Review: Volkswagen New Beetle 2.5


Once upon a time, a man called Porsche had a task of creating a small, economical car that all his countrymen could afford. And in 1938, production of his invention began – first called the “strength-through-joy car” (KdF-Wagen) because of politics at the time. After a few key years, it was renamed to Volkswagen Type 1, known to the rest of us as the original Volkswagen Beetle.

Now, Volkswagen has decided to create a 21st-century Beetle, taking all the design cues from the Type 1 and fitting them to the Golf VI platform.

This effort resulted in a car that takes the best out of an almost eighty-year-old design and makes it look masculine and sporty, while still clearly showing its roots. The performance of the highest model is practically identical to Volkswagen’s own Golf GTI sport hatchback, a car historically renowned for the grin it provokes as you sit behind the steering wheel.

But this isn’t it.

The subject of this review is instead the New Beetle – which is now the old one, but not that old one.

I should clarify...

The “Beetle” name was a nickname for the Type 1 given to it by the people. Only in 1997 did the people’s car company from Wolfsburg officially use the name "Beetle," and only for the new one they made then.

However – because at that point the world associated “Beetle” with the Type 1 – that new one was christened “New Beetle” instead, to avoid confusion…

However, Volkswagen has decided it didn’t like the New Beetle very much after all, so they stopped making it in 2010. Its replacement is on sale now: can you guess what it’s called?

Nope. It’s called the Beetle.

Doing the exact opposite of what they did the last time they made a contemporary Type 1, Volkswagen has decided that calling the 2012 model simply "Beetle" will – you guessed it – avoid confusion.

So, what you’re reading now is not a review of that Beetle, but of the New Beetle instead. You know, the one before the 2012 Beetle but after the original Type 1.

It’s a review of the one with the flower vase in the dashboard and the very arched greenhouse. The one labeled as a “chick-car.”

In my experience, though, the definition of “chick-car” in theory differs from the one in practice.

One ordinary night, after spending endless hours looking for street parking, one space briefly yawned between a world-record length of parked cars and a crosswalk. I pointed my New Beetle tester towards it and claimed its nightly territory of downtown asphalt real estate.

I didn’t even get out of the car yet, and a woman walking with her significant other looked first at the car, then in my eyes and gave me a more-than-polite smile...

On a completely separate occasion – while I still had my tester – I met a colleague with a collection of customized American muscle cars and profound knowledge of the various applications of iPhone credit card readers in Las Vegas... When he saw what car I arrived in, he uncontrollably exclaimed, “Nice Volkswagen! How much is it?”

So, not liking the New Beetle with the reasoning “it’s a chick car” sounds a lot like not liking dancing with the mindset that male participants aren’t attracted to the girls they're dancing with...

Perhaps those with the “chick car” complex aren’t used to all the attention.

Attention is precisely what this car’s domed shape conjures – which also has some more tangible benefits. For instance, seven-footers can be accommodated beneath the dome so well that they will have to move the seat forward to be able to reach the pedals. Their heads will never have a chance of touching the headliner unless they somehow manage to pull off seated jumping jacks.

The silhouette leads to a peculiarly deep rear window as well – so deep that you can see sports cars’ front license plates in your rear view mirror while they are centimeters from your back bumper. The four corners of the car are easy to spot from the driver’s seat, given that each of them mimics normal distribution.

The performance is similarly pleasing: the 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated five-cylinder in the front does a good job of getting you up to the desired speed. The speedo climbs eagerly as your right foot increases in weight.

Or maybe it just seems that way, because the engine noise that permeates into the cabin is considerable.

Better put, it doesn’t permeate – it fusillades the cabin! THE ENGINE IS AS LOUD AS THESE CAPITAL LETTERS SOUND IN YOUR HEAD RIGHT NOW!

It’s so loud that you can’t hear anything the Beetle’s speakers are trying to play for you. It’s so loud that it could just be the engine’s thundering noise making you think you’re going fast. It could simply be a case of the loud dog that doesn’t bite...

Had the people’s car company not been ruthlessly thrifty with the sound insulation, I could focus better on how the Tiptronic transmission shifts smoothly and quickly responds to manual shifting inputs.

I’d be more poised to talk about, for example, how easy it is to move the front seat out of the way and get into the back. I’d mention the nice heated leather seats, interior materials, strong projector headlamps, retro touches throughout the interior, or the rubber flap that gives you a place to rest the fuel filler cap without damaging the paint.

Instead, my tortured ears and I are more sensitive to the disappointing plastic meant to mimic body-colored metal on the top of the interior door trim. I’m more sensitive to the shifter that’s mounted so low, it discourages its own use, or the perforated ‘pleather’ on the steering wheel that also discourages its own use...or the lack of a temperature gauge.

With the engine off, I noticed that the speakers in the car aren’t terribly good either – not that better speakers would help hide the merciless amount of engine noise.

The car’s bulbous form has some tangible drawbacks, too: despite having the same overall dimensions as a Golf, the ample greenhouse makes it feel as big as a full-size pickup when you first get behind the wheel. You get used to it, but it still feels bigger than it should.

The dome also calls for zero rear-seat headroom – although legroom is formidable – for anybody that has outgrown their childhood height.

Furthermore, when thrown through corners as briskly as the engine’s volume implies, you immediately notice how the door handles scrape the pavement and realize that the suspension and engine didn’t attend the same lecture.

Let’s step back for a second and imagine that Volkswagen didn’t forget to install sound insulation. In that case, the New Beetle should be a pretty good car then. Right?

Nah.

While its shape garners tons of positive attention and is convincingly unique, it strikes you as a cartoon rendition of what the Type 1 might look like in a far-away future that has lost touch with all that made the Type 1 what it was. It’s not a Beetle, but instead a play-on-the-Beetle. It’s an average car inspired by a skin-deep idea of the Beetle.

All things considered, it’s not what it claims to be: it doesn’t do a very good job of being a modern Beetle, and it doesn’t do a very good job of being a modern and refined Volkswagen.

Small wonder, then, that the 2012 Beetle is as distanced from this New Beetle as possible, even in name. Volkswagen seems to have learned from its mistakes.

-UroŇ° M.

2008 Volkswagen New Beetle 2.5
[three-door compact hatchback; front-wheel drive, front engine]

2.5L

L5 20-valve, DOHC
GASOLINE
6

[forward gears]
AUTOMATIC
w/ manual mode

[power] 150 hp @ 5,000 rpm

[torque] 170 lb-ft @ 3,750 rpm

[0-100 km/h] 8.4 sec
[top speed] 204 km/h

city
[L / 100 km]
highway

10.4
6.8

[curb weight] 1,308 kg

114.68 hp/t

55 L  fuel tank

MSRP as tested:  $23,375  before taxes and fees


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For reference, here are photos of the 2012 Beetle I looked at some time later:


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