Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos | posted April 10, 2015 18:00
Bitten by the Bug
If there is one car out there that truly needs no introduction, it's this: the Volkswagen Beetle.
It took a while for Volkswagen Philippines to bring in the new generation Beetle, as the car was not part of the original line-up of VW models made available to customers, but now that it's here, we're going to truly put it through its paces.
First, a “quick” history lesson... if that's possible with a Beetle.
The Volkswagen Beetle may be one of the world's most iconic automobile names, but officially the original car was actually called the Type 1 (or Typ 1); Beetle or Bug are affectionate appellations coined by the public thanks to its design. Nevertheless, the Beetle traces its history back to pre-World War II Germany thanks to the orders issued by a certain Mr. Adolf for an Autobahn-capable people's car that can fit 2 adults and three children, hence the names volks (pronounced folks) and wagen (pronounced vaggen). It took the engineering expertise of a certain Mr. Ferdinand Porsche (yes, the same Mr. Porsche) to realize that vision but it wasn't until the war ended that the rear-engine, rear-wheel drive Beetle fully came into being as Kubelwagens and Panzer tanks were the priority from 1939-1945. Afterwards, the Type 1 went into full mass production and a legend was born... one that continues to this very day.
Strictly speaking, the (and now-officially) Volkswagen Beetle is already the third full generation of the lineage. The Type 1 was produced from 1938 up to 2003; the longest production period for any single generation of a vehicle with over 21.5 million examples rolled out from various VW plants around the world. It is widely regarded that the Beetle was succeeded by modern compact cars like the Polo and the Jetta, but Volkswagen did launch a direct successor in 1997 called the (then) New Beetle. That model stayed true to the shape and design of the original, but the engine was no longer a flat four but an inline, and it was in front and drove the front wheels. Production of that model ended in 2011, and it was succeeded by this: the “newer” New Beetle.
In terms of design, well, there is no other automobile shape or profile that is as identifiable as the Beetle's. For the third generation model, VW's designers stayed true to the instantly recognizable shape and symmetrical silhouette of the Beetle. It's still very much retro but with a modern touch thanks to deign tweaks such as the new bumper design (similar to the Jetta), a revised rear end, a prominent rear spoiler and larger, sportier wheels. This one came with a black striped decal package from Volkswagen that pairs up quite nicely with the red paintwork; thankfully the stickers weren't polka dots, otherwise this would have been a ladybug.
Pop the doors with the rimless windows and it's clear that this Beetle is quite far from its spartan roots. The cabin is properly premium even when compared to the previous “New” Beetle thanks to the quality feel of the materials and those panels that were color-keyed to the body. In actuality, those red panels you see are throwbacks to the original Bug that had exposed metal panels of the body shell in the cabin though in this new one, they're plastic.
Sitting in the driver's seat, it's clear that this Beetle is quite comfortable. The seating position is quite natural, and the ergonomics have clearly been well thought out. The seats themselves aren't wrapped in leather as VW opted for a sporty fabric, but the steering wheel and shift knob are. Unlike the original Type 1, the back seat can only fit two persons given the contour of the seats. Legroom in the back is alright though we wouldn't recommend putting a rather tall dude there... unless you want to see him suffer.
Pop the trunk and you'll realize that this beetle is actually a lift-back; the entire tailgate opens up to reveal, well, a decent sized trunk as the engine is no longer in das boot. Instead what you get is a decent sized compartment that can accommodate 310 liters of cargo. It doesn't sound like much, but that's plenty for groceries, a couple weekender bags and the like; the capacity goes up if you opt to fold the rear seats down.
The 2015 Beetle gets a long list of standard equipment such as power windows, mirrors, locks, stability control, traction control, HID headlamps with a level control, steering wheel audio controls and a multi-information computer that displays consumption, fuel range and other pertinent information. It was unusual that the airconditioning system was manual and not automatic, but it's still very powerful and easily defeats the summer heat. The multi-functional RCD-310 audio system is good, though Bluetooth system needs a bit more attention at being more user-friendly.
A twist of the key ignites the 1.4-liter twin cam 16-valve turbocharged and supercharged gasoline engine up front. As a result of the “twincharging” new Beetle 1.4L TSI makes a pretty potent 160 horsepower and 240 Newton meters of torque, all of which are channeled to the front wheels by a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox (DSG).
Around town, the 2015 Volkswagen Beetle performs far better and far more comfortably than expected. Noise and vibration suppression are good given the small dimensions (particularly the wheelbase) of the car. The suspension is surprisingly comfortable even when faced with local tarmac. Parking in tight spots is made very easy by a very accurate parking radar system. Maneuverability and visibility are quite good, though it should be noted that the beltline is rather high and the pillars are quite thick, so it's somewhat trickier to maneuver a car with wide fenders around tight city streets.
As expected, the power of the 1.4L TSI engine does come through especially for a car as light as this. The car is surprisingly very enjoyable especially on a mountain road, as VW definitely worked on engineering a well rounded machine, literally and figuratively. The brakes work very well to rein in the car before the corners, the suspension manages the weight and roll nicely as you turn in, and the 1.4L TSI motor and the gearbox allows you to power out. It's just so easy to get bitten by this Bug.
When it's time to calm down (and in the standard drive mode for the transmission) the 2015 Beetle relaxes into a very comfortable daily driver, and delivers good fuel economy at 9.2 km/l in the city (22 km/h average) and 15.5 km/l on the highway (95 km/h average).
Great as the Beetle is, there exists a bit of a hurdle that VW needs to overcome.
Ever since the last generation of the nameplate (1997-2011), the Beetle line has undergone something of a shift in the demographic that it has appealed to, as the newer generations of the Beetle have been somewhat more popular with women than with men. It's not to sound sexist, but it is a perception that appears to have been the unexpected result of the image of the previous New Beetle given its appearances in pop culture'; like in that Mandy Moore music video. That's not a bad thing as it does drive sales of the Beetle, but based on a report, 65% of the customers that bought the current generation Beetle are women. Perhaps the men gravitate more towards another VW: the Golf GTI.
Nevertheless, the 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.4L TSI offered by VW Philippines is as enjoyable and as useful as a personal premium daily driver as they come. That goes double when you consider the pricing as, at PhP 1,790,000, it is much more affordable than its chief retro rival: the Mini Cooper S.