Call it blasphemy, but I’m not much of a romantic, especially not when it comes to the subject of cars. Save for some exceptions, I’d pick something modern over something with history, any time of the day. Long story short, the Beetle never really appealed to me so when VW unveiled the 2013 Beetle, the whole event registered as only a small blip on my radar.
Visually, a lot has changed to differentiate between the second generation and third generation Beetle. VW has done away with the previous car’s fluffiness and given their new car a sleeker, more muscular outlook. Although width and track has grown, the new Bug also sits lower, giving it a sportier stance. Gone also is the pointless single-stalk flower vase, thankfully. Our test car’s shade of yellow is also more aggressive, less pastel than before.
There are several external aesthetics extras that help to differentiate the Beetle 2.0 against its smaller-capacity siblings – all of them welcome add-ons. This list includes bi-xenons with daytime running lights, larger 18-inch ‘Twister’ alloys, spoiler, panoramic sunroof as well as tailpipes on both rear corners. Under the skin gains include a RCD510 touchscreen player, climate control, cruise control, piano black trim, and more importantly, an XDS electronic differential lock.
Powering the Beetle 2.0 is VW’s EA888four-cylinder turbo; essentially the same engine that motivates the mk6 Golf GTI. In Bug guise, the engine gets a mild detune: 200PS/280Nm and sprints from zerotohundred in 7.5 seconds. Not bad at all, especially when you consider the previous two-litre Bug made do with only 116PS/170Nm. Straight-line performance on the road is manic with wheelspin aplenty from standstill if you buried your right foot into the throttle. As much as I hate to admit it, I had a silly smile plastered on my face every time I surged forwards to overtake other motorists. You could tell that they were as surprised as I was – never quite expecting a Beetle to swish past them so effortlessly.
As you might expect, power delivery from the six-speed DSG is smooth, effortless and flawless. Steering feel whilst somewhat benign, still gives decent feedback and will weigh up at speed. Heavy throttle inputs will also reveal a hearty thrum, courtesy of the, by now familiar, sound resonator that directs sounds from the intake straight into the cabin. Thankfully, this Bug has just as much bite as it does bark.
Ride quality is surprisingly stiff – jarring over undulations, and I found myself have to really slow down over bumps in carparks. Unlike the Golf GTI, the Beetle makes do without DCC which meant it was not possible to select a more pliant ride. Although the chassis is based on the mk5 Golf, a good place to start, the ride just doesn’t feel as refined, even when compared to the Polo GTI. And despite having a more streamlined appearance, the Bug’s bulbous shape just doesn’t work well with cutting air, with an obvious bit of body roll present if you take a corner too aggressively.
The interior is well thought out, in typical VW fashion, whilst still maintaining some retro bits. There are some very nice, well-thought out add-ons – the tray on the dashboard just above the radio is perfect for accessories you might clear from your pocket, and tactility along with build quality is of the usual high standards (albeit with some tacky bits). I did however, some minor quibbles – especially so in the practicality department. Whilst most can live with the car’s strict four seats, I found the two-split glovebox almost useless. And given the car’s sporty character, I also wished VW equipped the car with a fatter sports steering, instead of a thin flat-bottomed one.
At the end of the day, the third-gen Beetle is clearly two, maybe three generations ahead of its predecessor. I managed to make some arrangements to drive the second-gen two-litre Beetle some days before I tested the all-new model, and I have to say that the difference between the two is stark. My biggest problem this car, however, is that it tries too hard to be the hot-hatch that it isn’t. A Golf GTI would easily trump the Beetle 2.0 in the dynamics department, and the fact that the Golf is slightly better spec’d is important to note, especially since the Beetle 2.0 hovers around the RM220k region.
But for what it forgoes in terms of tech, the Bug makes up for in terms of public appeal. I had my lunch paid for once when the owner of the restaurant wanted to find out more about the car, and there were several occasions during refueling where owners, both past and present, approached me to make small talk and to share their Beetle stories. You truly cannot make these things up.
My personal opinion is that, at RM220k the Beetle 2.0 is too expensive and, I’m surprised I’m even saying this, too fast for its own good. At RM190k, the Beetle 1.4 undercuts this car’s price tag by a significant margin, and although I do wish it carried a bit more kit (bi-xenons, spoiler), does the job of getting about very well. If you’re just keen on getting the Bug’s aesthetic appeal, then the Beetle 1.2 is an even more modest buy with its RM140k price tag. Unfortunately, this car is a hoonigan living under the shell of a Beetle, and if you’re a keen driver, we would heartily recommend the Golf GTI instead.