Volkswagen Beetle

In its latest reinvention, its third – all the cartoon aspects of the previous VW have been replaced

Ah, the joy of being instrumental in history's reinvention.

This particular reinvention involves creating new versions of old automotive favourites, reinterpreting the visual vibe while bringing the driving qualities up to modern standards.

Obvious examples? The Mini. The Fiat 500. And the Volkswagen Beetle which, with the launch of the car you see here now, has the unique honour of having been resurrected twice. There is a link between two of these cars that the marketing departments might not want to trumpet, which is a charismatic Italian marketing guru called Luca de Meo. He rose quickly within Fiat, and was a prime mover in bringing the Trepiuno concept car to production as the now very familiar Fiat 500. "My mother said we had to build it," he said at the time, "so we did."

Since 2009, Mr De Meo has had a new life at Volkswagen. As marketing director, he has been right behind the Beetle's second rebirth. "This time my father said we must do it," he replies, when the coincidence is pointed out.

Last time the near-sacred Beetle was redrawn, its profile was reduced to three intersecting semicircles and it became a cartoon car, complete with the flower vase that US original Beetles, if not UK ones, often wore. Thirteen years on, the proportions are closer to the original's, with the roof section set further back, the windscreen more upright and the bonnet longer.

That said, the new Beetle vibe is meant to be one of nascent machismo and a sporty drive, so the shape is flattened and the vase has gone. With the way the rear roof pillars now meet the waistline behind the rear wheels' centres, there's even a hint of Porsche 911 here.

Sporting motoring is not something we in the UK historically associate with a Beetle, but the US used to have a very strong Beetle-tuning culture. The US will be the biggest market for the new car, which is one reason why it is made in Mexico – as was the previous one, and indeed the rear-engined original right up to 2003. This also helps to keep the price down, so the Beetle is cheaper than a same-engined Golf.

Inside, hard plastics abound but, as in a Fiat 500, this sits well with the functional approach inherited from the original car. The dashboard's centre section is inspired by that of a mid-1950s Beetle but it's unlikely that most buyers will spot that. They might notice the Fender badging (as in guitars) on the optional top-end sound system, though. The system sounds terrific.

The way the body tapers towards the rear makes for a cosy rear seat, but there's a lot of room in the front. There's a lot of entertainment potential for the driver, too, because the new Beetle – at least in the top 2.0 TSI guise I sampled – is a thoroughly good drive. Its 200bhp engine is a slightly detuned version of a Golf GTI's, with plentiful accelerative punch and a racy note. My test car had a six-speed, double-clutch gearbox with paddle-shifters on the steering wheel, and it worked well. I'd prefer the manual alternative.

Under its retro-modern skin the Beetle is more or less a Golf, or, more accurately, a Jetta. The marketing people thought the 2.0 TSI would have more credibility with car enthusiasts if it used the Golf's four-link suspension, and certainly this Beetle steers and handles very nicely. It feels poised, precise and in tune with the driver in a way the previous cartoon Beetle was not, and on standard suspension it also soaks up bumps adequately.

Current thinking at the UK importer is that the 2.0 TSI will come only with Sport suspension when it lands in a year's time. The other models are a 1.2 TSI petrol, a 1.6 TDI diesel and a 1.4 TSI with a turbo and supercharger. The last, on standard suspension, may prove to be the pick of the range.

What is clear, though, is that the new Beetle is a more "serious", more credible car than the previous one. Could it reignite the Beetle cult? I do believe it could.

The Rivals

Citroën DS3 DSport THP 150: from £16,610, 156bhp, 155g/km

"Anti-retro" DS3 (despite famous DS initials) is good value, nicely finished, looks good and is great fun.

Mini Cooper S: from £18,010, 184bhp, 139g/km

Seems big for a car called Mini but keeps the original's cheeky agility. Fast, feisty, entertaining, and Efficient Dynamics keeps CO2 low.

Volkswagen Golf GTI: from £25,060, 211bhp, 170g/km

Like a Beetle underneath but in normal clothes. Slightly faster and more frugal, still a benchmark hot hatchback.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk