Motoring Review: VW Beetle Cabriolet 50s edition
Do we still have the bug for the retro Beetle cabriolet?
Price: £24,655 (as driven)
Engine: 1,390cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbo and super-charger, 160bhp at 5,800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive Performance: 128mph, 0-62 in 8.6 seconds, CO2 158g/km
A remake of a remake. That's VW's latest-generation Beetle, the replacement for the late-1990s cartoon Beetle which started the trend for reinventions of vital past cars. Think Mini, Fiat 500 and… well, that's about it because the idea doesn't really work with anything else apart from, arguably, a Porsche 911. And that never went away in the interim.
People fell out of love with the cartoon Beetle once the visual joke had worn off. Today's version, launched nearly two years ago, looks tougher and more credible, with proportions more like the air-cooled, clattery original's. It's meant to be a bit more macho, to reflect the Beetle-tuning culture rife in the US in the 1960s. And, as expected, there's now a convertible version.
Here it is. The part I really like is that as well as the basic Design and Sport trim levels there are also three much more interesting-sounding special editions: 50s, 60s and 70s, representing the three decades during which the original Beetle was a cultural, er, icon before becoming a classic car.
So the 50s version, pictured here, comes only in black and has big, chrome hubcaps just like old Beetles often had. The 60s comes in the pale blue often seen on that decade's Beetles, and its wheels are a nod to the five-spoke Fuchs design first used on Porsches in that decade but sometimes found unofficially adorning the Porsches' Beetle blood-cousins.
I'm not quite sure what the 70s Beetle is supposed to represent, but it is painted metallic brown and has very large, chrome hubcaps which are eaten into by shiny silver spokes. Here, the retro look is less focused. All of them, however – along with the regular Design model – have a dashboard painted the same colour as the bodywork, even if it's no longer the painted steel it once was.
Now, the practical part. This is a proper four-seat convertible, and the soft-top retracts electrically in just 9.5 seconds. You can lower it, or raise it again (11 seconds), even when driving along provided your speed is below 31mph. Roof-up, the Beetle is impressively quiet and snug with practically no wind noise around the side windows. Roof-down, there's plenty of fresh air but little buffeting if the side windows are raised.
This is a refined, well-built car, with a solid feel to its fittings and a structure almost immune from shakes and shudders over bumps. VWs had a reputation for solidity and quality in the 1960s, and this new Beetle faithfully reproduces the tactile promise that goes with the visual one. All models in the range have the multi-link rear suspension reserved only for the grander models in the saloon Beetle line-up, which improves ride comfort and steering precision, both of which the open Beetle has in abundance. It gives a smooth, comfortable, responsive drive, most excitingly with the 200bhp, 2.0-litre petrol engine, most economically with the 1.6-litre, 105bhp turbodiesel.
You'd have to be in love with the Beetle idea to consider one of these over a Golf Cabriolet, but this time the open Beetle is a pleasing car in its own right. Surprisingly, it's also cheaper than a same-engined Golf despite having to come all the way from the Mexican factory. Make it a 50s edition, though. I would. 1
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