The Volkswagen Beetle.
The Volkswagen Beetle.

Road test: Original VW Beetle personality still shines

RETRO reincarnations don't come much more distinctive than the Volkswagen Beetle.

While Mini has also made an artform of the modern rebirth, that pint-sizer is not so small anymore and has morphed into a whole new range of niche offerings.

This contemporary Beetle has also taken liberty with the size. The comeback started in 2000 as the "New Beetle", and the third generation didn't arrive until this year after the previous model was discontinued in 2011.

The good news is that it's a much more dynamic and not-so-cutesy piece of gear.

Based on the Mk6 Golf architecture, this Beetle is longer, wider and sits lower than the previous model.

It also comes with just one petrol engine, which matches the zesty looks courtesy of being turbocharged and supercharged.

Comfort

Traditional Volkswagen practicality is given some excitement via the body-coloured fascia, and the optional sports pack which adds a three-gauge binnacle on the dash.

The driver has clear and crisp instruments and it is simple to scroll through the multifunction display via buttons on the steering wheel.

Despite lacking some personality, kudus is awarded for simplicity. The touch-screen is easy to navigate and pairing your audio device or phone is one of the fastest we've experienced.

Larger dimensions are welcome in a cabin which now offers four adults accommodation. Those in the back do need to be on the smaller side due to compromised head and leg room, but the rear pews are usable for those under 170cm although it's still tight.

There are two cup holders in the middle, the rear one can be impeded by the folding armrest, while there are some ingenious straps which enable the doors to hold bottles and other bulky items.

On the road

Exercise your right ankle and the Beetle answers willingly.

It's supercharged and turbocharged powerplant has a fun turn of speed which is only inhibited by the sometimes vague steering.

During some hefty acceleration from standstill there were some hints of torque steer and loss of traction but it quickly rights itself once underway.

With the dual-clutch seven-speed automatic we enjoyed dropping it into Sport mode where it held the gears higher into the rev range for a more rapid right-foot response.

Using the Golf Mk6 platform provides a surefooted and smooth ride which proved adept on the highway, in town and during some testing rural routes.

What do you get?

Basic kit includes 17-inch alloys, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, body-coloured dash, dual zone climate controlled air con, 16.5cm touch-screen, six-stacker CD stereo, four airbags and a five-star safety rating.

We also sampled the $1800 Sport pack which adds steering wheel paddle shifters (auto only) and larger 18-inch alloys, leather seats ($3300) and the panoramic sunroof ($1700). The sat nav system costs $2500.

Other options

Also worth looking at are the Mini Cooper ($34,900), Hyundai Veloster SR Turbo ($31,990), Kia Koup ($27,990 ), Citroen DS3 DSport ($29,740) or perhaps for those on a budget the retro Fiat 500 0.9 Lounge ($20,300).

Running costs

Fixed price annual servicing is available for the first six years, the total cost over that time is $2623 with services varying between $375-$638. Fuel consumption should be about seven litres for every 100km, which is not ultra frugal but not a slurper either.

Practicality

While it's not family territory, the Beetle is not bad. Four usable seats…but anyone over 180cm wouldn't appreciate the back pews.

Surprisingly there is an excellent boot. Space has been bolstered to 310 litres which is plenty for the weekly grocery shop.

There are some useful storage spots too, including a good spot for phones in front of the shifter, and a dual glovebox.

Funky factor

Our test machine was finished in a racy red with the awesome five-spoke 18-inch alloys, bulging fenders, rear spoiler, and it turned plenty of heads - it even attracted some favourable comments in a few car parks.

New proportions deliver a more masculine appeal while still maintaining the trademark curved bonnet and raked roofline.

What matters most

What we liked: Fun exterior lines, appealing to both men and women, dynamic driving ability.

What we'd like to see: More rear seat space, improved steering feel, cheaper options.

Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Capped priced servicing for six years or 90,000km, average price is $437.

The lowdown

While the previous Beetle had a hefty female skew, this latest iteration boasts a much wider appeal.

It looks good, is fun to drive and has a great personality.

The powerplant choice is an interesting one, given the Mk7 Golf has a standard single turbo offering, but Volkswagen has backed its product with a strong warranty and servicing package. In base model form the Beetle looks good value, although add some options and you quickly get up to $40,000.

That takes it into Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class territory, which may well be a tastier lure for the badge-conscious.

VITAL STATISTICS
Model:
Volkswagen Golf 118 TSI.
Details: Three-door front-wheel drive compact retro hatch.
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder generating maximum power of 118kW @ 5800rpm and peak torque of 240Nm @ 1500-4500rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch DSG automatic.
Consumption: 6.8 litres/100km (manual); 6.4L/100km (a).
CO2: 148g/km (a).
Bottom line: $29,990 (manual), $32,490 (auto, as tested), plus on-roads.



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