The VW Beetle has a long and auspicious history. Its origins can be traced back to Nazi Germany in 1934 when Hitler contracted no less than Ferdinand Porsche to build a cheap, simple car that could be mass produced not, as most people believe, for the people but rather for the country’s new road network.
It took Porsche and his team four years to finalise the design and, in doing so, they managed to infringe numerous patents relating to the Tatra V570, with which it shared more than a passing resemblance, resulting in a payout of one million Marks.
The Second World War delayed production and the Beetle wasn’t built in serious numbers until 1945. It changed little over the next 58 years during which time more than 21 million cars were sold. The last Beetle rolled off the production line, which was now in Brazil, in 2003.
Long before the much-revered, but increasingly outdated, original Beetle faded from our lives, however, VW had wheeled out its replacement. The styling drew heaving inspiration from its older brother – there would be little point in calling it the Beetle otherwise – but there were also some fundamental differences between the two.
For a start the engine was moved to the front, driving the front wheels, and the luggage compartment moved to the big hole where the engine used to be. In 2011 VW’s reinterpretation was reinterpreted and the new New Beetle emerged longer (152mm), wider (82mm) and lower, (12mm), giving the new model a much more muscular, aggressive look.
Many of the old car’s curves have been flattened out, most obviously at the front where the curve of the bonnet ends much further in front of the windscreen, but even the roofline now has a much sharper profile.
There’s a choice of three petrol engines – 1.2, 1.4 and 2.0-litre units – and a single 2.0-litre TDI with 108 or 148bhp available across the range. While the lower-powered diesel unit can return figures of 65.7mpg and carbon emissions of 112g/km perhaps the most intriguing engine is the 1.4-litre TSI fitted to my Beetle Design test car.
It’s equipped with both a turbocharger and supercharger, produces 148bhp and can sprint to 62mph in a respectable 8.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 126mph.
While those figures don’t sound too sprightly behind the wheel reveals a different story. The engine is a lively, willing performer providing plenty of punch right across the rev range without hitting your pocket too hard. The slick six-speed manual gearbox helps ensure progress is smooth.
There’s plenty pf grip, too, and body control is well managed. The weight of the steering is nicely judged ensuring a predictable, well-informed drive. Underpinnings that are shared with the last-generation Golf guarantee an accommodating and compliant ride and there’s a reasonable amount of space in the back so rear-seat passengers can enjoy that comfort for prolonged periods, should they choose to do so.
The driver seats behind a retro thin-rimmed leather-trimmed steering wheel while the cabin ambience is lifted by body-coloured inserts on the dash and door panels. Of course, that only really works if your test car is anything other black. Fortunately VW thought of that and fitted red inserts (£95) which did, indeed, provide a livelier vista.
The materials are high grade and there are some genuinely nice touches, such as the illuminated speaker surrounds in the door panels and the simple structure of the dashboard which, for those of you with fond memories of the old air-cooled model, has a second glovebox integrated into the fascia with an upward folding lid. The Fender legend on the speakers enhances the retro feel but, sadly, the same can’t be said for the 6.5 inch infotainment screen which, lifted as it is from the VW parts bin, looks completely out of place. I appreciate that costs would rise if a bespoke unit was fitted but surely it could be added to the options list. After all, the Beetle is built on nostalgia, isn’t it?
The boot, while not as practical as conventional hatchbacks still manages to swallow 310 litres with the rear seats in place and 905 litres with them folded away. That’s a significant improvement over the previous model.
The Beetle is built on a long and distinguished past. Although it is thoroughly modern, it harks back to less frantic times. You’re not just buying a car, you’re buying a lifestyle. Or at least the dust-covered memories of a life lived long ago. It’s not alone, however, the Mini and Fiat 500 can also provide that same romanticised glimpse of the past with a modern twist.
VW Beetle Design
As tested: £23, 495
Engine: 1.4-litre supercharged & turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Torque: 185lbft @ 1,500rpm
Maximum speed: 126mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 8.7sec
Extra urban: 56.5mpg
Emissions (CO2): 134g/km
For more information visit www.volkswagen.co.uk