Spirit of the traditionally remarkable Beetle

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ONE could describe the Beetle as a rebel with history — yet it remains a rough diamond, despite its rounded lines, even today. Though, I must say it continues to make statements. 

It all started when Ferdinand Porsche developed a basic car, during World War II, that was capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100kph while not using more than seven litres of fuel per 100km. 

And by 1967, the year of the Summer of Love, the Beetle had populated American streets by the thousands. The unique and unconventional form of the Bug perfectly matched the new revolution and ensured that Peace, Love and Freedom found their way to the remotest corners of the United States and the rest of the world.

Volkswagen launched its pseudo-retro “new Beetle” in 1998. Helped by facelifts, it sold more than a million units before being discontinued in 2010. It relied on nostalgic appeal to secure sales to a predominantly female customer base. 

Fast forward. More time and thought has gone into perfecting the Beetle’s appearance as Volkswagen is ever keen to lure more male drivers with the third-gen Beetle. As with the second-generation Beetle, the emphasis is on style. 

Driving
The 1.2 TSI (turbocharged stratified injection) engine is powerful yet fuel-efficient. It’s an uplifting drive. 

The steering is more precise — as such it does hang on well in corners. Grip is vastly improved over the old model, a result that can be attributed not only to the widened tracks but a decision to provide the new model with larger wheels and tyres boasting greater contact area. In this respect, Volkswagen’s claims of added sportiness are well warranted.

But, one does not get the Beetle with the Golf’s clever adaptive damping — we can’t have the Beetle outperforming the GTI, can we?

The inside
Step inside and you’re confronted by an unusually high dashboard that has been styled to replicate that of the original Beetle, complete with an old-fashioned glovebox compartment in the fascia.

That’s the nod to retro — the unusual glovebox, the pulley grab handles. Its dashboard layout is clear and effective while the throwback cockpit has a simple design and works well.

Look in the boot and you’ll find a square-shaped, 310-litre boot, and a 50/50 split rear bench that can be folded. But you can only seat two adults on that bench (or three children).

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Exterior
Up close, it is a much more confident looking car than before — something that is not only a reflection of the actual design of the exterior but the more surefooted stance brought on by its wider tracks. It also imparts a higher quality feel, even if some of its interior trim looks inexpensive.

This Volkswagen Beetle 1.2 TSI retro-styled hatch comes in both Design (RM135,888) and Sport (RM140,888) guise. Both prices are on-the-road without insurance.

From an exterior design standpoint the new Beetle does impress, and from the first glance you’re aware that more time and thought has gone into perfecting its appearance. It’s a much more confident-looking car than before.

Still unbeetable
The Beetle is timeless. It enjoys cult status — still. Dynamically, this is a vast improvement on the previous incarnation of the Beetle, but it continues to lack the dynamic polish and competence of the Golf, which in pure driving terms is superior in so many ways.

Personally, it gives me the impression of an enlarged version of a two-door Porsche 911 — again that’s my opinion. You may not agree. It’s probably a form of middle-age crisis.

You might actually consider buying the Volkswagen Beetle instead of a mid-range Golf. Or you might just buy it on looks alone and a bit of history. It is, at least, a good and interesting alternative to the MINI. 

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 12, 2015.