First drive: 2015 Volkswagen Beetle in the UAE
The Volkswagen Beetle is back in our part of the world. The last “new” Beetle was there for a decade, unchanged, which showed the staying power of that design. And well, the “real” Beetle before that — that stayed almost unchanged for the better part of last century. VW hasn’t gone crazy with this redesign, but has done enough to just about make out that this is a new model with a more sporty twist.
You need a keen eye to spot the newbie. The roof is less of a dome now, while an optional spoiler and semi-circle tail lamps are the biggest clues. That spoiler works, because of what lurks under the hood.
Inside, it’s a nice-looking interior, with good features in this top-spec trim, such as power windows and a multimedia touchscreen. Everything aside from the armrests is hard plastic though, which is partly how the Beetle rings in cheaper than a Golf GTI at the showroom.
It is reasonably practical, with enough rear space for average-sized adults, even if access is a chore. There’s even a second storage compartment above the glove-box, and quirky rubber-bands for door pockets. The boot is also decently-sized, although watch out for the logo that doubles as a pull-out tailgate handle — it snaps back into place fast enough to take your fingers off.
With specs similar to the older-gen Golf GTI’s engine, the Beetle’s turbocharged 2.0-litre makes 210 hp and 280 Nm of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic. That’s considerably less torque than the new GTI, but you wouldn’t feel it in acceleration runs. We clocked it at 7.5 seconds in summer weather, and the surge of initial torque is enough to spin the front wheels. Combined with the grunty engine note, you’d think you’re going faster than you are, but the engine clearly runs out of steam beyond 100 kph, something that the new GTI doesn’t suffer from any more.
We burned petrol at a rate of 13.5 l/100 km, and that’s with a sluggish throttle response and gear-changes in “normal” mode which are clearly designed to improve fuel economy.
Its responses perk up in “sport” mode though. The well-weighted steering is sharp, but offers almost no feedback. The firm brake pedal control somewhat-grabby brakes with red calipers. And the handling is very good, given it sits on basically a last-gen Golf chassis, with limited body roll and solid grip.
The ride is firm, but fairly bearable. And the big windows offer good all-round visibility. There’s moderate road and wind noise at highway speeds, but it can be an acceptable daily commuter if you don’t mind the occasional jitter on uneven roads.
The New Beetle might have a certain image that VW wants to shed, and this new model does a reasonably credible job of that. Think GTI in a different skin, and you’re on the right track.
For UAE prices and GCC specs, visit the Volkswagen buyer guide.