Piers Ward19 July 2011

The new VW Beetle: first drive

Piers Ward reports back from behind the wheel of the 2.0 TFSI Sport

There's been a realisation moment at Volkswagen. The last Beetle might have sold well, but it was largely an unloved creature, and it never maintained the initial euphoria. Unlike the Mini, for example, or the Fiat 500.

So, time to engineer a proper car and not just rely on cute marketing and dash-mounted flower vases. Which brings us this, the 21st century Beetle: still based on the Golf platform, but promising a sportier drive and ‘more masculine' characteristics.

See more pics of the new Beetle here

As such, you'll be able to get it with the 2.0-litre TFSI engine out of the Golf GTI, only in the Beetle it produces a slightly lower output of 197bhp and 206lb ft. Other engines will be available, from the brilliant 1.2 TSI to a 1.6 diesel with Bluemotion tech. We only got a chance to try the top 2.0-litre, but reassuringly it's still as smooth as ever. There's plenty of punch in all the gears so 0-62mph only takes 7.5secs.

And the good news is that in this Beetle, the chassis can cope with that power. The steering is more precise and, because of the wider track, there is an impressive amount of grip. But don't go thinking you'll be getting a cute Golf GTI - the Beetle doesn't have quite the precision of the Golf. It's just not as crisp.

Nor does it ride as well. Our car was on normal suspension and 18-inch wheels and it picked up far too many surface imperfections. You can't get the Beetle with the Golf's clever adaptive damping - well, we can't have the Beetle outperforming the halo GTI, can we?

Inside, there's a nod to retro - the weird glovebox, the body-coloured dash plastic, the pulley grab handles - but mostly it's stock VW parts bin switches. Weirdly, though, some of the plastics feel cheap and that glovebox is especially poor. Flimsy stuff, and not what you expect from Volkswagen.

Which is a pity, because this is a better Beetle. Prices will start from about £15,000 when it goes on sale in early 2012, rising to roughly £25,000 for the car we're in. In other words, not bad value at the bottom end, and a tad pricey at the top. But at least now there's a good and interesting alternative to the Mini. Any euphoria with this version should last.

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