2017 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line
– Head-turning looks
– Cabin space up front
– Power and handling
– Slightly firm ride
– Rear cabin access
– Hard interior plastics
The original Beetle chugged along with only minor changes for the better part of last century. Then the “new” Beetle came about, lasting a decade unchanged, but garnering praise and ridicule in equal amounts. After a sizeable hiatus, the Volkswagen Beetle came back in the Middle East in 2014.
VW had the tough task of updating the Beetle without straying so far that it becomes unrecognisable, but they also had to man it up, so to speak, to appeal to a wider audience. They’ve done just enough to make it obvious as a Beetle, but still making it appear more sporty and, more importantly, less geeky.
You need a keen eye to spot the newbie. The roof is less of a dome now, and the tail lamps are semi-circular, both being the most prominent new design elements. In 2016, the R-Line package was introduced, adding bigger air intakes in the front bumper, a rear lower-bumper diffuser and a standard rear spoiler, as well as 20-inch “Monterey” alloy wheels.
Inside is a retro-chic cabin design, with a flat upright dash that ditches the body-colour panels for a faux-aluminium look in the R-Line. Other R-Line features include two-tone cloth sport seats, a multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel with R-Line badging, R-Line door-entry sills and a set of gauges mounted on the top of the dash, showing engine-oil temperature, turbo boost and an acceleration timer of some sort. All touch surfaces aside from the armrests are hard plastic though, which is partly how the Beetle rings in cheaper than a Golf GTI at the showroom.
It is reasonably practical, with moderately-bolstered manually-adjustable front seats and a general feeling of spaciousness. There is just enough rear space for average-sized adults, even if access is a chore and putting rear-facing baby seats correctly back there is near-impossible. There’s a second storage compartment above the glove-box, and quirky rubber-bands for door pockets. Although offering less volume than a Golf, the hatchback boot is decently-sized, although watch out for the logo that doubles as a spring-loaded tailgate handle — it snaps back into place fast enough to pinch your fingers.
Other standard options on the Beetle R-Line include a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, a good stereo controlled via a capacitive touchscreen with Bluetooth and USB, a decent dual-zone auto a/c, cruise control, front and side airbags, ABS, ESP and basic keyless entry. Items such as navigation or smart keyless start would have to be special-ordered.
With specs similar to the older-gen Golf GTI’s engine, the Beetle’s turbocharged 2.0-litre makes 210 hp at 5300 rpm and 280 Nm of torque from just 1700 rpm, and 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 redesigned-in-2013 GTI doesn’t suffer from any more.
We burned petrol at a rate of 13.5 l/100 km, and that’s with a mix of driving in “normal” and “sport” mode. In “normal” mode, with a sluggish throttle response as well as gear-changes clearly designed to improve fuel economy, we found ourselves shifting the transmission into “sport” with a flick of the shifter, when burst of acceleration was needed.
Its responses perk up in “sport” mode though, with gear-shifts that hold further up the rev range. The well-weighted steering is sharp, but offers limited feedback, although oddly enough, there’s better feel than the regular Golf GTI. The firm brake pedal controls 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 from the 235/35 tyres, rarely reaching its limits (when it understeers) in aggressive street-driving. Hence it’s quite fun to drive, just like a GTI.
The ride is firm, but fairly bearable. And the big windows offer good all-round visibility for around-town driving. 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 previous New Beetle might have created a girly image that VW now wants to shed, and this new model does a reasonably credible job of that. It’s fun, kind of practical, and manlier than it’s ever been, if that’s ever bothered you. Think GTI in a different skin, and you have the right idea, although it’s still taking time to pick up among the speedy-hipster crowd like the much-pricier Mini or even the GTI has.
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