WHEN Volkswagen Philippines officially commenced operations nearly two years ago, one thing struck us as odd: The Beetle, its ever iconic automobile and the original people’s car, was not part of its initial line-up.
Now, Volkswagen Philippines has introduced the latest generation of the model that made the brand as recognizable as it is, and we’re about to test whether the new, 21st century Beetle can hack life as a daily driven car in the metropolis. But first, a quick history lesson.
The original one (the Type 1) dates back to pre-WWII Germany with a production that continued on until 2003. In 1997, Volkswagen had introduced the (then) New Beetle, and marketed the model until 2011. This new Volkswagen Beetle is actually the third generation of the nameplate that was introduced in 2012 in other markets.
In terms of design, well, there is no other automobile shape or profile that is as identifiable as the Beetle’s. VW’s designers stayed faithful to the signature shape and symmetrical silhouette of the original Beetle, but with a very modern touch all around. This particular example is finished in red and comes with a spoiler.
The design of the interior is quite premium unlike the original Beetle which was rather spartan; it was a people’s car after all. Eyes are quickly drawn to the dash and doors as these have color keyed (red) panels; a throwback to the original Beetle that had exposed body panels inside. Compared to the previous generation, the new interior is definitely a great leap forward in terms of design. The seats are fabric, though the steering wheel and gearstick for the automatic transmission are wrapped in leather.
The 2015 Beetle gets a long list of standard equipment such as power windows, mirrors, locks, stability control, traction control, HID headlamps with a level control, steering wheel audio controls and a multi-information computer that displays consumption, fuel range and other pertinent information. It was unusual that the airconditioning system was manual, not automatic, but it is still very cool and beats the summer heat. The multi-functional RCD-310 audio system is good, though the Bluetooth system needs a bit more attention at user-friendliness.
Space-wise, there’s seating for four persons inside. Unlike the original rear-engine, rear-wheel drive Beetle, the new generation models have had the engine up front, freeing up some space in the back. The 2015 Beetle is technically a liftback model, as the entire rear can be opened to expose a rather large boot considering the dimensions of the car. The boot space may not seem like much, but there is plenty of room for groceries, a few boxes, or even some bags for the weekend.
Powering the Beetle is a 1.4-liter twin cam 16-valve turbocharged gasoline engine mounted in the front unlike the rear-engine, rear-wheel drive Type 1. The new Beetle 1.4L TSI makes a very potent 160 horsepower and 240 Newton meters of torque, all of which are channeled to the front wheels by a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox (DSG).
Around town, the 2015 Volkswagen Beetle performs far better than expected. Noise and vibration suppression are good, given the small dimensions (particularly the wheelbase) of the car. The suspension is surprisingly comfortable even when faced with local tarmac. Maneuverability and visibility are quite good, though it should be noted that the beltline is rather high and the pillars are quite thick. Parking in tight spots is made very easy by a very accurate parking radar system.
As expected, the power of the 1.4L TSI engine does come through especially for a car as light as this. The 2015 Beetle is quick without a doubt and is incredibly fun on a twisty mountain road with the sport mode of the DSG transmission engaged for quicker downshifts and sharper upshifts. When it is time to calm down (and in the standard drive mode for the transmission), the Beetle relaxes into a very comfortable daily driver, and delivers good fuel economy at 9.2 kilometers per liter in the city (22 kph average) and 15.5 km/liter on the highway (95 kph average).
At P1.79 million, the 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.4 TSI is a surprisingly compelling proposition. That may sound odd for a premium compact automobile like the Beetle, but it is really difficult to find a car that has this much style, verve and fun in such a neat and usable little package.