To the freewheeling rebels of the world, Beetles have always been cultural heavyweights. Even if you take the formidable talents of the greatest musical act in the history of pop, completely out of the equation, the Volkswagen Beetle manages hold its own as a legitimate cultural icon. It didn’t prescribe to any conventions, certainly not when it came to design or engine layout, so in that sense it fit in rather well with the hippie lot. But even when its many patrons faded out, the original Beetle didn’t – with production ending sometime around 2003.
The year 1998 had already introduced the second act, however, its radicalism was misplaced and hence it was largely met with indifference. The whole ‘flower power’ routine qualified it as effeminate and even though it sold in decent numbers across Europe and the US, it wasn’t seen as a successful car, leaving it up to VW to take a sad song and make it better before the sun permanently set on the Beetle brand. They decided to give it another go in 2011, thus bringing us to the new(est) 21st century Beetle.
Soon to be launched in India, the new new Beetle paints a more effective retro-cool image than its immediate predecessor. At first glance, VW could be accused of injecting masculinity into it by giving it a more hunkered silhouette, but a keener eye will immediately find a strong resemblance to its ancestor – one that wasn’t there with the previous one. Visually at least, it is a much more accurate homage to the original Beetle. Large round headlamps flank a swooping bonnet, with a sleek fastback wrapping up a smooth, scuplted exterior. It seemed pretty enough when being driven around the German countryside, a few kilometers outside VW’s home in Wolfsburg, but it looked rather striking when I saw it a few days later, displayed at the Buddh International Circuit in Delhi.
Since the 1.4 litre TSI is what we’ll be getting in India, that’s the powerplant we’ll be looking at. The engine is a turbo-petrol producing a healthy 148 bhp of power and 25.3 kgm of torque, which are deployed via a 7-speed, DSG (dual clutch) gearbox. The engine, much like its predecessor, continues to remain up front, as do the set of wheels getting the juice. The delivery is quite smooth, if not urgent since the Beetle’s 1.3 tonnes seems to prolong the linearity of the delivery. As is typical of new VW petrols, the engine is refined and smooth with a strong mid-range although power tapers off at post the 5000 rpm mark. The car only appeared to break a sweat on the Autobahn, so it should prove fairly sufficient on Indian roads. VW’s DSG unit is a fine feather in their cap, so it is as smooth a gearbox as expected from a VW.
The neo-retro, luxury hatchback space is rather small in India, so the Beetle would essentially be a part of a trio completed by the Mini Cooper and the Abarth 595 Competizione. It’s dimensions make it too large to be a hot hatch, but the new Beetle is sufficiently spruced up to make it a novelty purchase. With a little bit of colour provided by a two-tone dash, and another guage cluster measuring the oil pressure, turbo boost levels etc there are elements that try to break the monotony of a run-of-the mill premium VW – but you’ll find quality in much larger portions than you will innovation.
Driving around perfectly smooth roads, it was hard to guage how India-ready the suspension is. Possibly to counter the car’s own weight, the suspension seems to be a bit stiff, transmitting subtle bumps into the ride quality. The steering is light and sufficiently precise – in typical teutonic fashion, the new Beetle feels spacious, planted and totally comfortable. It might not be quite as engaging as the Mini, but it will undoubtedly serve its purpose of turning heads and allowing you to stand out of the crowd – even a crowd of Audis, Minis and other VWs because of it’s rather distinct appearance.
Yes, at 28.73 lakh (Ex-Mumbai), the car is expensive. In essence it’s a perfectly likeable car, but will it be able to transcend its likeability to become a memorable car? The 1.4 TSI is zippy, but not thrillingly so, it’s cute, but not achingly so. In the space it occupies, it manages to be a mix of fast, fashionable and practical – a trifecta not too many cars can hit with ease.