More importantly for its target market amongst retro rivals, it’s also a more stylish one. Aesthetics matter. Go on. Live a beautiful life.
The new generation Beetle, the latest interpretation of a model that ranks alongside the world’s three best selling cars of all time. And as you’ll probably already know, it comes with quite a history.
The Beetle is a car that aesthetically at least, is much closer to the design of the original. Longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, it’s intended to look more sporty, masculine and dynamic. And because the Golf underpinnings remain - this time more modern ones - it can be a more practical choice than its retro rivals. Add very competitive running costs, perky performance and a dash of hi-tech and you’ve a car that could reignite the Beetle cult all over again.
Looking back, the style of the ‘New Beetle’ didn’t have much in common with the original. That car was defined by three semi-circles – front wing, rear wing and domed roof – which determined its cartoon-like look. This one dispenses with that geometry, based on larger, more modern Golf underpinnings. Not a good basis, you’d think, for trying to better replicate the 1940s original but the design team resolved to try anyway. A post-war original version was parked in their office and the stylists were told to immerse themselves in Beetle memorabilia.
And sure enough, something of a feel of Dr Ferdinand Porsche’s early ‘Peoples’ Car’ has somehow made it through to this third generation model, most notably in the large wheels plumply positioned beneath the flared flowing arches and a rear C-pillar that follows the contours of the original design. So there’s something of the past, artfully mixed with a sporty vision of the future. Really? A sporty-looking Beetle? It’s quite a new concept for British buyers but not so for the American market this car is primarily aimed at. The US holds a strong historical Beetle-tuning culture and wanted potency rather than design pastiche when the time came for this model.
Perhaps the most notably visual change in this respect is the lower roof that the larger floorplan has enabled to be swept further back. At the front where the big circular headlamps are unique in the Volkswagen range, there’s a longer bonnet in front of a more steeply raked windscreen that’s been shifted further back. Overall, it’s a cleaner, more self-confident lower profiled look that even has something of a touch of Porsche 911 about it.
Moving inside this three-door-only bodyshape, you notice that the frameless doors open wide – but not so wide as to make ingress difficult in tight parking spaces. And at the wheel, you’re seated behind a traditional upright dashboard with a set of three traditional dials visible through a sporty three-spoke thin-rimmed wheel. Unfortunately, the plastics are traditional too, so no Golf-like soft-touch surfaces. Still, the quality seems good even if the Mexican factory doesn’t seem to screw things together quite up to German-fabricated Golf standards. Still, the look and feel all seems to suit this car’s retro vibe, especially with the body-coloured door sill and dash inserts you get on plusher models. And on that subject, other early Beetle touches include the upwards-opening glovebox, natty elastic straps instead of door pockets and the optional auxiliary instruments you can specify to sit above the infotainment controls.
Volkswagen claims that those confined to the two-seater bench at the back get a better deal than before. It’s lower now, but compensation is provided by the bigger floorplans greater length and width, supposed to benefit both leg and elbow room. Fine in principle but in practice, the way the body tapers towards the rear makes this back seat a necessarily cosy place to be. Fine though for kids – or adults on relatively short journeys. And miles better of course than a MINI or a Fiat 500.
Out back in the space where the original Beetle once had its air-cooled engine, there’s now a bootlid that swivels upwards – together with the rear windscreen – when opened, revealing 310-litres of cargo capacity, 50% more than before. The sloped bootlid makes it awkward to carry taller items though. Push forward the 50:50 split-folding rear seat and the space on offer can increase to as much as 905-litres, which makes this by far the most practical of all the retro-style models on the market.
You could argue that in this MK3 design, we finally have the proper Beetle tribute model we should have had in the first place. This car borrows its heritage, its silhouette and its retro uniqueness from the post-war original, but fuses it with the sort of fuel economy, safety and creature comforts that the modern buyer demands - without the retro excesses and gender-specific touches of the previous car. This time round, the sportier look is matched by a sportier feel from an efficient range of engines but even so, this is a design you’ll still either love or hate.
Which is just as it should be. A model like this remains an unashamed indulgence, both on the part of its maker and those who will use it. True, the trend modern Beetles once set for High Street chic has now been copied by a whole clutch of rivals. Yet you can see why loyal owners love this Volkswagen so much. It certainly isn’t a rational choice. But then, if we did everything for rational reasons, the world would be very dull indeed. Just as its original predecessor did over seventy years ago, this car has made the automotive landscape just that little bit brighter.