If there is one car on the surface of the earth that people could always recognise, regardless if you’re a car nut or not… it’ll probably be the Beetle. It’s the shape. So distinctive. So… memorable. Have you ever wondered why?
Here’s a little history lesson – the idea was sparked by a famous German automotive enthusiast (although not famously known for his pursuit in the automotive industry) in the early 30s to build a car that could give the German citizens access to the newly designed road network in his country. The main ideology was: Simple and Cheap. And its sole purpose was to be mass produced for everyone to purchase and use. Importantly, this was also how the name ‘Volkswagen’ came about; which as many of you would know, translates as ‘people’s car’ in German.
Born in the late 30s, it took the Porsche 4 years to get Hitler’s approval of the design and finally, in 1938; they brought out a brand spanking new innovation called the Volkswagen Type 1. And it was so ahead of its time, it basically changed the way people understood about cars then.
For a long time, the Type 1 kept it’s design and it quickly became the most produced car in the world with a single design until a new version came along in 1997, after almost 60 years retaining the same, bubble-like, bug design. You’d be surprised just how many of these bugs are out there. In that period, they’ve built over 20 million units and today, you can find one just about anywhere. Some are abandoned and uncared for… some are well kept as a piece of history but nevertheless, most importantly, the Beetle is a car that has build a large base of enthusiasts worldwide.
But when the ‘New Beetle’ came along just before the millennium – that concept was altered and from what was the ‘people’s car’, quickly switched into ‘the fancy rich man’s wife or daughter’s’ car anywhere. Despite the iconic designed retained, the rebirth of the Beetle has not been as successful as the original as it switched personas; and became a fashion item that was highly favoured by the female community worldwide. And we don’t think it would have been something Hitler would approve of.
Regardless, a car with such a rich history and iconic design should never be left in vain to be perceived as a fashionable element to match Paris Hilton’s handbag and chihuahua on the high streets. So when we were given the keys to the latest Beetle iteration recently, we were excited to see if this perception has changed with all-new 3rd generation.
There are 3 types of engines to choose from – the base model 1.2 TSI, the high-end 2.0-litre GTI powerhouse or like the one we got, the mid-range 1.4 TSI. It depends really on what you’re looking for with the Beetle. It’ll be easy to say that the high-end would be the best Beetle to have but I’d personally disagree. I reckon this 1.4 twin-charge unit is the one to have. Allow me to explain…
Despite the sporty exterior that the 3rd generation Beetle presents – a friendly warning to the discerning onlookers as it is NOT a sporty car to drive. And I repeat, DO NOT mistake the Beetle for a sports car. I know people like to make jokes about the relation between 911s and Beetles but they do not correlate.
I remember the last time I sat behind the wheel of the 2.0-litre Beetle – I didn’t like it very much. Despite the shared engine with the GTI, it didn’t seem to handle the power very well. The car kept wheel-spinning everywhere when you nibble just a little more on the loud pedal and whilst it can carry itself around decently; in stock form – it doesn’t seem to have a very high tolerance level for idiots. And therefore, you won’t have to push it very hard to find the limit of grip in the corners, to the point you have non at all and the car begins to unsettle itself.
The 1.4 TSI however seems to be the perfect balance for the Beetle’s design. Although I still find myself detesting the car’s behaviour on a spirited drive, putting the Beetle in its comfort zone unleashes the car’s true potential. The twin-charge unit produces 160ps and 240nm and as many of you would know, it’s probably one of VAG’s best engines ever produced. Personally, it’s my favourite.
The rather nippy response means that it is an enjoyable car to drive around town daily. This is really the Beetle’s comfort zone. It loves the short city spins! You can race it about on the back streets of KL or just within the Golden Triangle between traffic lights and find that it’s quite perfect in your hands. Due to its torquey response, I found myself going around in circles in the Beetle, finding short stretches and roundabouts to terrorise. Kuala Lumpur really feels like where the Beetle belongs!
The interesting chassis setup means that you get just the right amount of body roll when you take the left turn into Tun Razak (or rather any intersections) and because you’ll find the tyres screaming for grip at 50km/h, it makes you feel on the edge. It may not be fun on touge weekends or trackdays, but if you’re going to be driving it everyday, it’ll be your favourite companion. Who say’s you can’t drive slow and have fun? —> The Beetle is a fun car to drive!
Of course – the interior is what you can expect of a Volkwagen. It’s not much… but everything is where it needs to be and because this is a Volkswagen, you get the premium German feel alongside. It’s a selection of high quality plastics matched with leather to make you feel expensive. It doesn’t make you feel special to be in like a MINI, but you won’t be bored.
There are funky details here and there, like the twin glove box first seen on the original Bug which comes with a button that looks like a Nissan GTR’s door handle and flat-bottom steering wheel which feels sort of nice in your hands. The instrument cluster is also good. Purposeful. It only shows you what you need to know (Speed, RPM and Fuel) with an MFD screen operated from the steering wheel to tell a little bit more about the car. Other than that, there isn’t much to shout about.
And although it has four seats – it’ll only seat two comfortably whilst the back seats are only tolerable enough for a short distance ride to the mall, or anywhere a Beetle driver would need to bring their friends to. Clubs perhaps?
So… A practical, purposeful and somewhat fun car to drive but let’s address the elephant in the room… The original question. Has the perception changed? Is the Beetle still a fashion accessory or a people’s car?
Let’s not hide the fact that the Beetle still relies highly on the nostalgic appeal of the badge. It is a significant improvement from the old ‘New’ Beetle, perceiving more confidence not only exterior wise but also in terms of performance. But there are still a lot of fine tuning needed to attract the car to men in general.
It is not a bad thing to make the car perform even better. This 3rd generation is based on the Mk6 Golf chassis but it handles far off from its more mature brother. And that is the Beetle’s biggest downfall. Volkswagen says that the more powerful 2.0-litre is the one marketed for the male market, but is it so wrong to make the whole range appeal to both genders? Why does the 1.2 and 1.4 have to come with a torsion beam instead of the multilink specially offered on the 2.0?
I don’t know. It feels a little biased on the whole. It’s a car that has so much potential, but held back due to marketing ideologies. And for that, the Beetle is not VW’s best model. Personally – I think the average Joe will still end up with a Golf 1.4 and find themselves spending the extra thirty grand saving on something else… maybe a holiday. But if you insists on a Beetle, the 1.4 TSI is probably the best in the 3 variants on offer. Mind you, it’ll set you back a whopping RM 180,800 but you won’t regret buying it.
We will still see a large amount of Beetle drivers being of the opposite sex. And if you’re a guy, the Beetle isn’t such a bad car to pick up ladies. Oh yes, this car is a chick magnet. So maybe that’ll justify the car’s extra cost. I still can’t really put my finger on the Beetle but I can understand the appeal. Is appeal alone good enough though?
Words: Qhalis Najmi | Photos: Haznajims