VW Beetle evolves but keeps flowerchild spirit

By Liz Dobson

Lower, sleeker, the even-newer. Beetle might just re-attract the blokes

The 2013 Beetle's profile recalls the lines of its Porsche great-great uncles. Photos / Ted Baghurst
The 2013 Beetle's profile recalls the lines of its Porsche great-great uncles. Photos / Ted Baghurst

It's easy to compare the VW Beetle to the music icons The Beatles: mass hysteria when seen in public, life-long fans, teenage memories for Baby Boomers ... and the Fab Four were popular, too!

The comparison continues today between the newly launched 'Dub and the Beatles band because, thanks to modern technology, both have been remastered. The Beatles' classics now ring extra-clear while the 2013 version of the curved car has design features that hark back to the 1960s' versions.

There was the drop-down glovebox (just like the original Beetle) and colour-keyed metal panels in the interior that harked back to the classics.

But there were also clear differences between the 'Dubs. The third-generation Beetle, priced from $46,500, had a more masculine exterior than its predecessor that was launched worldwide in the late 1990s and was known officially as the New Beetle.

When I tested the New Beetle in early 2000, I had strangers knocking on the door of my inner city Auckland home asking to look at the vehicle, and if I had charged every person who photographed it, I could have paid off my hefty mortgage.

So, when I picked up the keys for the 2013 model, hours after the official New Zealand launch, I thought I'd need to hire security guards to keep sticky beaks away.

But either the new styling of an elongated, lower roof made it look more like a coupe, or else Aucklanders were now a cooler bunch, but only a few heads turned when I drove it around the city.

It wasn't as if the changes between the two models were subtle - there were some physical differences. The 2013 Beetle was longer than the New Beetle (now 4278mm), 12mm shorter and 88mm wider. The boot was now a plentiful 310 litres - up from 209.

Inside the four-seater, the rear window was smaller than the previous model's, so passengers were no longer cooked - as my kids could testify to during my 2000 test.

A lower profile and wider wheel base allowed the 18" Twister alloys to grip the road while the addition of front and rear parking sensors assists in city parking and I appreciate the telescopic smaller, oval steering wheel - great for manoeuvring.

Inside, the vehicle had a large touchscreen stereo system - that Driven photographer Ted Baghurst thought was too large - plus an iPod adapter and Bluetooth hands-free.

VW NZ decided to bring in only one model - a twin-charged 1.4-litre 118kW TSI petrol engine coupled with a seven-speed automatic direct-shift gearbox (DSG) transmission, which allowed you to move through the gears faster.

But the Beetle was a heavy vehicle - 1373kg. Compare that to the 1.4-litre VW Polo at an anorexic 1070kg. The combination of weight, small engine and transmission meant that the Beetle hesitated slightly when I tried to overtake uphill on a motorway - moving from 80km/h to 100km/h.

But once I picked up on the foibles it was easy to get the Beetle to respond - it shot off from the lights like a hipster heading to Ponsonby Rd for happy hour - and took on a heavyweight V8 Aussie on the motorway.

By picking the 1.4-litre petrol version, rather than the previous 2-litre petrol engine in the New Beetle, VW NZ had an economic vehicle with official figures of 7.7litres/100km urban and 5.3-litres city-only driving.

In the US, the new 'Dub was available with a 2- and 2.5-litre petrol or 2-litre diesel engine while UK buyers had the additional choice of the 1.2- and 1.4-litre petrol plus a 1.6-litre turbo diesel.

While in Los Angeles on holiday late last year I noticed a few version three Beetles on the freeways and thought it made a strong statement on the road. I also noted another major change in the Beetle while in the States - males behind the wheels.

Throughout its 73-year history, the VW Beetle was known as the "people's car" with more than 21 million sold. But during the 12-year term of the New Beetle it became known more as the "females' car" with more than 80,000 models sold in the US, 75 per cent of them to women.

But the styling - inside and out - of version three aimed to change that buyer profile. Two male colleagues - one 20-something, the other 40-something - separately approached me to rave about the Beetle after spotting it in the work car park.

"I'd buy a new one," the young male said. "My mum has the previous model Beetle and when I drive it I pull up my hoodie so people don't see me in it."

Ouch - and after that I don't think his mum will let him drive her car again.

VW NZ's boss, Tom Ruddenklau, estimated 250 sales of the 2013 Beetle this year with the first allotment of 30 vehicles selling out before Christmas.

If my 15-year-old daughter had her way, she would have received one for Christmas, "I'd have one of these as my first car."

High praise from someone who has "tested" cars with me since she was five days old.,

As for her 19-year-old brother, well, he's more of a fan of the other Beatles with A Hard Day's Night playing on his iPod.

- NZ Herald

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