The brief in 1933 was simple.
“A basic vehicle capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100km/h.”
Ferdinand Porsche was given the order for the development, and it would be named as the people’s car - which, as you know, is what Volkswagen means in German.
It was actually referred to as consumer goods at the time, and Germans would get it through a savings scheme at a cost similar to that of a small motorcycle.
Skip forward almost 80 years and I can’t help but wonder if Ferdinand would be proud of what’s become of his people’s car.
For one, it’s far from entry-level consumer goods.
Gone are the days of that air-cooled engine at the back screaming through tiny tailpipes, the awkward driving position, the thin-rimmed steering wheel, and those floor-mounted pedals.
Testing the third-generation car (dubbed the 21st Century Beetle) last week brought on no sense of that nostalgia, which is a bit sad, I reckon, for something with the background and immense popularity this car enjoyed.
And the reason is simple.
It’s just too refined, too smooth, too silent, too does-everything-right, too current VW – if you get my drift.
I like that the Germans have tried hard to honour the original visually, and in design the Beetle stands true to that authentic bug shape.
Inside it’s cool that there are copious amounts of colour-coded metal, err, plastic across the dash (our test car was Saturn Yellow, requiring sunglasses), and that there are two cubbyholes - with the top one being upward-hinged like the original.
The colour-coded spokes on the steering wheel work too, as do the round dials and vertical centre air vents - and maybe it’s just me, but I’m sure that seat design is a little retro too.
FEELS LIKE A GOLF
Rear legroom is a joke (a Beetle trait) but boot space will put the original (which used the bonnet for luggage) to shame.
The frameless doors add a sporty touch and, thank goodness, that dashboard-mounted flower vase from the second-generation car is history.
Get behind the wheel and it feels like you’re driving a Golf, which isn’t surprising as the latest Beetle (or Volla as we called it back in the day) runs on a Golf 6 platform. On test here is the entry-level 1.2 TSI, which at R235 400 is quite a bit more than the cost of a small motorcycle, but nevertheless offers good value for money.
The engine is the most surprising part of the equation, and with outputs of 77kW and 175Nm from that tiny 1197cc powerplant it should make competitors blush.
You’ve heard the “no replacement for displacement” mantra; this really does beg to differ.
Okay, our 11.6 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash may sound a little pedestrian, but remind yourself of the engine size and you can’t not doff your cap at the little bugger.
And it could better that if it could just get to 100km/h in second, it requires one more throw of the gear lever just short of that magic number.
Numbers aside, it’s a spritely little engine with little turbolag and more than enough tyre-chirping gusto to get you from A to B. It’s also far from scared of long open roads, where it’s happy to stretch that sixth gear way beyond our national speed limit.
A TAD THIRSTY
Top speed is claimed as 180km/h and I have no hesitation in taking VW’s word for it. The only question mark is the consumption, which at 8.4 litres per 100km is a tad thirsty for its size.
Being Golf 6-based you know the handling is going to be good, and it is. It will happily tackle mountain passes or S-bends as if it was starring in the latest Herbie movie.
What I did notice though was an odd creak from the left front suspension when turning the wheel at slow speeds.
Steering feedback is good too and doesn’t feel over-assisted, and the gearbox is a pleasure to stir.
At first I was a bit annoyed that there wasn’t a water temperature gauge, but found not only this when scrolling through the electronic menus but oil temperature too. I also noticed a bit of wind noise from those frameless windows, but it wasn’t intrusive.
You have to remind yourself that you’re driving a Beetle and that’s the part I think Ferdinand wouldn’t like. Get behind the wheel of other retro-reincarnations like the Mini and you’ll find that even though it’s modern in execution, it still has some of that original Mini character.
The new Beetle feels and behaves like a Golf, which is not a bad thing, but I reckon it lacks a bit of emotion. Other than that the new Beetle, especially this derivative with this engine and price tag, is a winner. - Star Motoring
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