Thursday 14 December 2017

Please please me . . . the fine tuning on Beetle certainly does

VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE RATING 81/100
VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE RATING 81/100

We heralded the birth of the modern Beetle with song and dance. I remember it well. It was a great night. A long time ago now.

The Beetle's subsequent arrival here coincided with a quick spurt of near-manic buying. It was, after all, the return of an icon in modern guise. There was a great gush of nostalgia. Then it more or less disappeared. Sales trickled.

Now, of course, the revisionists know why. Just like the know-alls who clog the airwaves with what should have been done to avert the economic crisis, the Beetle gurus rattled off their retrospective criticisms. It was too chunky. It was too twee. It was useless for back-seat passengers. And it was too feminine.

And the return of the MINI as a modern icon showed just what could be done and stole all its thunder. Most importantly, the MINI was brilliant to drive. The Beetle was dismal. In the main I think they were correct. But they didn't say much at the time (shhhh, neither did I).

I've just been driving the 'new-new' Beetle. I had the 1.4-litre (160bhp) Sport. There is also a 1.2-litre DSG, while a 1.2-litre petrol manual (122bhp), a 1.6-litre diesel (105bhp) and a 2-litre diesel (140bhp) will arrive in December in time for the January sales. But you can order away right now if you feel the urge.

You might and you might not.

For a start, this second generation is better. Yes, it would want to be.

It is not so chunky, more svelte with a bit of muscle. In many ways it is truer to the original antecedent than the previous one. More like the Beetles that chugged trailers with churns of milk to the creamery in Moate every morning. Less pretentious, I think.

Strangely, though, it has a touch of an old Porsche 911 profile too, with its rear spoiler and low-slung crescent shape. But overall it is, for those of us who were around, truer to the original.

Too feminine? You'd be surprised at the number of times I was asked that question. No one was sneering at me as I drove it around (well, no more than usual). But the two I saw on my travels were being driven by women. And a few long-time neighbours and great friends (yes, all women) were mad about it in the home town. So much so, one was brought for a little spin; another was pictured sitting in it.

I don't know what that says other than that the New Beetle 2 generates an appeal of sorts.

Maybe they can swing the Porsche mentality a bit more and get the men into it as well. It will depend on how folk find it on the road and how they feel in and driving it.

The inside isn't as twee and touchy-feely as Mark 1. Indeed I would say that it's quite smart on first impressions, simple and straightforward in the main. However, some of the plastics, especially those around the arm rest and the door insets felt hard and below the sort of quality I expected. That's not good.

My test car had a far better driving position than the old one. The car sits lower but there was good visibility and no bother at all getting in or out.

The rear seats are still for the toddlers (they fold forward); reaching them is best left to young, flexible bodies. There's a good sized boot by the way.

The last Beetle was all over the place as a driver. This one has a decent chassis under it and encouraged a bit of zesty driving. Nice edge to the handling.

With that spritely 1.4-litre engine that competes brilliantly with anything else around under the snout, the driving package gave me confidence on corners and bends, though it was a bit jittery coming down from speed to a quick halt on a couple of occasions.

With an excellent gear-change, you could see how they might spread the appeal of this much more than the last one. But even allowing that it is a much more energetic piece of work, better sprung, more dynamic and all that, it didn't have the sort of driving magic the MINI manages.

Nonetheless I know people who would love it just because of what it is now. But for others there has to be more than just a much-improved version. It has to make you smile a bit; make you think in terms of go-kart feel.

It does so moderately -- I suppose that in itself is a huge improvement. We may not have heralded its arrival with song and dance this time but it is far more in tune with what is required.

ecunningham@independent.ie

Indo Motoring

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