those in the front seats have a large amount of room, though the rear seats – which are shaped strictly for two passengers – are only really suitable for those under 5 foot 10.
The shape of the Beetle means that while the floor area of the boot is quite large, the usable area is smaller than most hatchbacks, due to its sloping shape and shallow depth. It should still be adequate for most buyers, however.
The Beetle is a car designed to seduce people’s hearts, rather than appeal to their heads. And this is the impression that comes across when you drive it. Our test car in ‘Sport’ trim looked unique inside and out and featured a number of attention-grabbing retro details, but the more you drive it, the less it appeals to your rational side.
Despite the sprightly acceleration from the turbocharged petrol engine in our car, both comfort and roadholding levels lag behind the best medium cars, while refinement could be a little higher too. Some rivals also beat the Beetle for practicality.
As a result, the Beetle is a sound option for those who have decided that they have to have a Beetle and are willing to make a few sacrifices, however, those considering other retro options such as the Mini or conventional options such as the standard VW Golf could benefit from a better combination of comfort and handling by choosing one of these alternatives.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Volkswagen Beetle in our classifieds here.
VW Beetle 1.4 TSI 160 Sport
List price: £22,430
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Top speed: 128mph
0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
Fuel economy: 32.1mpg (urban), 50.4mpg (extra-urban) 41.5mpg (combined)
Emissions: 158g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five stars
March 27, 2015